For those of you who missed this fast-spread news over Easter Weekend, Amazon.com is being targeted for discrimination. Adult content, with particular emphasis on homosexual titles, began disappearing from Amazon’s search results and individual listings have had their Sales Rank (how well they’re selling comparatively on the site) removed.
My exploration of the issue and more information, including what you can do about it, can be read under the cut:
News of this began trickling its way through the internet with force over the Easter Weekend before it reached the Twitter service, where it immediately took off in a frenzy of research, questions, speculation and, with good reason, public outrage.
For me this Amazon issue began on Saturday (April 11), when a friend online told me they’d read that Amazon was planning to de-list all its content pertaining to, or containing, homosexual content. Appalled, but skeptical, I did a little digging and found more than a couple sources that also had reason to believe this, based on the sudden exclusion of various titles from Amazon’s search and the removal of the Sales Rank from individual books’ listings.
I went to Amazon myself, going to .com instead of my usual .ca, and began to search for different titles. Sure enough, almost every title I looked for that had GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi, trans) content wasn’t coming up in my search, no matter how many different keywords or authour names I used. Going through direct links I already had, I found many of these listings still existed but their sale ranks were indeed gone.
Tina Anderson also pointed out the disturbing new trend on Amazon of search results including that a simple search of ‘homosexuality’ now garnered pages of books predominantly targeted at the subject negatively. You can see a comparison of Amazon.com and Amazon.ca at the images above.
As my site caters primarily to a manga reading audience, yes, yaoi was/is affected. There were several yaoi titles that no longer came up when I searched for their names or authors (Kitty Media titles in particular) and the pages no longer had sales rankings.
With the issue true and proven, I sent an e-mail to Amazon, using a channel through my Amazon Associates that I’d gotten a swift response from before. I got the response Sunday morning and it told me that Amazon had enacted a new policy that all content deemed as “adult in nature” was being de-listed as “a courtesy to searchers”.
Simon over at Icarus Publishing brings up an excellent point that:
“…they could easily offer the ability to exclude erotica, or LGBT books (or any subject, for that matter), from search results as an end-user option.”
This meant it removed stats that many creators, publishers and the curious, such as myself, used to see selling trends. It falsifies all other numbers on the site when it excludes the popularity of books based on their content, giving an inaccurate picture of what’s selling as a whole. Worst of all though, searchers now wouldn’t be able to find any of this content, and thus not purchase it, without a direct link to the source.
More than that, many blatant adult content (both violent and sexual), such as pornography, including hentai titles, were unaffected. With titles specifically categorized under pornography and tagged with a million different references to the fact, why were these titles not affected? And yet titles with little to no adult content, but merely containing homosexual content or tags pertaining to it (with the exception of those that rally against it), were gone.
By this time, the #amazonfail news was spreading like wildfire with fans and creators alike rallying together to flesh out the issue and contact Amazon. It was a blatant matter of discrimination, and whether by fault or intent, it was an issue that had to be dealt with head on. The rallying support is always never short of impressive, and while at the time I could offer only the e-mail I too had received from Amazon, I was happy to see so many taking a stand against this discrimination.
While boycotts, GoogleBombs and tag-wars (labelling everything on Amazon as ‘gay porn’ and seeing how Amazon takes it down), were among the immediate responses, many sent concerned, and importantly level-headed, e-mails to Amazon and it was this flood of notice that I believe undoubtedly got Amazon’s attention.
From Erica Friedman of Okazu:
“I do not advocate being outraged. Outrage accomplishes nothing. I *do* advocate a polite, but firm letter campaign asking that Amazon allow sales to indicate sales rank and nothing else. I distrust their definition of “adult” if it does not include Twilight, or Playboy, but does include Annie on My Mind.
Please make a firm request that all books be ranked and that they do not involve behavior that can be seen as censorship or “protection.” Please feel free to Digg this or forward it to MLs, forums, sites, etc. The more people who protest politely, the more of an impact we can make.”
Personally, I watched and waited, as I tend to when this kind of situations come up, because I know it only takes a day for things to crack open and expose new sides. This morning (Monday), Publisher’s Weekly posted word from Amazon that the exclusions and de-listing had been the fault of a glitch within their systems, adding that there was no such new policy regarding adult material.
As the first word from Amazon since the floodgate of protest opened, this was certainly not what anyone hoped or expected to hear. A glitch? A hacker has since come forward claiming credit for the ripple-effect,though many remain skeptical of his ability to do what he claimed.
And yet, even giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt in this instance, it doesn’t explain the e-mails that many of us, myself included, had received. If this was an attempt to brush it under the rug, a very bad job was being done and no responsibility was being claimed.
As of now the issue remains in place. The hundreds (if not thousands) of books stripped of their place in listings remain as such and while Amazon claims they are addressing the ‘glitch’, there has been no official word on if all affected titles will be relisted.
Edit: Amazon.com has made another public response for this incident, and say they are currently in the process of correcting the listing errors and restoring books removed from lists and sales ranking. More information can be read at the above, including theorized, thought yet to be firmly proven, thoughts on the problem’s cause.
Erica Friedman’s post, Okazu: Amazon DeRanks Adult Books, offers productive and proactive ways to contact Amazon about the issue.
You can read more about the topic at the following places:
Why Is Amazon Removing The Sales Ranking From Gay-Lesbian Books?
Comics212: AmazonFail, Amazon.com Exposes Bias Against Gay and Lesbian Books
Icarus Comics: This Can’t End Well… Amazon Unranks GLBT, “adult” books
GGYMeta: Amazon, We Can Do This, Yes We Can
Yaoi 911: Amazon Excluding LGBT Material From Searches