Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes

April 12th, 2009 · 211 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Dear Amazon,
(See updates at the end of the post, including link to official response from Amazon.)

Happy Easter (or if it’s Monday morning, happy belated Easter!). It seems the Easter Bunny, while hopping down the bunny trail, left some rotten eggs all over the Amazon site while we were sleeping. Suddenly, many books lost their sales ranking and levels of searchability on the Amazon site.

Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon customer base by restricting access to content that someone (who?) decided was offensive. In your zeal to protect me from myself, of course, you managed to leave content that I find singularly repulsive online (really, exploring the human condition is bad, but Mein Kampf is just fine?).

This loss of ranking, listing, search functionality seems to be largely, but not wholly!, limited to fiction and non-fiction with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. Authors affected range from E.M. Forster to James Baldwin to John Barrowman, our beloved Captain Jack on Dr. Who and Torchwood and others, including a host of female authors who write erotic fiction.

Gee, I can buy a book on training fighting dogs (something so offensive my stomach hurts just looking at the cover image), but specific types of human relationships are suddenly taboo? Gee, that this happened on Easter is the kind of symbolism an editor would find too heavy-handed if an author wrote it (though some say this has been happening for a few days)!

As a heterosexual, happily married adult female, I am deeply offended by this decision. As a customer, I am angered enough to take my business elsewhere, and I’d like a refund on my Kindle since, despite reports that your database sweep was not complete, you have decided to limit my ability to purchase books — from literary classics like Lady Chatterley’s Lover to newesque titles like Tipping The Velvet and Running With Scissors. (Thank you Edward Champion, Sarah Weinman, and Carolyn Kellogg for noting some of these titles!)

And wow, great work on the search butchering. A straight-on search of Bastard Out Of Carolina returns…wait for it…links to five books before the Dorothy Allison version ranks. Pretty Baby, the Brooke Shields movie, ranks higher. Neat. I mean, I’ve never loved your search, but this is really bad. It is amusing to me that The Handmaid’s Tale pops up higher in this search than the actual book I’m seeking.

By the time you get to the corporate offices tomorrow, you will realize that the issue has been all over Twitter and that various news organizations have noted the issue. You’ll see blog posts and many comments. I hope you’ll take them seriously, and I hope you’ll do us — your customers — the courtesy of responding in the most public fashion possible!

Kassia Krozser

Update 12:02 p.m. for contact information: 800-201-7575 (demand to speak to someone who will take complaint). Mail: Amazon, PO Box 81226, Seattle, WA 98108

Update 5:35 p.m.: Apparently this quiet policy change has, as Angela James notes in the comments, been happening for a week. It hit critical mass this morning. So what’s changed in the past few hours? Several thousand (20,000+) additional mentions of #amazonfail on Twitter (and growing). A Facebook group. Increased media scrutiny. And a lot of really angry customers.

The delisting seems to affect a wide swath of books with sexual content, particularly those books with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. These books are not removed from the Amazon database, but the action directly impacts sales ranking (something customers use), bestseller lists, and search (as you can see in the comments, different searches have different results, thanks quirky Amazon search engine).

Bottom line is that most customers don’t know (nor care to know) the nuances of Amazon search. As noted in this comment, authors are invisible to many readers. As I noted earlier, there are quirk in the Amazon database that have lead to uneven results: some books have lost their ranks for print editions, but not Kindle.

Throughout the day, people have been seeking books that have been delisted and the the collection is wide and varied…and there is a common theme. Amazon’s response has been abysmal. Public relations people have been largely silent, leaving the heavy lifting to the customer service people. As Kat Meyer comments below, and I’ll paraphrase, corporate communications fail, since responses from unprepared reps include:

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.

And this:

#amazonfail According to customer service reps, Amazon is delisting books which people have complained about.

Hours later, several reporters have heard back from Amazon and the company is now stating this is just a “glitch”; granted it’s a glitch that impacts the sales of individuals and companies, but, hey, no harm right (that was sarcasm)? Ron Charles from the Washington Post posted this comment via Twitter:

AMZ spokesman Drew Herdener tells me “We recently discovered glitch to sales rank feature. Working 2 correct problem as quickly as possible”

Update 4/13/2009, 3:10 p.m.: Amazon has issued a response: “This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.” (full release at Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Other Commentary:

File Under: Square Pegs

211 responses so far ↓

  • Shelli Stevens // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you! Great letter. And you nailed it with the repulsive/heinous books they left on there that weren’t ‘hidden’.

    You’ll find Naughty and Spice also discussing this if you click on my link.

  • Ann // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Amen. In the past, I have used Amazon for fulfillment in many of my contests. Since I live out of the US, it is a great help to me, and I spend a LOT of money there.

    If they donÂŽt reconsider, I will spend my cash elsewhere, even if it costs more in shipping. Like hell should they get away with this.

  • Lakota Phillips // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for a great letter. Caught the link on Jaci’s FB page. Do you mind if i quote you when i cover this on my radio spot wednesday on latalkradio?
    Also linking to this on my facebook so my readers can access.
    Thanks again – Kota

  • Stacy Jill // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    What a fantastic letter. I can’t wait to see the response (hoping that you even get one!!) 🙂

  • Erastes // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you, Booksquare.

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  • Angela James // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    In the interest of keeping “the facts” straight I think it’s only fair to say that this:Gee, that this happened on Easter is the kind of symbolism an editor would find too heavy-handed if an author wrote it (though some say this has been happening for a few days)! is purely coincidental, that it exploded today. All based on a random comment someone made on Twitter this morning. It’s been happening for about a week but unfortunately, no one with a large enough following had picked it up until it was mentioned this morning and was run with.

  • Seth // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Great letter! Circulating this on Twitter and via email. Great job summing everything up. Here’s hoping that Amazon realizes what they’ve done and fixes it.

  • Becks // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Watching with interest to see the PR unfurl over the next day or so. Thanks for such an informative letter.

  • Jon Reed // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for highlighting this, Kasia. This is truly disgraceful – and blatantly discriminatory, when explicit hetero material is allowed but not explicit LGBT literature/history/biography is not. I hope everyone signs the petition at:

  • Byron // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Truly outrageous behavior from Amazon! Talk about sexual repression – not to mention the hypocrisy of still ranking Playboy and, uh, Hitler. Thanks for bringing this subject to such public attention.

  • pusserboots // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Great letter. I’ve posted a link to it from the BookCrossing book talk forum to get a few more eyeballs.

  • Amanda Young // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Amen. Let’s hope the barrage of complaints makes Amazon pull their head out and fix things.

  • Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon : Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm

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  • abby frucht // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Agreed. Great letter. Just bought a bunch of books from Amazon last week; would not have done so had I known about their plans to initiate this new policy. Unless they reconsider, will buy my books elsewhere

  • Phill Senters // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    It seems murder and mayhem, blood and gore are fine. But people showing love and affection causes grief.
    Strange creatures, you Earthlings!

  • Kat Meyer // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Nice summary, Kassia. No, we don’t have all the facts or a response from Amazon HQ yet, but it’s evident that someone at Amazon made some very unfortunate decisions that do not serve their customer base very well. I hope that this situation can open a wider dialogue about the responsibilities a retailer has to both its content providers and its b to c customers. If this was a matter of trying to protect minors from adult content, there are other options available, and certainly Amazon could put one or two of their engineers to work coming up with one that protects AND serves. Or, better yet, get on Twitter/Facebook/their own forums and ask for feedback from customers about such decisions BEFORE they are instituted.
    Bottom line – let’s hope everyone learns from this and does a better job going forward.

  • Joe // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Well, Amazon has been in the abuse business for a while now. It’s no longer news. Why all the outage now? Is it a homosexual deal, or what?

    The books are still available on Amazon. If not there, they are available elsewhere. No freedoms have been lost. This witch hunt at Amazon serves no purpose.

  • Stan Scott // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    My partner wrote the Lambda-award winning anthology “The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers”. I just now did a search on the book and, hypocritically, Amazon DOES give me access to a page where THIRD-PARTIES sell the book. But you can’t buy the book directly from Amazon — the book is shown as “unavailable”.

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  • Mary // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Joe, it matters because it is up to citizens to call these corporations on their behavior. If we don’t, to me it is the equivalent of lying down and accepting whatever they decide. No thanks.

    Also, it steals money from these authors by making their works difficult/impossible to find for the Amazon shopper. I bet Amazon employees wouldn’t like us taking some of their money because they have views we dislike/are offended by.

    All I can think is that I am so grateful for Twitter and the outspoken people there.

  • Tyler // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Nice letter! Will be interested to see their response.

  • Edward G. Talbot // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    It’s possible that the wildfire spreading in twitter is not based on complete information, but for now I’ll accept that Mark Probst’s specific quote of Amazon’s reasoning is accurate.

    If so, there was a simple frigging solution for you, Amazon:
    1.Flag whatever titles you consider “Adult” with a database flag (Amazon’s back-end is more complicated than a simple database, but the idea is the same)

    2.Add a “Exclude Adult Material” checkbox on the front search and any search from which you want to exclude the Adult material.

    That’s it. There may be better solutions, but that’s one. And yes, I completely get that technically it was easier for you just to delete sales rankings and not have to change anything else. But that’s what IT professionals call a “hack”, something that is done not because it’s the best way to do it, but because it’s the easiest way to do it.

    One other note – while I totally agree that lumping all GBLT stuff into adult is discriminatory, I’d suggest that the biggest issue is not what is adult and what isn’t, but the fact that they have chosen to exclude anything in the manner they have. I don’t care if the cover photo would make Larry Flynt blush and there’s not a single page without sex, the book shouldn’t be losing its Amazon rankings. Nor should it be excluded from searches without implementing something with more options, such as my checkbox suggestion.

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  • Phill Senters // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I think there would many more signing the petition if we were not required to enter a physical address.

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  • Rachel // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Great post; thanks for bringing it to my attention. But I feel like the way it’s written is a little misleading: You are still able to search for and PURCHASE all these books on Amazon (and it appears on Kindle as well, for the titles I checked), no? The only thing Amazon has removed are the sales rankings.

  • Marti_L // Apr 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for this great article. This is a sad situation. I saw the hashtag for #AmazonFail at Twitter and read several articles about it – found yours to be the most thoughtful, and wanted to thank you for writing a well thought out response.

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  • R. Case // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Rachel: To remove sales rankings in a market where many people mistakenly believe a book’s worth is indicated by said rank or its bestseller status is to hurt a potentially worthwhile or deserving author. To do so because the author writes about GLBT topics should set up a few red flags for the rest of us. Amazon already deletes negative reviews and has been caught removing unfavorable tags. What will they move to censor next?

  • Kiernan Kelly // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you so much for a wonderfully on-target letter, Booksquare!

  • Stan Scott // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I tried to call Amazon directly using their customer number, 800-201-7575. After many minutes, they told me to go to an Amazon page, press Help at the top right and then click the Contact Us button. I spent many more minutes trying to make the person understand I wanted to register my complaint, with no success, and finally asked to speak to a supervisor. At that point, they cut me off completely.

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  • Xu Xi // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for saying this. You echo so many of us. Im taking my business elsewhere and have removed Amazon as a link on my authors site.

    Heres a petition that I would encourage others to sign:

  • Nannette Croce // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    R. Case, while I am not familiar with other aspects of this situation (I search by title usually and don’t give a fig about sales rank), I must point out that I have posted many negative reviews on Amazon and never had one deleted––even my Vine reviews, where I get the books free.

  • Kith // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    That is a great letter I hope they react come monday morning. I hope someone out there, in this field of booksellers and authors, might even be a journalist for a ÂŽhand-soldÂŽ newspaper with an online paper out there…

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  • Sam // Apr 12, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    You might not want to claim “various news organizations” have made a note of this tempest in a teacup, because none have.

    Well, whatever. Enjoy your boycott.

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  • Jonathan Briggs // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I am a grown up and will buy my future purchases from a grown up shop unless Amazon retracts this decision.

  • Lev Raphael // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I noticed the missing ranks recently but thought it was a glitch. Now I see its censorship. Bizarrely, my new memoir My Germany, about my parents, myself and the Holocaust, has no listing. Why? because Im gay and mention it in the book! Apparently that puts it off-limits for amazons general clientele who would–what?–be polluted by just the word itself? Ironically, gayness is a minor part of the book and theres not an iota of explicit content.

    Ive been notifying writer friends, some of whom have pulled their amazon accounts, and have alerted Pams House Blend as well as written about it on Facebook. Please spread the word, and dont spend any money on amazon until they reverse this bigoted policy.

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  • Kelly Fineman // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I’m already inclined to purchase elsewhere, although I’ve sometimes purchased from Amazon based on base issues like economics. But unless they reverse this position, I’m declaring a boycott.

    Thanks for your thoughtful, well-articulated post.

  • Jane Fletcher // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    However, the amazon site still provides links to list of its gay and lesbian bestsellers – which is now almost exclusively (certainly on the lesbian lists) composted of self published books that have flown under the amazon radar.

    Mostly I’m amused by it all, but what is killing me is knowing that I am never going to have the chance to sit down, one to one, with the person who dreamt up this policy and ask the question, “Just what purpose do you now envisage these GBLT bestseller lists fulfilling?”

  • Eva // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I can understand your purpose in comparing books with each other and mentioning other titles that (should -according to you?) could also have their sales rank removed. I can not see how that would be in any way better? Even when awarding Amazon the right to make their own business decisions – and us as customers the same right – the solution can not be to unrank OTHER books? The fight for free speech can not be won by exchanging one kind of suppression for another.

  • Lauren Marie Fleming // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    You can go to the following website and fill out a petition that will be sent to amazon:

  • OuyangDan // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    You rocked this one! Thanks for writing it!

    Anyone looking for an alternative to Amazon, try Indiebound, which has a search function that allows you to find a book at a local Independent book store that will mail it to you if you order.

    We don’t have to be confined to Amazon for our book buying needs.

  • Charlie O. // Apr 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the letter.

    I’ve never cared much for the sales rank, but it’s odd to have it removed.

    However, I searched for Bastard out of Carolina, and it was the first book to appear. The Burroughs, Alison, and the Lawrence are all available on Kindle. Tipping the Velvet is not, and that may well be a publisher’s decision, not Amazon’s.

    I wonder if some changes have already been made to day since you posted the letter.

  • Bob Lewis // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    This is unlikely to affect me personally as:

    a) I rarely use Amazon since one of my sons works for Waterstones so when I DO want a book he usually gets it for me
    b) the kind of books I generally buy these days are few far between and typically are technical reference books which I suspect fall well outside this facile measure by Amazon.

    Their move by any standard is reprehensible and thoroughly despicable, especially if implemented deliberately (as opposed to some young idiot messing with Amazon search code internally and messing it up – NOT beyond the bounds of possibility).

    This (again IF a deliberate policy) is almost tantamount to the Nazi book burning under Goebels in WWII, 16th century Lutheran book burning and other examples throughout the worlds history. An extreme view? well given the sheer size and compass of Amazon, no, not really.

    My suggestion for those who have trouble searching Amazon is to try the Waterstones site:, especially for UK buyers, since several of the books mentioned above are available where they ought to be in the listings e.g. Bastard Out Of Carolina shows as the first listing and correctly under Dorothy Allison, as the numerous books by John Barrowman appear under his name.

    Since the training of fighting dogs is (and has been for years) illegal in the UK it surprises me that a book of that title is allowed at all, never mind remains on Amazons title list – some very questionable morals being shown there then!?

    Oh! And as for your Kindle – if you DO get a refund – Waterstones sell those too and (as far as I can tell) a full range of ebooks to go with it.

    Lets hope the total numb-nuts at Amazon who instigated this get/s the right royal kicking they deserve and demoted if not sacked for their utter stupidity, ignorance and incompetence.

    Best regards.
    Follow me on Twitter:

    p.s. if you live in or near York (original not New) and need books, go to Waterstones, ask for Tom and tell him I sent you why. 😉

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  • Jose A. Furtado // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you, Booksquare.

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  • Alex // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I am not sure I understand. If Amazon is doing what you say, this is terrible, but I have just run several random searches of GLBT materials, including many of the titles listed in the article and the comments, I have have no trouble finding any of them. And mostly it is the top hit. And then recommend other GLBT materials for me to look at. When I searched “Bastard out of Carolina” I got a whole page of results, all either Allison’s book or the film made from it. When I searched “The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers” the first hit was the Kindle version for immediate download. The second was the print copy, which they are out of, and there was no link to alternate sellers, but I have seen that many times on Amazon. What I am saying is that Amazon seems to be working fine for me. What am I missing?

  • Kevin // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I’ve never been a big Amazon fan, even being from Seattle, but I was considering a Kindle purchase and I do occasionally buy books, but no more. Amazon, you’ve shot yourselves in the foot.

  • AudreyLouise // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I utilize Amazon through my website as an affiliate and the only thing I have noticed is that I am not able to use any direct links anymore. My Astore is still up and running and many of these items are still available. Perhaps, as mentioned above, this is really just a hack issue. And as Amazon has been involved in recent upgrades, it would not suprise me if there are hackers out there making attempts to comprime their efforts.
    But all of that said, I would certainly persue the avenues of seeeking out support as best as possible, filing petitions if you think that will help in your endeavors, and most importantly, staying informed and up to date with the “goings on” of the daily changes that ARE happening.
    Take Care,

  • adafrog // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:43 pm


  • Lev Raphael // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    The people here who don’t get it don’t understand that even though books haven’t been withdrawn from amazon’s catalog, the de-listed ones (in terms of sales rank) won’t show up in genre or sub genre searches or best seller lists. In other words, it changes the entire browsing experience and makes glbt titles less accessible/visible. And even titles with only remotely glbt connections (say, the author) are getting this treatment.

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  • Thinking Person // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I actually did a test of four authors that were mentioned specifically in the petition and article (specifically Dorothy Allison, Radclyff Hill, Mark R Probst, and Charlie Cochrane). Of the three test, all books mentioned appeared FIRST in the search.

    I don’t see any stripping of sales rating going on… am I missing something?

  • rich (richmanwisco) // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Up front, I agree with the premise and support the rights of all authors. I will certainly be monitoring the situation and hope that a common sense resolution is found.

    That said, to you reactionaries out there, let’s get a few things straight.

    First, and foremost, Amazon is a business. How they operate their business is entirely up to the discretion of their management. They are not bound to the Constitution as such. They can decide what and how they want to sell books, and if they want to be hypocritical about how they run their rankings, then the only thing you can do about it is take your business elsewhere.

    Next, to those folks out there claiming some violation of civil rights, just stop. Amazon is not a government entity. And to simply categorize this as a book burning is counterproductive to the debate.

    Amazon serves many constituencies. Their decisions are not made in a vacuum, but are carefully deliberated. They walk a fine line, and at times they go too far to one side or the other. The best way to resolve this is to work with Amazon in a civil manner to gain a better understanding from both sides.

  • Alex // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    You’re right. I still don’t get it. Even the link for Bastard out of Carolina embedded in this article has the book at number two and the movie based on that book at number one. i don’t get the sales rank thing at all. My browsing experience seems unchanged. Can someone give me some concrete examples?

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  • midsleic // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    For heaven’s sake what is the issue here? As a gay person I have looked for every book I own and they’re all there even the ones listed in the article above.

    If there is an issue let’s hear about how it’s replicated as I just can’t see it.

    If there isn’t an issue please move on. We don’t need crusaders thanks!

  • Joe // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I agree with Alex // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm and others who see standard search responses from Amazon.

    Credibility is squandered when people make wild statements without verification. The GLBT is hollering “wolf”again.

  • A.J. Mirag // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Great letter. Thank you, Booksquare!

    A.J. Mirag, author of “Clippings”, one of the books affected by #amazonfail

  • Jonquil // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Amazon has apparently been running like bunnies. Three hours ago a search for The Well of Loneliness in the top (All Departments) search box would fail. Right now, as I type this, searching for homosexuality in the top box returns exclusively books against homosexuality. (For posterity: )

  • Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Could this be an overreaction related to their recent girl scout cookies incident?

  • midsleic // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    @A.J. Mirag

    I see your book – what is the issue? PLEASE can someone detail this issue?

  • What is Amazon Doing to LGBT, Sexuality Titles and Search? « Women’s Health News // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm

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  • Huw Thomas // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    From what I’ve seen, titles are being excluded from sales ranking according to the publishing categories assigned to them. For example I strongly suspect that Lev Raphael’s title mentioned above is excluded because it’s in the category:

    Social Sciences > Gay & Lesbian Studies

    It’s worth noting that mainstream books are affected too, Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” being one, I suspect because it’s in the category:

    Health, Mind & Body > Sex > General

    I clicked through to the above category and checked several titles (innocuous, educational, non-raunchy ones) and not one of those I checked had a sales rank.

    So while this is a heavy-handed and unwarranted move by Amazon, I don’t believe it’s specifically targeted at any particular sexuality … it’s targeted at sexuality in general (and taking in a lot more besides, because of the blunderbuss approach).

  • midsleic // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    @Huw Thomas

    And so this is a major problem because…?

    If the books are still there and they often pop up first in the list (even the examples in the post if you choose ‘books’ as the relevant sort to the right) what is the problem?

    Are we talking about author’s egos getting bashed here?

  • Judy R // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I have to agree that Amazon has taken things way to far. I have bought from both the US and UK Amazons specifically to purchase John Barrowman items but no more. They have just lost me as a customer. And I will be telling every person I can about this and hope they also will boycot this company.

  • midsleic // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    @Judy R

    All his items are still there on both stores and pop up as the first items.

    Please people see some sense!

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    @midsleic — They don’t pop up in the list. A customer entering the exact title of the book they want in the default (All Departments) Amazon search box will not find the book if it’s been excluded.

    From now on, they’ll need to know to select “Books” from the drop-down; it seems reasonable to suppose that not every customer will realise that they need to do this.

  • midsleic // Apr 12, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    @ Huw Thomas

    Oh yes they do in fact. I just tried both stores on All Departments and I’ve found every book I try including those in the post above and there they are right in front of me without doing a single other thing.

    Hence this is a non-issue. It’s clearly not something that affects everyone.

    Who is logged in and not logged in when this is supposed to be happening?

  • Technic News » Amazon Accused of Removing Gay Books from Rankings // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

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  • Diana Hunter // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    To Joe (above):

    What it means is that when you type my name into Amazon’s search engine, only ONE of my books appears out of NINE I have available on the site. For the most part, my writing career NO LONGER EXISTS as far as Amazon is concerned. People can’t buy my books if they can’t find them.

    Yes, I’m ticked off. I’ve had a book on Amazon’s Bestselling Erotica list for the past several months. Now, that book, according to the search, is no longer available. While there are other places to buy the book, we all know Amazon is the first person Everyman goes to when looking. This will hurt. A lot.

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm


    Please try the following search string:

    “Women on Top Nancy Friday”

    in All Departments and then in Books.

    When I do this (logged in) I get completely different result sets, with only used (uncategorised, presumably) editions returned by the All Departments search, and with the expected mass-market paperback result returned at position #1 by the Books search.

    I strongly suspect that it’s excluded from the All Departments search because of

    Health, Mind & Body > Sex > General

    Other Nancy Friday books that don’t include that categorisation list as expected in the All Departments search.

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    @Diana Hunter: if the current system stays in place then one solution may be to get your publisher to exclude the “taboo” categorisations on future works. I note that Harlequin Blaze is unaffected; I would guess because they don’t put themselves in a category that includes the words “sex” or “erotic”.

  • Alex // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I think Huw is onto something. it does seem to be targeted at sexuality in general, although poorly executed to be sure. And while a number of the examples listed in this discussion illustrate the point, others are misleading or simply not pertinent. It is important to understand the issue before making broad accusations or succumbing to knee jerk reactions, which only weaken the argument against this new system of categorization.

  • An open letter to « Southern California Writers’ Conference // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:29 pm

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  • William Archer // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    I do not appreciate you deciding for me what is acceptable mateial for me to read. I have been a loyal customer for over ten years, but if you do not rectify this gross censorship, I will leave. This is not an idle threat.

    William C Archer

  • Lee Rowan // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    The mess has been brewing for several days; the members of The Macaronis, a glbt-historical writers’ group, have been discussing it since the middle of last week.

    What brought it to a head was the letter one of our members, Mark Probst, received from Amazon. (He rated a response because he’s not merely a writer, but a publisher as well.)

    We had been hoping this was just another of Amazon’s clumsy site updates – they had been yanking reviews if a writer referenced his or her own work in a review.

    This clinched it–we just didn’t want to yell until we knew for sure.

    Amazon’s explanation:

    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

  • Persephone Hallow // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Hey, I just did the same search you listed (at 1.50am GMT) and the search seems to work fine … I wonder if they’ve fixed it already? I tried both on the US and UK websites – looks like the response has gotten through to them already.

  • Karen // Apr 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Good job, thank you, and also–grrrr.

  • David Ehrenstein // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Great letter.

    The solution is simple. There are a great many other places on the net to buy books.


  • Meg // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I agree. Stop trying to take away our freedoms. This is as bad as book burning…they should be ashamed.

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  • Lee Rowan // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Yes, books still come up in a direct search. But books no longer appear on the best-seller list, or in Amazon sales records. To a reader who knows what s/he is searching for, that doesn’t matter. This is a nuts-and-bolts issue that may sound unimportant from a reader’s perspective.


    I’m quoting from

    To a bookseller, the sales rank is quite often correlated to how quickly a particular title might sell. A book with a very low number sales rank might be expected to sell within minutes or hours of listing, and a book with a sales rank of 4,000,000 might take several years to sell. The analogy is frequently used by booksellers when they are scouting for books to add to their inventory. If a bookseller finds a book that has an online value of $10, an sales rank of 2,105,878, and he/she is faced with buying it for $4, they are apt to pass, but if the sales rank were 45,017, it might suddenly be a book worth adding to their inventory.

    Why else?

    Self-published writers often give such huge discounts to Amazon (in its various forms) that they hardly make any money at all. Amazon forces self-publishing authors and small pressed to aggressively discount their own books. The least the small presses and self-published authors can expect for giving up most of their royalties is fair representation. Amazon was revolutionary for the “small guys” for providing a level playing field. Stripping the sales ranks out and making it impossible to “stumble across” a small press/self-published author means a severe impediment to anybody’s sales. In short, this measure hits small presses and self-published authors in their bank account on a huge scale.

  • Cathy // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Great letter! Thank you for writing it! My partner and I have been together 14 yrs and we have a 6yr old adopted child. We will no longer by anything from them again! We spent a lot of money on Amazon – no more. I will also pass this on to my clients and also Twitter. I am sick of it all. I served my country for 12 yrs and give back in every way to our community and this is the thanks we get for being great americans. I believe in God and I’m sure it is the same one that is shaking his head and people that make judgemental choices!

  • Misty // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Thank you.

    I am now boycotting Amazon.

  • jenny quinn // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Great letter Kasia — HOW COULD THEY DO THIS and think that thoughtful readers wouldn’t care? I’m a married straight person, but I am so sick of people and corporations scapegoating homosexuals at the slightest whim of a handful of total, obvious bigots or their own d**n inbred bigotry! I really thought was not a homophobic place. Like others I am boycotting amazon, including the personal care items that I can’t easily buy locally. This development is disgusting and offensive to all who believe in basic “do unto others” outlook towards life.

    This is my first post on your website, fyi, thanks so much for it!


  • » Blog Archive » Amazon Can Suck It // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    […] Related Links: Mark Probst’s Amazon Follies journal entry. Booksquare’s Open Letter to Amazon. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and their Amazon Rank Google bomb. The #amazonfail hashtag on […]

  • jenny quinn // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Oh Kassia– it’s so true what has happened — I just ran a search on for “homosexuality” on

    List below were my honest results — It’s more DISGUSTING AND HOMOPHOBIC than you can imagine — what if your kid (as mine could be are gay?) would you want them hating themselves like these books want them to????:

    Search: “Homosexuality”
    1) A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality

    2) You Don’t Have to Be Gay: Hope and Freedom for Males Struggling With Homosexuality or for Those Who Know of Someone Who Is

    3) For The Bible Tells Me So


    4) Can Homosexuality Be Healed?

    etc., etc. WOW amazon, you will never again get a cent from me — you BIGOTS! and I was just about to buy a kindle. Oh my god you are awful people!

  • #amazonfail » // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:38 pm

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  • Modwild // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I appreciate that everyone is concerned, but from the very first moment I saw a Twitter post on this, at about 10am Mountain time to now, 7:30pm, I have gone into Amazon each time I saw another book listed, and found the supposed banned books with a title search, and the majority of them had sales ranks. Additionally, in the “if you liked this you might like this” area within the pages, I clicked onto dozens of Harlequin type GLBT books, and they were all readily available, had rankings and were ranked by category in some cases, as well.

    I think that you should post screen shots of your searches and the results that are received, as I have yet to run into an issue. Might the rankings on some books be gone simply due to the edition found? Is there a cap on rankings? Some I saw were in the 500,000 range; how high does it go?

    I also think that the reason homosexuality as a topic search brings up books on how to “cure” it is because only those against it seem to currently use the term (especially in print). Look up GLBT as an example, and you won’t see a bunch of items against it.

    There is more to the story than an immediate panic necessitates, it seems.

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  • D. Sherman // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Great letter. I hope you forward this all on to Amazon. Appalling, really. How dare they decide what I can & can not choose from.

    I hope they decide to rethink their sneaky decision or they won’t be getting my business anymore.


  • Huw Thomas // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Screenshots as requested above, from one of our titles that I believe is excluded because of its categorisation under:

    Reference > Writing > Genre Fiction > Erotica
    (exact title search in All Departments)
    (same search in Books)

    Despite knowing the exact title, I was unable to locate it using the default search presented by Amazon.

  • K. Mims // Apr 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Amazon’s decision is disgusting and I hope they regret it.

  • Michael Thomas Ford // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Those of you who say there is nothing to worry about, and who claim to be finding these books in searches, are partially correct. You WILL find the titles if you search under Books instead of All Departments on the front page. That I do believe is a glitch.

    However, even when searching in the Books section and clicking through, you will see that the books no longer have sales rankings. Just put my name–Michael Thomas Ford–into the search engine and look for yourself.

    As for those of you who don’t get why this is important, you probably never will.

  • Caitlin Grace McDonnell // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I am shocked and appalled.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Modwild — I personally checked every title and link mentioned. This is impacting author sales and it’s impacting publisher sales. Others have linked to screenshots and given the multitudes of authors reporting problems (and non-authors finding unranked books or bad search results), I’d agree there’s more to the story, but when your livelihood is impacted (adversely!), panic can seem to be a reasonable response. Your noting of different editions is also right on because of how the Amazon database works. It doesn’t change the facts (nor does it explain how Amazon’s response has been so scattered as this issue has been questioned).

    (Just as an aside, there are no Harlequin-type GLBT books, not unless they’ve started an imprint I’m not aware of).

  • suejester // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you so much for you vigiliance and your voice!

    I am so grateful for the woman who saw this injustice, and took a stand.

    We need to remain vigilant.

    For the first time in history a group of people may have their rights stripped in CA thanks to Prop 8ate, and now this from Amazon.

    The people behind such a hidious agenda always try to say “we are doing it to protect you” when in the end it’s about their sickness for power.

    We shall not be silenced.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    While I’d love to respond to every comment, clearly that would be near-impossible. I appreciate everyone who took the time to say something, and applaud those who took the time to do something. As the daughter of a librarian, I am genetically opposed to censorship of any kind. As a thinking adult, I do not need to be protected from content. I can make informed decisions, as can all of you. I thank all of you for caring enough to speak up!

  • » Blog Archive » Protest deranking of “adult content” novels // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:20 pm

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  • Michael // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I am sure this is pointed out as well…. but i haven’t the time to confirm it…. But one of the main characters of harry potter is gay (according to the author)…… Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore… and almost all children under 18 known of him. It seems hypocritical to allow children to know this and then to stop them from reading these books…. furthermore….. amoung us…… who actually thinks children want to read these books…… and if were not talking about children….. we have free will…. DONT READ IT…. Personally I am not gay, i have a best friend that is…….. and personally…. I do not see anything wrong with it….

  • Michael // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I must also add…. if you think your kids dont know about sex…. you are sadly stricken with the condition of naĂŻvetĂ©.

  • ck // Apr 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    lol… you don’t even really know what “decision” was made or who actually made it or if one was made at all, but in your zest for online notoriety and your rush to rash decision making, you decide to banish amazon for good… lol

    You are being ridiculous. Amazon carries lots and lots of books, which you pointed out aptly, and there are lots and lots of GLBT books and videos and everything else. The whole ‘controversy’ isn’t even over taking the books away, just not listing their public sales rankings… oh my. Definitely evil, definitely unjust, definitely jeff bezos is an anti-gay type of guy.

    Amazon’s response has probably been abysmal because it’s easter sunday…. hmm…

    Anyway, I would think people so righteous would at least want to know exactly what happened before burning someone at the stake… or maybe not… have at it peoples, it sounds pretty fun

  • ck // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Did I miss something? Did amazon ban any mention of gay people and sex? I thought that what happened was some sexually explicit books didn’t have their public sales rank posted next to them…. must have missed the clamp down you’re seeing…

    I agree if it was done just because of the GLBT status, that it would be wrong. What I think is ridiculous is how everyone jumps on them so quickly and viciously, assuming the worst and spreading the thoughts as far and wide as possible… yet having no real clue of what happened… It’s the classic behavior anyone who was in the GLBT community would, I’ would think, admonish. But nope…

  • Ben Saunders // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Great letter. This is spreading fast, I wonder if we’ll get a significant statement from Amazon. In the mean time…

    Search “homosexuality” on Amazon and you’ll get these incredible results:

  • // popular today // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:20 pm // popular today…

    story has entered the popular today section on…

  • Matt // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    “The whole ‘controversy’ isn’t even over taking the books away, just not listing their public sales rankings
 oh my.”

    As has been pointed out, standard Amazon searches no longer turn up current print editions as their first results for many of the books delisted.

    I looked up Andrew Holleran’s “Dancer from the Dance.” The current edition wasn’t even in the first three search pages. On the first page there were four entries for used copies, with no image, and the rest was unrelated flotsam. Only when I clicked on one of the used copies and then on the author’s name could I access the current edition.

    This cannot possibly fail to hurt sales of LGBT books on If they can’t even be found directly without effort, let alone browsed, this is serious business.

    To say nothing of the offensiveness of referring to “Heather Has Two Mommies” or “Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws” as adult books.

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  • charliedoodle // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Did you not understand the part about this hurting the rankings (and therefore EARNINGS) of GLBT authors?

    That being said, I don’t know if this is a hack or their new, actual policy. I know that I will be watching the situation closely and act accordingly.

    I REALLY don’t like book censorship.

  • bookemdano // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Vote with your money. I will never buy anything from Amazon ever again.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 12, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    ck, I think you fail to grasp the complexity of this issue. Real authors/publishers (both, actually) are impacted by this “glitch”, including authors I know. I cannot, try as I might, fathom an algorithm that lumps all of the titles impacted into said glitch, even with the noted common elements. Those who understand how Amazon works and how real people use the site get that this is a serious issue.

    And guess what? The controversy happened on Easter Sunday. Many people were working, but worse, many people were talking. Smart brands get how to monitor and handle damage control. Usually Amazon has a better process than this. Of course, if you’ve read carefully, you’ll note that the spin happened before today.

  • Jonathan // Apr 12, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Great work, and glad it’s resolved. Still smarting from the issue, what an outrage!

  • Joe Kort // Apr 12, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    For me there are many issues in terms of not having a ranking. First as a gay author having written on gay issues to gay and lesbian audiences I want them to find my book and hopefully buy them and learn what I am teaching from them.

    Most of the LGBT bookstores are closing in the past 5 years especially due to the competition. So I rely on and blog there to help support the visibility of my book.

    Now if makes my book less visible by removing rankings thereby–as Lev Raphae; says above–the de-listed ones (in terms of sales rank) won’t show up in genre or sub genre searches or best seller lists.

    And to “Joe” above, it isn’t crying wolf saying that removed rankings mostly from the GLBT genre–it is the truth you just have to do the search yourself. It was also mentioned in the LA Times.

    Warmly, Joe Kort, LMSW

  • Sheila // Apr 12, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    It’s so easy to adopt a mob mentality, and this situation is getting out of hand due to misinformation that no one questions. For example, the reason that the four other items showed up before Bastard Out of Carolina is because you searched for ALL items of ANY type, not just books. I refuse to listen to people who just spout accusations and don’t even bother to get their facts straight. That’s as bad as what you’re accusing Amazon of. Shame on you.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 12, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Um, Sheila, how do you think real people do search? Again, this is happening to real people. I am the last person to defend Amazon’s search (I find it bad), but if you search on a specific title — and, frankly, I do all the time when doing research on books for various projects — the chances that a book title will rank lower than four or five other results (none of which have a single one of the keywords in the title) is pretty slim. There is strong evidence that something has happened, Amazon has admitted to a “glitch”. I’m not feeling shame, but I am feeling anger on behalf of all the publishers and authors whose businesses were impacted by this.

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  • Dan // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Boohoo, if you still want to find any book, you can search for it. Sales rank being removed doesn’t stop you from buying books, your Kindle is just as useful as it ever was.

  • Kay // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Yeah they BEST be fixing the problem as quickly as possible. Geez.

  • essteess // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Not only does discrimination like this ultimately harm the authors and publishers… but it also potentially harms other booksellers as well. I used to work for an online used bookseller, who uses the Amazon marketplace as their main means for selling books. Their computerized system of buying books is based entirely on the Amazon sales rank of a book. Take away or strip the sales ranking of a book and then that book drops off the “to buy” list. For example… looking at Tom Spanbauer’s “The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon”… a book that many would consider a contemporary classic… this is a book in the past that would often be purchased and sold by my former employer. But now that it no longer has a sales ranking, I’m sure that they would no longer be buying the book.

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  • midsleic // Apr 13, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Well I have to say coming back to this today, if all that the worriers are concerned about is sales rank then it just proves how superficial people can be. I don’t hear the small bookshops complaining about not having ‘sales ranks’ in order to push their books.

    This argument is doing the ‘GLBT’ community no good whatsoever.

  • Sabrina // Apr 13, 2009 at 3:33 am

    That’s one smart glitch, picking out the GLBT works, leaving out the heterosexual ones.

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  • wow homes // Apr 13, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Well, Amazon has been in the abuse business for a while now. It’s no longer news. Why all the outage now? Is it a homosexual deal, or what?

    The books are still available on Amazon. If not there, they are available elsewhere. No freedoms have been lost. This witch hunt at Amazon serves no purpose..

  • Donna Larsen // Apr 13, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I wrote a letter of protest including both me and my husband’s account email addresses and asks them to note the unbelievable number of purchases we make from them each year, and to also note we won’t make another purchase until this policy changes.

  • Randi // Apr 13, 2009 at 7:10 am

    I find this much ado about nothing. A company has an exlusive right to market and sell its products however they see fit. Amazon is not a government entity preventing the public from reading certain books. This is not censorship. To say that by not premier marketing certain books they are stealing from the authors is outrageously absurd. Book sellers are not directly responsible for the author’s paychecks. If the public wants to buy a book, they will buy the book, even if it means –now here’s a novel idea — having to get off one’s lazy behind and actually drive to a bookstore.

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 13, 2009 at 7:17 am


    The key issue is the exclusion of titles from search results (see the screenshots I posted above). The removal of sales rank information is merely an implementation detail; the data can be nice to have but it’s trivial compared to the impact of a title being edited out of search results that a customer could reasonably expect to include it.

    The default search is called “All Departments” rather than “Some Departments” and as such it is currently broken, unless we’re going to get into some Clintonesque debate about the meaning of “All”.

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 13, 2009 at 7:24 am


    I agree that a company has the right to market and sell its products as they see fit; equally writers, publishers, customers and other stakeholders have the right to express their opinions and, if it comes down to it, to withhold their dollars and potentially devalue the brand through word-of-mouth.

    Amazon is free to respond as it wishes. My gut feeling is that they won’t do a thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

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  • Daniel // Apr 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

    That’s a pretty hypocritical letter. While yes, the homosexuality pseudo-ban is regrettable, tossing Hitler out as a classic bad example of evil immoral books that need to be burned is asinine at best, and criminally negligent at worst. Mein Kampf is a piece of history, its the political ideology and doctrine behind Hitler, and therefore the Nazi Regime as a whole.

    Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. You might as well put Marx’s Communist Manifesto up on your book burning list as well, as clearly you care little about the practical and pragmatic values of books, you have apparently only chosen to associate with the aesthetic and cultural aspects of them.

    Go herd up all those offensive books quickly, lest people realize you’re whining about ‘immoral’ historical texts is just as unreasonable as their whining ‘immoral’ homosexual books.

  • PANK » Blog Archive » Evil Corporate Overlords Gone Wild // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:01 am

    […] has found themselves in a wee spot of trouble by behaving badly and in a rather oppressive, homophobic, judgmental […]

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Daniel — I think you missed my point. Amazon suggested that the delisting happened to books that customers found objectionable. There are many books that offend me — I agree that Mein Kampf is part of the historical record (and one of the most chilling books one can read) — yet I do not advocate their censorship. If this explanation from Amazon were truly the reason behind this so-called glitch, then it’s easy to make a case for far more titles than the narrowly targeted (yet well-populated) sexual themes. What offends one is important to another.

  • What the Fuck is Amazon thinking?! « “Feminism to a neurotic extreme.” // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:05 am

    […] protected from Heather Has Two Mommies in favor explicit porn, incest and sociopathic exploits.  Kassia Krozer feels similarly thankful for the intricacies of this delisting system. Somehow, the brain trust […]

  • Grim Reality - Gay novels disappear from Amazon sales rankings « Grimoires // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:13 am

    […] move of Amazon has also raised the ire of heterosexuals, including Kassia Krozser, who wrote an open letter to the online retailer: Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon […]

  • #Amazonfail: Rankings Now Homophobic? - City Desk - Washington City Paper // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:33 am

    […] Athitakis has been been doing a great job following this on his twitter account. Booksquare has an open-letter to Amazon that is pretty great. The LA Times has a more complete list of the suddenly de-ranked books. var […]

  • [books] #amazonfail « milkshakes and metrocards // Apr 13, 2009 at 11:28 am

    […] An open letter to Amazon from Kassia Krozser […]

  • Neeneko // Apr 13, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Amazon has been playing with ‘how much offense will de-listing cause vs remove’ for a while now. This is just the first case of large enough group being effected for people to care.

  • Victoria J. R. deMara // Apr 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Gee, I was all set to jump on your bandwagon, except that I went to amazon and entered Lady Chatterly’s Lover. A hard cover copy came up right away, though w/o cover art; I entered Bastard out of Carolina, and up came Ms. Allison’s book first. It was ranked 4+ stars. I then went to Pretty Baby: ranked 4 stars. So I’m a little nonplussed . . . . ?

  • Twitter doesn’t take a holiday; Neither should managing your reputation // Apr 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    […] Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes (12 April 2009) […]

  • The lessons of Amazonfail | Humans At Work // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    […] media technology — blogs and Twitter — to spread not just the facts, but their own sense of outrage at the perceived injustice. As of this writing — less than 36 hours after the word began to […]

  • Kate Douglas // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    FYI: Victoria J.R. deMara–stars have nothing to do with sales ranking. Stars are related to reviews, not how the book is selling.

    As far as Amazon’s so-called glitch affecting all of my books in the beginning, including my very vanilla contemporary romances, I’ve taken my own course of action, which was to replace all the Amazon “buy now” links to my thirty currently available titles with links to Barnes & Noble. A small move, but it did make me feel better.

  • Shawn // Apr 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    This is doubly interesting to me because my sister’s book, which lost its rankings about a week and a half ago (a prequel of things to come?) does not write for the GLBT market. She is a historical romance author. WTF?

  • Sue Palmer // Apr 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I personally applaud for its decision. caters to a wide assortment of individuals, many of whom are offended by erotic literature. People have many ways to get the products they want. It’s not as if Amazon is the only way. There is still freedom of businesses to choose what they want to offer for sale and what not to sell. Please do not force material some find offensive down their throats.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Sue — You might be offended by erotic literature, but this “glitch” impacted far more than one type of book. This cut far, wide, and deep. Would you have the same reaction if, oh, books with Christian themes were suddenly impacted? Going with Amazon’s (current) explanation, it’s a database error, and that could impact anything at anytime.

    Nobody’s forcing you to read anything you don’t want to read. You have choice. Amazon is still selling these books, but you don’t have to buy nor read. However, your choice should not impact my choice.

  • Anonymous // Apr 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    If it was a policy to exclude books by gay/lesbian/transgender authors, it was a very stupid policy sure to incite the wrath of the entire LGBT community. But I think that Huw Thomas may have something–it may actually be a glitch that de-ranks things according to how they were categorized–and some very likely were categorized wrongly. I did a search for “LGBT” and the first one up was the “Advocate’s College Guide for LGBT students”, and E.M. Forster and Ann Proulx seem to come up fine as well. So did “Unfriendly Fire” which according to the L.A. Times blog had been unranked. Perhaps they’ve “fixed” their glitch? At any rate, I like the suggestion to have a checkmark that one can select adult material inclusion. Censorship in any form is wrong.

  • Perry Brass // Apr 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I wonder if this explains how my Amazon sales have hit the bottom, the complete bottom, in the last several months—so that even my Amazon Kindle sales are higher. Since I write and publish books in this category, it does make me wonder. Also, when I’ve searched even directly for the titles of my books, like “The Substance of God,” or “Carnal Sacraments,” the first books that pop up are not my books, but books that really slip away from the titles. Or, books that contain words from the titles, but are not the books, or not at all immediately. And I’ve noticed that the Amazon rankings have been missing for some time, but I just figured that with sales so low, they have decided to delete them. Since at one point I was way ahead with Amazon sales, it does make me wonder. It is strange that Amazon is doing this now, since PayPal went into a severe right-wing direction about 6 years ago, when under John Ashcroft, they blackballed 400 websites from their ranks. These sites could not use PayPal. They came out with a “morality” clause in their contract that literally would have blocked Michelangelo’s David from being bought with PayPal. Since I publish books with covers that often show shirtless men, I was blackballed. These same covers, by the way, are on umpteen hundred mass-market Romance paperbacks, but the fact that they were on gay books set PayPal’s teeth grinding. Their attempt at censorship got them a lot of very negative publicity (including from Forbes Magazine, “Capitalist Tool”), and about a year later, they invited me to renew my PayPal account. But once I had experienced what they can do—at any time—I told PayPal politely “no thanks.”

    Perry Brass, author of Carnal Sacraments, A Historical Novel of the Future, and other glbt books.

  • Lauren // Apr 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Hadcat, can you please define “immoral” and “sick” to me? What exactly makes something, in your opinion, immoral and/or sick? What are the parameters?

    Also, please define “mental illness” in terms of child molesters and gays. What do you see as mental illness, and how does it define a child molester or a gay person? What do these two have in common, and why, in your opinion, is mental illness the same kind in both.

    Thank you.

  • KatG // Apr 13, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    That other books and heterosexual romances have been delisted too seems to indicate that there was some sort of hide the sexy stuff plan that was implemented in lots. They did the gay/lesbian lot altogether. This is so counter-productive to their sales, even if hadn’t been immediately caught, that I cannot imagine what the sales rationale was in the least. De-list and de-rank books that some find offensive? So they’re not selling Da Vinci Code anymore?

    I find Amazon exceedingly useful because of the peculiar shipping situation I’m in, but I’ve been kind of uneasy in using them ever since hearing how Amazon UK blackmailed publishers into further discounts by refusing to list their books as available for sale. If they keep playing around like this, they are going to lose their market dominance online for books.

  • Karen // Apr 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    There’s been enough commotion now, though, don’t you think? Will they make it right?

  • former amazonian . . . // Apr 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I worked for Amazon for several years, and as a gay employee, i couldn’t have been happier there. They were very progressive in their benefits packages, and I never felt discriminated against because of my sexuality. There were many other gay people who worked there, and we all felt safe enough to be completely open about it. I was promoted through the ranks, and my sexuality was never an issue.

    I tend to believe that it probably was some sort of glitch, and the responses you got to the emails were simply sent by representatives that hadn’t been updated on the situation. amazon customer service handles their email within 24 hours – many times, within a few hours. Sometimes these issues break out before there is time to research what is actually happening, and an uninformed rep sends out an inappropriate response.

    It’s easy to think that everyone is against us, because most of the world is. I really think that we should cut Amazon slack on this one – mistakes happen!

    (and, just for the record, i only left the company to further my education – i’d still be an employee if my college of choice were closer!)

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 13, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    It’s unimaginable that this could be a glitch; it’s an explicit policy that’s gotten out of hand.

    Any glitch is in the matter of setting the boundary, not on the fundamental matter of whether “Search All Departments” should do what it says, or misleadingly search only those departments that Amazon deems appropriate.

    The latter is the important question IMO. The fact that Amazon might back down in the face of a backlash from one minority group doesn’t make it okay for the same treatment to be meted out to other groups that might have less of a voice.

  • Amazon Appears to Censor Books Related to Homosexuality - Candlelight Stories // Apr 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    […] what appears to be one of the worst cases of literary censorship in modern United States history, has listed a wide range of books as what the company […]

  • ck // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    So, now that we know it WASN’T intentional, are you going to send an open letter of apology and post it up???

    Now a ton of GLBT community think that Amazon is homophobic, all because a bunch of people got all worked up without even understanding the full issue.

    It wasn’t just GLBT books that got worked over, it was a few categories. But since the GLBT community feels like a lot of people are out to get them (and probably rightly so in many circumstances) they jumped to the worst possible conclusion about a relatively open minded and tolerant company.

    So, as I said before, it looks like you spoke too soon. It’s always beneficial to know why you’re angry before getting angry…

  • ck // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I should state that I’m a contractor at amazon so I do have a bit of a bias. I have NO inside knowledge of what’s going on at all, but I know the company and the people that work here and I’m pretty sure nobody! is homophobic and nobody would make a homophobic policy.

  • ck // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Kassia –
    I will say, you handled the comments well. I know a lot of people online that would have flown off the handle when other people started criticizing them… so kudos for that

  • Marlene // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Want to know a way to stick it to Amazon, and help out your local economy?

    Why not do a truly radical action and buy your books from a local bookseller, one who preferably is independent and struggling in this economy?

    If you have a local feminist/TLBG/alternative independent bookstore in your area, I bet nine times out of ten they either have it on hand or can order it for you!

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    ck — I am indeed working on a post that covers what appears to be the reason behind what happened (we still don’t have official word from Amazon). If reports are true — and I am inclined to believe them based on other information — then what is being said is plausible. That doesn’t change some basic facts, of course, though it does clarify some of the seemingly conflicting responses from Amazon’s reps.

    The gist of my original post remains: these books were delisted based on perceived content. This impacts the real-life business of authors and publishers. Amazon says it was a few categories (but doesn’t identify specifics), but various individuals have already verified that to be true. The titles, across these categories, had, to the best of our knowledge, certain characteristics in common. I am very interested in the specific titles to see if books with non-homosexual, non-erotic aspects were impacted. Given the current official non-official explanation, it’s possible that other nodes were flagged due to, I’m supposing, the identification of certain books that contained the apparent adult content keywords. One person was able to impact sales for approximately 60k books. If your book had been included, how would you feel? I know authors who were impacted.

    Of course, there are other open questions, and Amazon is not winning goodwill by remaining silent. I do not believe the company is homophobic, but the fact that this has gone without a satisfactory response stokes the anger (anger that had already boiled over by the time I got out of bed yesterday — I am based on the West Coast, so this had been roiling for hours before I was even aware of the issue).

    I appreciate your identifying yourself.

  • El dĂ­a que se volviĂł homofĂłbico « powerx7 // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    […] problema ha escalado ya al nivel de cartas abiertas a la compañía, listas comparativas de libros censurados y no censurados, peticiones de boicot, y presencia […]

  • ck // Apr 13, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    Ok – fair enough. If I was an author, yeah I would be upset too –

  • Amazon censura libros « Historias de Chica // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:11 am

    […] continĂșan apareciendo sin ningĂșn tipo de interferencia. El problema ha escalado ya al nivel de cartas abiertas a la compañía, listas comparativas de libros censurados y no censurados, peticiones de boicot, y presencia […]

  • Huw Thomas // Apr 14, 2009 at 4:11 am


    >>> So, now that we know it WASN’T intentional, are you going to send an open letter of apology and post it up??? <<<

    An Amazon representative seems to have stated that the de-ranking and filtering of adult books was intentional. I haven’t (yet) seen anything from Amazon rebutting that; is there such a rebuttal?

    For me, the debate/complaint isn’t about the removal of [a] particular book[s] from search results; it’s about the removal of ANY books, and about the honesty, in such a dominant market player, of a limited search that claims to cover “All Departments”.

    Paraphrasing Martin Niemoller: “When they came for the smut, I remained silent. I don’t read smut…”

  • Brian O'Leary // Apr 14, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Good thread, Kassia. I’ve included it in a small round-up I did on the Magellan site.

  • Amazon Fail- or Why I’m Still Pissed Off « ELEANOR’S TROUSERS // Apr 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

    […] great insights on what happened, and didn’t happen quickly enough here, here, here, here, here, and here, new definitions of Amazon Rank, and calls to arms here, here, here, and […]

  • In Which Amazon Promotes Family Values and Unites the Twittersphere Against It « Upsidedown Duck // Apr 14, 2009 at 11:07 am

    […] Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes from Booksquare […]

  • Amazonastasie « imaginos // Apr 14, 2009 at 11:43 am

    […] Amazonfail, Amazon Censors Its Rankings & Search Results to Protect Us Against GLBT Books, et Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes, entre […]

  • Atheist Fag » Amazonfail: Reality vs Christian Homophobia // Apr 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    […] authors of books that mention the existence of gay people began to notice that their books were falling completely off the sales rank charts at Amazon. Thus these books were losing their Amazon […]

  • KatG // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Well, according to the links that Kassia provided, and which I’m sure she’ll be commenting about soon, it may have been employees in France who misunderstood and confused the terms “adult” — Amazon’s classification for pornographic material, and the terms erotic and sexuality which are used for things like romances or gay memoirs. And once one person changes the code, it gets changed for all the Amazons, at least on categories. Or so might be the case; we have no confirmations about it yet.

    It does raise the issue, though, that many stories and books about gays are listed as sexual, just because they are about gays, not because there’s any sex in them. I’d like to see that sort of thing changed. I look forward, for instance, to the day in the U.S. when a movie about a gay character has a PG-13 rating.

  • Amazon Stirs Controversy–Again | Career Management Alliance Blog // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    […] and favoring heterosexual porn over homosexual literature? Read Kasia Krozser’s open letter to them here. Twitter has been so abuzz with the various protests over this move that I saw my first “Fail […]

  • AmazonFail « Save Me From the Cold // Apr 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    […] Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes from Booksquare […]

  • Why We Should Not Forget #amazonfail « EroticaWriter // Apr 14, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    […] Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes (Kassia Crosser) […]

  • Socrates Socratis // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    April 15, the worst day of the year in the US, and I haven’t even filed my taxes. Oh lawd! Part of my way of procrastinating? Reading Kassia’s Open Letter and the fascinating follow-up by various folks who have made visible the complexity of oppression, whether conscious or subconscious.

    Technical ignoramus that I am, I never thought I would understand algorithms and the fascinating correspondence which it spawned.

    Are the head honchos at Amazon reading Open Letters? If they are, will they recognize that they need to wake up and not demonize minorities by placing them in the dark basement of their ranking tower?

    I will be watching another piece of the American culture war play out on the battle fields of algorithms. I hope that the Amazonians–those techie-bright and wealthy demi-gods at America’s largest online retailing company–will stop their peculiar policy of making invisible on their sales charts those authors and publishers who have the nerve to publish books in which gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people are actually shown as fellow human beings.

    Now that I got my bit of Amazon0phobia off my chest, I better start filing the extension to my tax return.

    And Kassia et al., keep up your good book-squarish work.

    Socrates Socratis

  • The Amazon Fail // Apr 16, 2009 at 6:50 am

    […] no doubt read about the big Amazon rank kerfluffle over the weekend, driven by the Twitter tag: #amazonfail: a huge number of sexually-themed and […]

  • Los van a aplastar como masa de pizza… « El Hombre de Hule // Apr 16, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    […] lo mismo recibieron, antes del escĂĄndalo, una respuesta similar a este texto que tomo de este sitio […]

  • This won’t end well
 Amazon unranks LGBT, “adult” books | Tokyovation // Apr 17, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    […] can read more reactions at Erastes, Dear Author, Meta Writer, Booksquare, GGY Meta, Comics212, Okazu, Queers United, Tectonic Uplift, and Naughty and Spice.  (Thanks to […]

  • Elena // Jun 1, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Great job with the letter. I read it at the time, signed the petition, made all the noise I could in several online communities, including Amazon Forums, and was under the false impression that this was resolved — or mostly resolved anyway.

    I find that’s not the case from an author I follow, she keeps updating her Amazon blog with the current state of affairs, and what seems to be a clear Amazon boycott to some (if not all) LGBT authors.

    More can be read here:

  • theGayEditor’s blog for The Gay Publishing Company » Why Amazon doesn’t do anyone any favors // Jul 3, 2009 at 11:10 am

    […] to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes,” by Kassia Krozser, April 12th, 2009): > > This post also contains updates, a variety of links to additional information and hundreds of […]

  • Amazon and sex ed | Blue Cat Services // Jul 3, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    […] this from the BookSquare blog and this from the NCSF blog for more…” discriminated against Gay, Queer and […]

  • Neville // Jul 9, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    As usual, more bitchy screeching from another easily offended feminist-what else is new?

    Here’s the truth, sunshine:

    I worked at Amazon for many years, and I can guarantee you, absolutely and unconditionally, that Amazon did not intend to de-list all GLBT material. The entire company is filled with liberals such as myself, and the checks-and-balances system would make it impossible for a “rogue” manager or executive to do this secretly (plus it would be a guaranteed career ender for that individual.)

    I have personally worked on the problem of adult material showing up in inappropriate places (like when searching for “bambi” or “rabbit”), and the problem is more complex than anyone could possibly realize without having inside information about Amazon’s systems. Amazon stocks tens of millions of books, and it would be impossible to manage all of those manually, so they write software to do it. But it’s impossible to write software which flawlessly manages tens of millions of books with human-level comprehension and attention given to each one.

    Every time Amazon makes a high-profile mistake, it seems like it launches a hundred conspiracy theories. All these conspiracy theories are wrong, because they all start with the assumption of a deliberate act. I personally have made an innocent mistake which adversely affected a certain class of books (I won’t tell you which), and it sparked accusations of prejudice and censorship from that community. The accusations were of course wrong; it’s just that the particular programming error I made happened to adversely affect their books far more than any others, and non-programmers have trouble understanding how this could be anything other than a deliberate act (especially when Amazon refuses to explain what really happened).

    I really, really wish I could tell everyone why adult content has to be singled out and suppressed. It’s not for the reason anyone would think; it’s really more of a technical issue. But I signed an NDA. So it will have to suffice for me to say that, without manual suppression, the adult content would slowly but inexorably take over, sort of like a virus. Eventually it would reach the point where you could do a search for “violin”, and the first ten pages of results would be adult content. Every adult book or video in the world with “violin” in its title or description would appear at the top of the results list (and not because they sell well).

    Also, here’s the link to this statement:

    Next time, try to check things out first before you open up your mouth.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 9, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Hey, welcome to the party. A bit late. If you’d read the follow-up post, you’d see that I’d addressed the technical issues surrounding this, based on Amazon’s rather belated response. Interestingly — if you’d followed this story at all — you’d realize that the statements made by Amazon customer service, as contradictory as they were, were in some ways accurate.

    The problem, of course, is that the problem didn’t just impact one kind of book. It impacted fiction, non-fiction, classics. One employee in France (according to the official story) made a huge error. It took weeks to unwind this error. The result, of course, was the authors lost sales *and* sales ranking, even after the glitch was undone. Sadly, the Amazon algorithm worked exactly as it should, and, for example, in the homosexual category, anti-homosexual books (based on false, dangerous premises) ranked in the top ten for far too long.

    So dude, as you can see if you’d read anything beyond this, you’d understand that I don’t have a problem with Amazon’s methods to keep adult content behind a wall of sorts. The problem was huge, it had real world impact on sales (and careers), and Amazon never satisfactorily explained what happened (though we were able to infer from their unofficial statements). The fact that one employee in France could wreak so much havoc should be a major concern for any publicly traded company.

  • bloonsterific // Jul 10, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Just wanted to tell you all know how much I appreciate your postings guys.
    Found you though google!

  • Amazon receives major backlash as LGBT books unexpectedly removed from rankings // Jul 27, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    […] endless. For the company to claim that this act is to protect their customer base is ridiculous. This brilliantly-written “open letter” on Booksquare points out that Mein Kampf and a book on how to train fighting dogs are exempt from this […]

  • literacy makes the world go round « a shiny new coin // Sep 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    […] literacy partners. If like me you’re a little sqeamish about Amazon, particularly after its censorship of GLBQTI material and its confusion about digital property ownership, it might be a good […]

  • Summary of the #amazonfail Spectacle Today « The Objectivist Nation // Jul 11, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    […] of the children" argument is invalid #amazonfail posted an excellent open letter to Amazon, including this part that I like: Gee, I can buy a book on training fighting dogs (something so […]

  • Rich's ComixBlog - Amazon Fail // Jul 28, 2010 at 4:55 am

    […] You can read more here: Open Letter To Amazon […]

  • Dear Amazon | Jaci Burton's Muse // Feb 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    […] Booksquare’s post about it here […]

  • TWO PROBLEMS « Furious Horses // Jun 22, 2011 at 12:31 am

    […] fended off as a harmless “glitch”, ahem…). The first may be to read and forward this letter. The second, which is my favourite, is to click this link. Say, three times every minute. Sit back […]

  • Amazon Fail « EraserGirl // Aug 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    […] Booksquare Blog “Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes” by Kassia Krozser“Somehow,…your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon customer base by restricting access to […]

  • What’s going on | Blatherskite // Sep 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    […] gets a BIG GIANT FAIL.  You can follow the mob at twitter search’s  #amazonfail search. The story got picked up […]