Sunday, April 12, 2009

Erotica censorship at Amazon—and worse

Check out these posts about the outrageous steps Amazon has taken with regard to their search and ranking features.

Instead of just giving users a "safe search" option or whatever, Amazon has categorically excluded whatever it subjectively considers to be "adult" materials from searches and charts—including charts specific to "adult" materials.

This is bad enough for us erotica writers and readers. But even worse is the disgusting bigotry evidenced by Amazon's evident decision to include all "gay and lesbian" materials—i.e., anything from sexually non-explicit fiction to educational books about gay subculture—as part of what shall not be seen in searches and charts.

Are we ready to boycott yet?

P.S. I admit that I'm going out on a limb by using the word censorship—and I've often been one to shake my head at what I've perceived as unwarranted uses of that word—but, for what it's worth, here's my reasoning:

I feel that when corporations become big enough that they largely dominate the public's access to information, discourse, and expression—in the form of books, news, etc.—then they are in a position where their decisions can amount to a sort of de facto censorship, in a way that would not be the case for a smaller company. If a mom & pop bookstore declined to carry an Al Franken book, for example, because the owners didn't like Senator Franken's political views, then I wouldn't call that censorship. Whereas if Amazon, B&N, and/or Borders made the same decision, I think I would. With more power comes more responsibility.

Granted, the issue here is not one of refusing to sell something, but of making it more difficult to find. Nevertheless, I think that for the giant Amazon to exile certain books from searchable databases based on their content is, in effect, a form of censorship. But I can also understand the point of view, as so intelligently expressed by Rachel, that this is an inappropriate use of the term.


Donna said...

Thank you for posting this, Jeremy. I've been noticing that my book has disappeared from Amazon searches (the Amazon help people have NOT been aware of why this is happening) and that my sales rankings have disappeared.

I spend a lot of money on Amazon and even have an Amazon credit card, although I know they are a "red" company. The cost savings was just too tempting.

But this is totally disgusting. Gay and Lesbian parenting books are considered "forbidden" according to this new system. Whose values are being used to determine this? Personally I find fundamentalist Christian books that claim I am damned to hell for my beliefs offensive. They should be included on the forbidden list as well because they harm ME.

Oh, well, I plan to do what I can do to make my opinion known to giggly Jeff Bezos (did you see him on Jon Stewart?) Barnes and Nobel, you beautiful blue store, you just may have a new influx of business!

Spam word: ding sf

And how.

kristina lloyd said...

Link to the petition.

Erobintica said...

*shakes head* - sorta glad I don't have any money to spend at Amazon right now after all.

neve black said...

Thanks J,
I saw you and waved to you this morning at Kristina's site. If you haven't done so already, check out Rachel's blog too.

Donna said...

I just wrote my first email letter to Amazon and will follow up with snail mail.

I can see Rachel's point as well, but I agree that this is a "form" of censorship. By treating certain kinds of books differently and making them harder to buy, Amazon is making us second class citizens. We're riding at the back of the bus. They are so huge and so important for erotica sellers that this is an important business decision that effects us and them. As Rachel points out, Hitachi magic wands are on sale there and not subject to the same restrictions. And of course, Hugh Hefner's naked women are untouched by the "silent hand." Who is making the decisions? Why not let the buyer do this as they have for years?

I'm pretty worked up about this!

Erobintica said...

it's sorta like keeping it behind the counter, or in "that" room.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

T. Elle Harrison said...

I am beyond ticked off about this. I live in the bible belt so the I don't have the option of walking into my local bookstore and purchasing the latest erotic titles. The only carry an handful and I have to crawl around on my hands and knees to find those. Amazon is how I've been getting my hands on the new stuff and now the super-christ-y fanatics have jacked that up too!

And I just spent a fifty bucks on books this weekend.

I'm pissed...I'M PISSED!

Erobintica said...

methinks they may find that this backfires on them -
Amazon Rank

I gather the folks are all a twitter about it (#amazonfail)

and google news results for this latest "bigcorporationdoingdumbthings" are growing by the hour

I'm actually going to write Amazon - but from another side of this (I tried to find something over a week ago and couldn't).

Erobintica said...

What I meant - google "Amazon" and now the top news story is this latest kerfluffle.

Justine Elyot said...

Yes, the First Amendment refers to government. But global monopolies like amazon can do what they like, regardless of mandate (or so they think). Up to us to say no.

Emerald said...

Hmm, it seems my earlier comment didn't go through for some reason, but I just wanted to say thanks for the heads up on this, Jeremy.

EllaRegina said...

This is so disgusting. But truly, with all the petitioning in the world, and all the letter-writing, I have a feeling Amazon is going to do what they want to.

Perhaps a boycott might work. We can only try...

I also see Rachel's point but agree with Jeremy in how he parses this as a censorship issue.

Whatever you want to call it it's simply beyond comprehension.

Twitter Amazonfail is getting a dozen or so new comments every few seconds.

JT said...

Personally, I say don't get mad, get even.

I will be writing to Amazon with a list of items they sell that offend me, and I'll ask that they stop ranking them etc. - just because I think that it's a funny thing to do, not because it will matter to them or me.

But on the serious side, I'll simply take my business elsewhere - permanently. On a recent visit to the south, I was in a Books-A-Million. It was the most adult-topic-friendly mainstream book store I've ever been in. I loved it! I will look to buy my books, cds, and movies there, or seek out an even better alternative for me. I take the same view towards affiliate programs. My whole point is that if you feel Amazon does not value you as a customer or partner, then you certainly have options. I'm more interested in building a list of alternatives, than trying to get Amazon to change their minds. I don't want to do business with them anymore anyway - now that I know what they think of me!

That said, I don't think this is censorship - their sandbox, their rules, I can, and will, play elsewhere. Even if every bookseller were to adopt the same policy, I'd be looking to personally sell the stuff they wont. Only the government can make it impossible for me to buy or sell what I want. Only the government can censor.