Monday, April 13, 2009

Chronicles of the Backlash, Episode Eight: Amazon Disappears Queer Books

I imagine anyone who reads this blog has already heard (via) about's seeming revision of their search engine and sales rankings to make GLBTQ books harder to find -- not quite making them disappear, but invisible to normal searches. One writer whose book had vanished got this stock 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.
Among the material that been flagged as "adult" were some gay-themed young adult novels and children's books like Heather Has Two Mommies. This apparently happened only at Amazon US, not at the UK branch. And a few heterosexual works have also been reported flagged, such as Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Not unreasonably, there's been outrage, with people declaring that is dead to them now. One blogger at LiveJournal has suggested that it may have been the result of organized trolling: "It's obvious Amazon has some sort of automatic mechanism that marks a book as 'adult' after too many people have complained about it ... So somebody is going around and very deliberately flagging only LGBT(QQI)/feminist/survivor content on Amazon until it is unranked and becomes much more difficult to find." Amazon has tried to do damage control, claiming a cataloguing error, and when I did a general search for gay products just now (Monday night, 9:45 p.m. local time), I got all manner of flamingly gay material, so they may be fixing things. (I like this title: Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would: A Fresh Christian Approach. I've heard how Jesus loved us homosexuals...) On the other hand, as poesygalore said, a search on "homosexuality" still gives A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality as its first result, though the other results include more range than before; they've got their work cut out for them.

Anyway, the post I had been preparing in my head at work had to be revised. (About the persistence of discomfort with queerness among straight liberals, etc. I have no doubt that's true -- look at this quotation from a review of Thom Gunn's poetry that just happens to elide Gunn's homosexuality.) And there are other reasons to distrust Amazon. It's still not certain what happened, so stay tuned.