AMAZON VS. GAYS, FEMINISTS.

Like many writers with a new book out, I’ve been obsessively charting the vicissitudes of my Amazon.com sales ranking. Until a couple of days ago, when the ranking disappeared. At the same time, the hardcover version of my book stopped coming up in searches, although the Kindle version still did.

At first I figured it was a technological hiccup, and on Friday evening I emailed my publisher to ask them to get it fixed. It turns out, though, that my book – about the global battle for reproductive rights -- was stripped of its ranking as part of some crazy initiative to exclude “adult” content from searches, rankings and bestseller lists. So far, it looks like most of the de-listed books were gay titles, but feminist books were hit as well. The self-published author Mark R. Probst got the following response when he emailed Amazon to find out what was going on:

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.

Among the volumes that have been excluded as “adult” are Love Undetectable by Andrew Sullivan and The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti, as well as novels by Dorothy Allison, Rita Mae Brown and even E.M. Forster. As the L.A. Times book blog noted, books that have retained their ranks include American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds. I checked to see if Jonathan Little’s new novel The Kindly Ones, a book stuffed full of torture, incest and sadomasochism, was still ranked. Sure enough, it was.

People have been going nuts about all this on Twitter under #amazonfail. It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on. It seems seriously unlikely that Amazon did something this stupid on purpose. Some bloggers have suggested
that there was a right-wing campaign to inundate the site with complaints about certain books. Perhaps someone at the company just chose a truly ridiculous set of keywords to create a filter. As of Sunday night, Amazon was blaming a “glitch,” though it seems strange that a mere accidental technical problem would somehow pass over the books of straight men like the Angel of Death skipping Jewish houses in the Pesach story.

Whatever happened, the consequences aren’t trivial. If a book, especially a brand new one, doesn’t come up in searches over several days, it’s pretty easy to see how that could impact sales. We’ll probably find out today what went wrong, and Amazon, facing a PR disaster, will probably fix it. But the whole thing is creepy. The only thing that’s stopping me from getting really upset is the fact that I’m pleased to be in such good company.

--Michelle Goldberg

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