Amazon Censors LGBT Books

April 13, 2009

For those of you living in a cave with no wireless internet, ranks books according to their sales on the site. Amazon being what it is, its sales rankings have become ... well let's just say "somewhat important," kinda like the NYT bestseller list is "somewhat important," to the prestige of the book and the perception of marketability of the author. And as anyone who knows anything about publishing knows: if an author is not perceived to be marketable, the author does not get published. Plus, if the book isn't ranked, it doesn't show up on bestseller lists ... even if it's a bestseller.

Apparently, when someone noticed that (his and other) LGBT books seemed to have lost their ranking on Amazon, he asked them to correct the (he thought) glitch and was told:

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.
Best regards,
Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

Naturally, everybody and their little brother have been looking up books to see what's been excluded. Excluded books include:

Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography
Outing Yourself: How To Come Out As Lesbian Or Gay To Your Family, Friends, And Co-Workers
Gay Life And Culture: A World History
Homosexuality And Civilization
Heather Has Two Mommies (because of those spicy sex scenes, apparently)

Not excluded books include:

Fear Of Flying
The Complete A**hole's Guide To Handling Chicks
Ron Jeremy: The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz
Traci Lords: Underneath It All
I'm With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie

The general guess is that LGBT books of ANY stamp contain "adult" material, and straight-up erotica and porn does not. Also, interestingly, feminist titles are getting excluded too.

So naturally, I went and looked up some Asian American titles to see what was what and found that the following titles had been stripped of Amazon ranking:

Q & A: Queer in Asian America
Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience
Restoried Selves: Autobiographies of Queer Asian-Pacific-American Activists
Take Out: Queer Writing From Asian Pacific America
Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures
Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire
Asian American Women: The Frontiers Reader
Relationships Among Asian American Women
Type O Negative
Rolling the R's
Talking to the Moon
Bite Hard
Exile and the Heart
Cultural Revolution

... and the list keeps rolling along. (I'm out of time, but feel free to post further discoveries in the comments.)

Dude, it's not like it isn't hard enough for Asian American queer and feminist texts to get noticed in the first place. Talk about marginalization!

Wanna scream back? This blog has suggestions (just scroll down).




I'm surprised about this blog post. It was posted on April 13, when Amazon had already responded saying this was a glitch. I would understand posting this on April 12 when we all assumed the worst, but this is just poor research as to what the current facts were. "Amazon has a grand new scheme for censoring LGBT books." No, they don't. It was a glitch which they said affected 50,000+ books from various categories, not just LGBT. And it's been fixed. I'm also surprised that the post hasn't been updated to reflect that.I can understand assuming the worst possible motives, but when more information comes out it's really important for you - as a magazine and a blog - to provide that information and update your conclusions. If you still think Amazon was trying to put down the LGBT community, that's fine, but base that opinion on the complete set of facts. And update your posts as new information comes in. I don't expect thorough research and journalistic-standards with every blog I read, but this blog reflects upon the magazine and makes me think it is just as sensationalist as Slashdot.There is a really good writeup on the responses to this incident at
RV, I was aware of amazon's "glitch" excuse when I wrote the post, but found it so vague and inadequate as to not even consider it a response. Since then, Amazon's explanations have gotten more detailed, but remain open to interpretation. I don't find them entirely convincing.A number of bloggers who understand the issues better than I do have chimed in about how there had to be more at work than just a "glitch." See: she points out, algorithms have an opinion; you have to decide what is "adult" and what is not to make these algorithms work. Considering children's books about alternative families "adult" simply because they mention same-sex partnerships arises out of distinct biases about same-sex relationships, regardless of what other kinds of books were also being shut down.But you're right that this post should be updated, and when I'm less swamped, perhaps I'll be able to get to the main post. For now, your link should serve as an update, and I thank you for it.
Thanks for your response Claire. I agree that Amazon's initial responses weren't good - many have pointed out that they should have replied via Twitter and other social media immediately, instead of waiting a day and giving a short response with no detail.I didn't mean to sound harsh in my initial comment. I would have posted exactly the same post a few years ago, but recently I've seen too many rush-to-judgements with memes across blogs, Twitter, etc. that end up being nothing. I've read the Tech Crunch guest post and think Amazon will take the feedback, but hope people don't attribute ignorance on their part as maliciousness. They're one of the "good" companies in my eyes that takes feedback well and has damn cool products (probably because they have a low-paid CEO who put up with short term losses in order to build long term profits and a sustainable business model :)
i think this is a "keep an eye on it" situation: the first problem arises and if it gets resolved, you go back to shopping. but you keep an eye on it.if it's like abercrombie and fitch, who resolve weird issues only when there's an outcry, and then go on to pile up the weird racial issues year after year, then at some point they lose the benefit of the has done well in the past and deserve the benefit of the doubt, but i'm definitely keeping an eye on them. you may not have heard of this, but a couple of years ago there was a minor "glitch" around searching for books under the keyword "abortion" ('s perfectly reasonable to believe that this was a quirk of the amazon system. but this latest LGBT issue is a little less believable. and next time, if there is a next time? they'd better watch out and respond better, or i'll start believing that they make "editorial" decisions around keywords and tags.