Please check out this story and others like it online: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10217715-93.html
Twitter’s #amazonfail is also worth checking out.
Long story short, it appears that Amazon has created a filtering system for “adult titles” that effectively pulls them from sales results listed on their website, as well as removing many of them from search results. Unfortunately, many of these books that have been found too “objectionable” to receive visibility are largely queer-focused. Lists abound, but titles like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Ellen Degeneres’s biography and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain have been deemed objectionable, while books with explicit heterosexual content and other gems like The Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality and Mein Kampf maintain their rank and searchability. (fuller list here: http://jezebel.com/5209088/why-is-amazon-removing-the-sales-rankings-from-gay-lesbian-books)
Amazon claims this is a technological glitch while owning up to its adult filtering system. I’m all for protecting the kidlets, but from what? This sounds like straight-up censorship to me. Books that are visible are books that sell (NYT bestseller list anyone?); things that sell continue to get published. Hide all the “problematic” books and sooner or later, no one’s going to be willing to publish them (save small presses, which rarely get face time anywhere other than independent bookstores).
I won’t stay on my soapbox for long, but I have to say that, for me, this further drives home the importance of independent booksellers — if Amazon becomes the singular source of books, it also becomes the singular source of an important form of knowledge. Independent booksellers are committed to selling books from marginalized authors, topics, presses, what have you, because they understand that there’s a bigger issue at stake. Books are not just objects, and we get into dangerous territory when we forget that they are capable of transmitting knowledge and structuring the way we relate to our world (this goes for fiction as well as non-fiction!).
Anyway, read, and if you find it as repulsive as I do, please forward widely. Oh yeah, and let Amazon know that this is unacceptable.
I’m hopeful for a media field day with this one.
ETA: It appears that this may be the result of hacking or an outside party. The fact remains that there is a function on Amazon for removing “objectionable” content, and that the books being removed were not checked. It seems like the next few days will hopefully reveal what “really” happened; I’m hoping it stimulates conversation about the problems of trusting large sprawling corporations with our knowledge distribution practices…