Dear Amazon: WTF?

This last weekend, Amazon removed sales rankings from a number of products, namely erotic romances and basically anything that had to do with gay people, and made many of those books damn near impossible to search for, too.

What the rationale was for this, I can’t say.  But it makes me sad and angry.

Thing that makes me angry #1: The books that have been censored by Amazon include Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and Alex Beecroft’s False Colors–none of which could be considered even remotely pornographic or obscene.  These are books about gay people, not books about gay sex, and censoring these books contributes to, and is indicative of, one of the worst and most invidious forms of discrimination against gays: the sexualization of gays, treating everything that has to do with gay people as if it has to do with sex.  It doesn’t, and this makes me so angry that I could spit.

Thing that makes me angry #2: Censoring books just because they happen to be about sex.  The books I write would not fall under Amazon’s censorship ban–today–but if I fall silent about it now, might they one day?  Perhaps.  But even if nothing will ever happen to me, things are happening now to people I consider friends.  My good friend Jackie Barbosa–who writes lovely, sensual, emotional romances which happen to also be erotic–whose first print book, Behind the Red Door, is scheduled for release on June 1–used to show up on Amazon when you searched for her name, “Jackie Barbosa.”  Now she doesn’t.  Do a search for her name, and you get “product not found.”  And she’s not alone.  Hundreds of books have lost their sales rankings and have simply ceased to exist when you do an Amazon search.

It’s as if these people don’t exist, as if they are no longer persons or authors to Amazon.  You wouldn’t type in the name “Jackie Barbosa” if you weren’t looking for Jackie Barbosa–who or what is this censorship trying to serve?  If you know who Jackie is, it’s not “family friendly” for Amazon to pretend she doesn’t exist.  And I’ve seen Jackie work so hard for her print release, and I know that this book is good–so what is it going to mean if people can’t find it?  Its sales, for her, are crucial in determining what happens for her future career.

This is barbaric.  It’s dehumanizing.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach.  Amazon, WTF?


Lady Chatterley’s Lover has been deranked.  Fanny Hill has been deranked.  Books about lesbian parenting have been deranked.  Mein Kampf has not been deranked.  Books about training dogs to fight have not been deranked.

I do not think that Mein Kampf should be deranked, or that books about dog-fighting should be either.  I think this demonstrates the dangers of going down the dark path of censorship.  Even if you don’t care about erotic romance or GLBT books, this should make you feel sick.  What if Amazon had decided that they didn’t want to offend Jews by offering them books about Christianity, and they deranked the King James Version of the Holy Bible, or Pope John Paul II’s In My Own Words?  What if they didn’t want to offend Obama supporters and deranked Bill O’Reilly?  What if they deranked the Koran so as not to make children think about terrorism, and deranked all holocaust books because some people think it didn’t happen, and deranked The Origin of Species because people don’t agree on evolution?

Part of being a free society means that we are sometimes going to see things we do not agree with.  It is a blessing, not a weakness.  And it’s not okay just because it happens to someone else.

I am strongly, firmly, against all content-based restrictions imposed on book browsing, purchasing, and buying.

5 thoughts on “Dear Amazon: WTF?

  1. I agree with you 150% (maybe even more). It’s not just about my book (although with my release date looming so soon, it’s definitely a very real concern). Truly, though, its the utter arbitrariness of what gets censored and what doesn’t that’s mind-boggling. If your book comes through with one of the “tags” Amazon has decided equals “adult” content, regardless of its actual content, it’s out.

    I’m sympathetic to the concerns of parents who don’t wnt their kids accessing inappropriate content on the web. But seriously, this doesn’t even achieve the goal. Plenty of NSFK content is still readily available on Amazon. It’s not just censorship, but censorship without an actual CENSOR deciding what passes muster and what doesn’t using some sort of reasonably objective measures.

    But at least I can say I’ve been amazon ranked now! Who knows, maybe it’ll become bagde of honor!

  2. Thanks so much for this posting. I linked to you, and I preordered Jackie’s book with an amazon giftcard (I get paid for one of my freelance gigs in amazon dollars). This is just so, so sad.

  3. Mind boggling. Positively mind boggling. Just yesterday I was talking about the ludicrous nature of this, citing Lady Chatterly as a way that the censor boards have gone before. And here I read that Lady Chatterly is deranked. Pardon me while I fall off my chair.

    Firstly, if the premise for all this moralizing is the censorship of “adult” material, should not every romance novel be deranked? Any novel in fact with sex?

    And who exactly makes these decisions? Where is the committee that decides what is morally unacceptable? Is playboy then morally acceptable? Oh, wait. yes. Because it only has to do with what Simone debeavoir would define as the other. Women being subjugated by the power group, men. I am still confused as to the deranking of classics.

    As you put it courtney. A genuine amazon fail.
    Chalk one pt up to the continuation of ignorance, discrimination, and hate. Hopefully the side of openness will win a point in turn.

    Whew. Some of my dearest friends write books that are or verge on erotic. Delilah Marvelle to name one. Luckily, people are banding together.

  4. I had followed this somewhat, but hadn’t really commented anywhere as I had wanted to organize thoughts and then, due to my usual sense of timing, well….

    After to-ing and fro-ing and doing all sorts of semi-mindless arguments with self organized thoughts to this.

    1. I come from a conservative background (with all that that entails).

    2. No matter what my own background is, what amazon had done offended me on the same point that it had others – censorship and, well, bigotry because…..

    3. No matter what I myself might choose or not choose to read, I would never, ever stoop to stop anyone else from reading or having access to the material. Hence thinking that what amazon had done falls into the “blind stupidity” category as well as contributing to the “idiot” factor.

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