April 13, 2009

The short version: Amazon.com has instituted a new policy whereby, if the company decides a book has “adult” content, for all intents and purposes it doesn’t come up in a search. LGBT books, including mine, are disproportionately represented in this group. If you’re as outraged and frightened by this de facto censorship as I am, go to http://www.minalhajratwala.com/blog/ to find out what you can do about it.

The longer version: Amazon.com’s new policy, as set forth in an e-mail from one of its customer service representatives, is to strip “adult” books of their sales rank, which means that the books in question no longer appear in a search. LGBT books seem to be especially subject to removal, including not just my own memoir SWISH: MY QUEST TO BECOME THE GAYEST PERSON EVER AND WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING INSTEAD–the Kindle edition is available but neither the hardback nor the upcoming paperback can be found without great effort, which means that nobody without a Kindle can read the book–but also books like NOW THAT YOU KNOW: A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING THEIR GAY AND LESBIAN CHILDREN, DEAD BOYS CAN’T DANCE: SEXUAL ORIENTATION, MASCULINITY, AND SUICIDE, and Foucault’s THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY. “Adult” books with a more heterosexual slant seem to be much less affected–PLAYBOY: SIX DECADES OF CENTERFOLDS, for example. If you do a search for “homosexuality,” the first result on amazon.com is A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO PREVENTING HOMOSEXUALITY.

If you are as outraged and frightened by this as I am, here are some things you can do:

1) Sign the protest petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/in-protest-at-amazons-new-adult-policy.

2) Call Amazon customer service at 1-866-216-1072 or Amazon executive customer service at 1-800-201-7575.

3) Complain via an e-mail form at http://bit.ly/amazoncomplain or complain via e-mail to Amazon’s “executive customer service”:at ecr@amazon.com .

4) Twitter using the #amazonfail hashtag.

5) If you belong to a group that cares about books or rights, encourage your organization to make a public statement.

6) Close your account via an e-mail form at https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/general-questions.html?ie=UTF8&browse_node_id=508510#csTop .

You can read more about the situation at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/04/amazon-deranks-gayfriendly-books-the-twitterverse-notices.html .

Here, in case it’s helpful, is a copy of the e-mail I just sent.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

I am horrified at Amazon.com’s new policy of stripping books with “adult” content of their rankings and thereby of their appearance in searches. I’m astonished to find myself writing that the fact that books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual themes are disproportionately likely to be among the deranked books is almost beside the point; the disgusting thing is that you’re deranking any books at all. Although Amazon.com is a private entity and entitled by law to sell the books it wishes to sell in the manner in which it wishes to sell them, it is also the first bookstore of choice for the plurality, if not the majority, of book buyers in the world, and for many of them it is also the last bookstore of choice. This policy, in other words, amounts to de facto worldwide censorship; and it’s simply impossible for me to patronize an establishment that operates in such a repulsive way. Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars at Amazon.com, but I have written to close my account; I’ll also be forwarding this e-mail to everyone with whom I’m in touch via e-mail, Facebook, and my blog–this is thousands of people–and encouraging them to cancel their accounts too.

If Amazon.com revokes this policy immediately and issues an abject apology for showing such astonishing scorn for the principle of free speech upon which this country has operated for hundreds of years, I will consider signing up again for a few months, to give you the chance to begin to rebuild the trust you have destroyed. Otherwise, I will never purchase anything from Amazon.com again.

Yours truly,

Joel Derfner

Update: Amazon is apparently now claiming that the disproportionate representation of LGBT books is a glitch. Whether you find that believable or not, what isn’t a glitch is that they’re deranking any books at all. And that’s much worse.

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9 Responses to The short version

  1. Lucas says:

    Hey Joel,

    I share your rage, even though it doesn’t affect me as closely as you. I hope you don’t mind…I wanted to spread the word by reposting your post in my own blog, quoting you of course. If you don’t want me to, just yell at me and I’ll take it down.

  2. Sharon says:

    I posted about this on Facebook and livejournal earlier. Also twitter, actually. This is absolutely ridiculous.

    BTW, exactly how is a “glitch” possible when a customer service rep admits to it? Mark Probst, a GLBT YA author, blogged about it:
    link to markprobst.livejournal.com

  3. Sharon says:

    Oh, and I added you to the list of deranked books here: link to community.livejournal.com

  4. Sharon says:

    I am seriously spamming you. Gay Haiku has also been deranked.

  5. David B. says:

    I have taken action! I can’t believe this is occurring in 2009. My one dilemma is that I just ordered a Kindle. While I fully intend not to use it to order any further books from Amazon, I believe there is a sneaky way to get it to display books from other vendors, the only problem being that I think this requires an Amazon.com account to carry off. For that reason, I have not yet cancelled my Amazon.com account, but I have called and written and signed petitions, and they certainly won’t get another cent from me. I KNEW they would pull this shit the minute I committed to them to this level with Kindle. I was so reluctant but finally took the plunge.

  6. Aidan says:

    Ihave signed the petition, e-mailed, and asked all of my friends to sign the petition as well. And I have vowed not to spend money at Amazon.com umtil this changes. (So let me know when it changes. Amazon.com is the best resource for lace books.)

  7. Elizabeth L in Apex, NC says:

    Please read the news article cited below. I don’t know how much of this was intentional, but it appears that Amazon is attempting to rectify the situation.

    link to cnn2-cnet.com.com

  8. Houston says:

    Your ranking has been restored to Swish. I wrote a letter to them and blogged about it as well.

    I’m not satisfied with their explanation. I think they owe the LGBT community an apology and affected authors compensation.

    Cheers.

  9. Ruby says:

    I’m not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual… But do I have to be to protest this??!!! Apparently, my friends seem to think so. They say this is a matter for ‘others’ to worry about, and that I shouldn’t be pissed off about it. Besides, books with ‘weird’ stuff shouldnt be on Amazon in the first place. I cried :(

    I mean, their ages range from 24 to 30 and they’re still as closed minded as ever. No wonder people invented heaven and hell. They’d like to think that life doesn’t stop with death… They would just LOVE to discriminate even beyond that.

    I wonder if they have ever checked the statistics… Heterosexuals commit more crimes such as rape, murder, kidnapping and torture than those of different sexual orientations. They created slavery and proposition 8… and their hatred is spreading not only in their ‘right’ laws but in the virtual world as well where we’re ALL supposed to be equal ㅠ_ㅠ

    I’ve been reading your blog since 2002 and I remember that I was bummed out when you wanted to stop blogging… And to see you accomplish so much since then is really inspiring to me. Ignore my spelling mistakes, if there are any. I’m an Eng lit major… and though I don’t have the confidence of blogging about the daily happenings in my life, I’d like to publish something in my lifetime haha.

    Sadly, none of your books made it past customs here… Actually, nothing on homosexuality ever makes it in here (Saudi Arabia) where homosexuals get the death penalty -_-

    I would have loved to read them though… Anyway, I can tell that they’re great. I wish they ranked on the top lists, not just on Amazon but dare I hope your next book be a New York Times best seller?

    Excuse my French, but fuck those labels. Your work is awesome, and I don’t have to tell you that many people appreciate reading your blog.

    I cancelled my Amazon account and have spread the word to people whom I know will appreciate it.

    Good luck in everything you do. I’m glad things worked out ^^

    (Sorry for the long comment, and sorry about the rant)

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