Laurie Toby Edison

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Amazon.com: Now Controlling Your Search Results for Your Own Good

Debbie says:

For technical and social (and vaguely religious) reasons, I’ve been largely out of touch for a couple of days. To my astonishment, I came back into touch to discover that amazon.com has rocked the LGBT and erotica worlds by making a complex decision that seems to affect all books by publishers with a focus on gay content, all books by erotica publishers, and a variety of other books that don’t fit that criteria … including our own Women En Large and Familiar Men.

Here’s the basic story from a gay publisher who wrote to Amazon when he noticed the change, and got a rather simplistic response.

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

In other words, Amazon has decided that they don’t want you to find a potentially “offensive” book when you’re conducting a “harmless” search. If you are searching on “Giovanni” because of the opera, or your Italian cousin who writes travelogues, they don’t want you to have to see James Baldwin’s legendary Giovanni’s Room, a 1950s novel about gay men. Of course, their criteria don’t include, for example, heterosexual violent sex. You can search on “lamb” because you’re looking for recipes, and be confronted with Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, a book I happen to deeply admire, which unquestioningly deals with vicious and graphic violence done to women and men by two male serial killers.

Click here to see what happens if you search on “homosexuality” on Amazon under the new policies. It’s scary.

The meta-writer community on LiveJournal is making a list of affected books. The list is extraordinary in its length (note the ten pages (!) of comments), its variety, and its stunning degree of cluelessness.

If Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books (fantasy novels with a kinky twist) are included, it’s not just small or specialty publishers. If Mary Renault’s The Charioteer (a 1959 mainstream historical novel with homophilic content and no sex) is included, it’s not about explicitness. If Jessica Valenti & Jaclyn Friedman,’s Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape is included, it’s not about titillation. If Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, a social history of AIDS, still shows its sales rank, it’s not about consistency. (Shilts’ other books have been blacked out.) The best guess I see online is that they made the call based on keywords and tags, blogging tools which are supposed to help us find the books we want.

An online petition to Amazon can be found here. When I signed, it was close to 8500 signatures.

Amazon.com should be ashamed of itself. This kind of blanket exclusion of certain kinds of titles is not what we expect from our premiere online bookseller. Some people

My best guess: they’re going to be really really sorry they did this. And that will result either in them undoing it as expeditiously as they can, or in them digging in their heels and claiming they’re proud of their decision. In which case, some enterprising smaller online store can make a lot of money making these books easy to find: notice how the small video stores profit from Blockbuster’s “no X-rated films, regardless of what else is true about them” policy?

6 Responses to “Amazon.com: Now Controlling Your Search Results for Your Own Good”

  1. Substantia Jones Says:

    Absolutely dizzying. I almost hope they drag their feet reversing this misguided policy, giving the opposition an opportunity to organize a boycott, or protest through use of their book review function.

    I’ll be writing a letter reminding Amazon that everything they sell can be purchased elsewhere. Everything.

    This is definitely a blip in humankind’s evolution. Also just poor business sense. Thanks for the alert.

  2. vesta44 Says:

    I signed the petition yesterday when I first saw it mentioned, and I wrote a note to amazon telling them that I do most of my online shopping with them and that if they continue with this policy, I’ll reconsider that decision and find somewhere else to do all my online shopping. They aren’t that monolithic that I can’t find other places to shop online that have service just as good and just as safe (and that don’t send me diet book recommendations just because I bought “The Obesity Myth”).

  3. Patsy Nevins Says:

    I buy…or have been buying…a lot of books from Amazon, & they will indeed be sorry that they are trying their own take on censorship. I expect that they will next censor any of the books which say anything positive about fat people & being fat, given how popular & accepted that is in our culture today. I want to be able to find whatever I am looking for & not have Amazon or anyone else tell me what I should search for. And if titles come up which do not interest me, I don’t have to click on them, now do I?

  4. Lisa Hirsch Says:

    Another reason to shop at your local independent bookstore, if you have one. (I recently saw an interesting analysis of how Amazon-type “you might also be interested in….” software restricts diversity of content rather than enlarging it – yet another reason.)

  5. gnomeprincess Says:

    I found this post on livejournal about this topic, and I’m pretty pissed about it.

    http://community.livejournal.com/brutal_honesty/3168992.html

    Go check it out and you will see how assholes started this.

  6. [body impolitic] Shedding More Light on the Amazon Controversy Says:

    [...] was tired and outraged last night, and I didn’t say that the removal of Women En Large and Familiar Men, along with thousands of other titles with erotic or GLBT content from amazon.com’s indirect [...]

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