In their infinite wisdom, the folks over at Amazon.com have decided that our delicate sensibilities need to be protected from "the gay." Also the lesbian, the transgender, the bisexual, some randomly chosen het romances and the occasional work of pure filth leading to societal collapse like Lady Chatterley's Lover. To enforce this "protection," as of last Friday, they've removed the sales ranking and associated best seller lists of books which are classified as "adult." Some users are also reporting that these books also no longer appear when searched for, even under author or title searches.
"Adult" apparently covers everything from Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues to Vito Russo's Celluloid Closet to Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, as well almost all gay and lesbian romance and erotica. Nonfiction authors of LGBT self-help and religion books as well as fiction authors of gay threesome erotica have all been caught up in the same net. Why, you ask, as well you might. Well, here's an excerpt of a letter recieved by author Mark Probst in which Amazon explains the new "policy:"
"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."
Discerning readers of filth will be happy to know that if their prurient interests run in a heterosexual direction, those titles remain readily available on Amazon.com's bestseller lists, complete with sales rankings, just to make sure that they're very findable.
How does this relate to independent bookselling? Well, back in the misty regions of time in the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a more or less thriving industry of small to medium independent feminist, GLBT and other specialty/niche market bookstores. Most large cities and many medium-sized cities had at least one independent bookstore of this type, to the point where there were literally hundreds of them all over North America. They ordered books, hosted events, held readings and distributed literature, literature which in many cases was completely unavailable otherwise.They were locally owned businesses that actively participated in their communities.
There were of course, significant disadvantages.These stores weren't big enough to force publishers and wholesalers to give them sizeable discounts. They didn't have nearly instantaneous distribution or microwaves for sale or acres and acres of floorspace. In short, they weren't always easy.
Fast forward to the now. There are less than 25 remaining GLBT and/or feminist bookstores left. Amazon.com and to a lesser extent, Barnes and Noble are the behemoths of bookselling, all bookselling in the U.S. This means that as with most industries that are transforming into monopolies, they get to control nearly all avenues of distribution as well as determining what you get to read and not read simply by making it disappear. If someone up the foodchain at Amazon decides that as of tomorrow, your uncle's book on making dandelion salad does not deserve to appear in their search engine, then, hey it's gone. Best of luck finding a way to effectively argue against this through the bookseller itself. Accountability is not a strong point.
But here's what you can do: buy your books from the remaining independent bookstores. If you've got it, pay the extra $2 or $3 more than you'd be paying Amazon. Think about book buying the way you do buying locally grown food or locally made items. In the long run, it's better for authors and small presses and new voices and for your own reading as well. Work toward the day where there's so much competition that the likes of Amazon.com wouldn't dream of targetting any population that they believe can't effectively fight back against bigotry and stupidity.
Causes Catherine Lundoff Supports
The Women's Prison Book Project - provides books to incarcerated women Theater Unbound - promotes theater by women: playwrights, directors, performers...