According to author Mark R. Probst, Amazon.com has begun pulling the sales rank numbers from several gay and lesbian books, claiming that the books are "adult" and should be excluded from some searches and lists.
Probst noticed the disappearing rankings after searching for a few high-profile gay romance novels; believing there was some sort of glitch in the system, he continued researching and discovered that "HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings," including his own book, The Filly. When Probst contacted Amazon regarding the situation, he was given this response by the company:
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.
This sounds like a big old bowl of BS, does it not? Especially when you consider the fact that Amazon has vibrators, clitoral stimulators and anal plugs available in their search system with sales ranks attached. One wonders why these items are allowed to remain in the system with sales ranks while books including gay and lesbian content, themes, and even, as a commenter points out, autobiographies of gay and lesbian authors such as Stephen Fry, are deemed too "adult" for such things.
The LiveJournal community MetaWriter is currently keeping tabs on the books that have had their sales ranks removed: Rubyfruit Jungle, Brokeback Mountain, and even Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys, a YA novel, have been deemed too "adult" for Amazon's customers to view their sales rankings. Twitter is currently buzzing with the controversy: #AmazonFail is the number one trending item on the site right now.
To be clear, the books that are having their sales rankings stripped fall into a wide range of categories; it appears that Amazon is removing the rankings from titles that touch on everything from romance novels to history titles to YA novels, and even such titles as The Advocate College Guide For LGBT Students. There doesn't seem to be much logic going on here; how anyone could classify a self-help guide for LGBT students going off to school or Homophobia: A History as too "adult" for sales rankings is a bit puzzling.
We've been keeping track of the titles that have been stripped of their rankings: Anna points out that Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer has retained its sales rank, but Anais Nin's Delta Of Venus has been stripped.
Commenter Gertymac points out that The Ultimate Guide to Sex And Disability has been stripped.
Books Stripped Of Amazon Sales Rankings:
Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography
Outing Yourself: How To Come Out As Lesbian Or Gay To Your Family, Friends, And Co-Workers
Gay Life And Culture: A World History
Homosexuality And Civilization
The Way Out: The Gay Man's Guide to Freedom No Matter if You're in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out or Been Around the Block
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World
Coming Out Of Shame: Transforming Gay And Lesbian Lives
The Gay And Lesbian Self-Esteem Book
Heather Has Two Mommies
Dude, You're A Fag: Masculinity And Sexuality In High School
Sexing The Body: Gender Politics And The Construction Of Sexuality
Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life: A Collection Of One Night Stands
Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown
Full Frontal Feminism by Feministing's Jessica Valenti
Lady Chatterley's Lover
For Yourself: The Fulfillment Of Female Sexuality
Queer Theory: An Introduction
Out In Theory: The Emergence Of Gay And Lesbian Anthropology
Diary Of A Drag Queen
The Rise And Fall of Gay Culture
A Memoir Of No One In Particular
Apples And Oranges: My Journey To Sexual Identity
Bi Lives: Bisexual Women Tell Their Stories
Bisexual Women In The 21st Century
Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Identities Over The Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives
Social Services For Gay And Lesbian Couples
The Lesbian Parenting Book: A Guide To Creating Families And Raising Children
The Truth Is...My Life In Love And Music by Melissa Etheridge
Nasty: My Family And Other Glamorous Varmints by Simon Doonan
The Praeger Book Of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset (Sex, Love, and Psychology)
True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism—For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals
GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond The Sexual Binary
Girl Meets Girl: A Dating Survival Guide
The Art Of Meeting Women: A Guide For Gay Women
The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life In America
Women, Gays, And The Constitution: The Grounds for Feminism and Gay Rights in Culture and Law
Identity And The Case For Gay Rights: Race, Gender, Religion as Analogies
Gay America: Struggle For Equality (YA)
Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer
Men Who Rape: The Psychology Of The Offender
Gay Day: The Golden Age of the Christopher Street Parade 1974-1983
Gay And Lesbian Washington, DC
Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter To America
Stone Butch Blues: A Novel
Sexual Rhetoric: Media Perspectives on Sexuality, Gender, and Identity
Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965
Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities
Odd Girls And Twilight Lovers
Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink Or Blue
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, And The Rest Of Us
Queering The Popular Pitch
Homosexuality In Greece And Rome: A Sourcebook Of Basic Documents
Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World
Between Men: English Literature And Male Homosexual Desires
She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders
Live Through This: On Creativity And Self-Destruction
My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely
Books NOT Stripped Of Amazon Sales Rankings
Fear Of Flying
Belligerence and Debauchery: The Tucker Max Stories
The Complete A**hole's Guide To Handling Chicks
Lesbian Couples: A Guide To Creating Healthy Relationships
Cunt: A Declaration of Independence Expanded and Updated Second Edition
How To Be A Happy Lesbian, A Coming Out Guide
Ron Jeremy: The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz
Traci Lords: Underneath It All
I'm With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie
Emma And Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story
Boy Meets Boy (YA)
How To Be A Super Hot Woman
The Complete Idiot's Guide To Amazing Sex
Female Chauvinist Pigs
Getting Off: Pornography And the End Of Masculinity
A Parent's Guide To Preventing Homosexuality
Gay Children, Straight Parents: A Plan For Family Healing
Confessions of a Video Vixen
The Vixen Diaries
Candy Girl: A Year In The Life Of An Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody
A Stripper's Tail: Confessions Of A Vegas Stripper
Seduce Me! What Women Really Want
The Professional Bachelor Dating Guide: How To Exploit Her Inner Psycho
Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds
Super Beauties: Nude And Natural
Male Nude Photography: Lance And Beau
Hot Cougar Sex: Steamy Encounters With Younger Men
Exercising The Penis: How to Make Your Most Prized Organ Bigger, Harder & Healthier
The Anarchist Cookbook
Hot Luxury Girls: Best Of Sugar Posh Beauties
Question: why remove the sales rank of a book designed to help gay men come out of the closet but leave the sales rank on a book designed to help lesbians come out of the closet? And why is Ellen DeGeneres' biography too "adult" for sales rankings but Ron Jeremy's biography is a-ok? Does not compute.
Question 2: Why was "Heather Has Two Mommies" stripped but not "Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story?" Where is the logic here?
EPIC Amazon Fail: Queer theory books, books on coming out, and feminism books lose their rankings, but A Parent's Guide To Preventing Homosexuality gets to keep its rank? WTF?!?
Amazon Logic: "The Vixen Diaries" and "Confessions of a Video Vixen" by Karrine Steffans: not adult!
"Queer Theory: An Introduction": Adult! Will somebody please think of the children!?!
Update 3: Commenter Gertymac points out that due to the removal of sales rankings, the first title that pops up when one searches "homosexuality" on Amazon is the aforementioned A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Also in the top 10 when one searches for "homosexuality:" Coming Out Of Sexuality: New Freedom For Men And Women, Can Homosexuality Be Healed?, and When Homosexuality Hits Home: What To Do When A Loved One Says They're Gay, which carries this description: "The heart–wrenching declaration that a loved one is a homosexual is increasingly being heard in Christian households across America. How can this be? What went wrong? Is there a cure?" Yikes.
Author Daniel Harris has emailed to let us know that 3 of his 4 books have been stripped of their rankings (they are now on our list) : "Three of my four books have been stripped of their ranking: Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (a gay history book that focuses on ordinary history but has chapters on pornography and S/M), A Memoir of No One in Particular (one chapter discusses my sex life), and Diary of a Drag Queen, a narrative of my life in drag. Only my one "secular" book, Cute, Quaint, Hungry, and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, retains the right to be ranked."
Author Craig Seymour claims that he has been aware of the shady Amazon tactics since at least February, when his memoir, "All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C." was stripped of its ranking. "Of course, I immediately sent emails to Amazon asking about this situation. I also placed several phone calls. But I could never get a straight answer, until February 25, when I received an email stating that "the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The ISBN #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product." I thought: An Adult product? What does that mean? Who knew that Amazon had such a category and why is it being applied to my book?" Seymour contacted several media organizations about the situation, to no avail. Eventually, his ranking was reinstated, "But I was still freaked out by the whole situation and worried about how it would affect other authors, especially those who aren't on mainstream publishers. Somehow, for nearly three weeks, Amazon effectively "coded" my book out of circulation, and I had no idea how or why."
Amazon Rank: A definition from the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: 1. To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies).
2. To make changes based on inconsistent applications of standards, logic and common sense.
EPIC Amazon Fail #2: The Professional Bachelor Dating Guide: How To Exploit Her Inner Psycho is deemed appropriate enough to keep its sales ranking, while The Art Of Meeting Women: A Guide For Gay Women is stripped of its sales ranking.
Update 4: It appears that several erotic photography books, including The Nude Male, Un*/Cut ("another chapter of desire for male meat! This sexual organ has never been more directly or excitingly set into scene than in this fascinating declaration of love.") and Super Beauties: Nude And Natural have retained their sales rankings. But Queer Theory, Gender Theory has not. So how are three books featuring naked adults in erotic poses less "adult" than a book on queer and gender theory?
Update 5: Author Abby Lee has pointed this out in the comments: "The American edition of my memoir Girl With a One Track Mind has been blocked/lost its rank on Amazon. But the UK edition has not. The difference between them? The US version is tagged "sexuality"; the UK edition "general biography" A coincidence? I think not."
Update 6: I just spoke to an Amazon.com customer service representative who informed me that the company had no information to give me regarding the sales rankings at this time.
Update 7: Publishers Weekly is now reporting that an Amazon spokesperson has claimed that the missing sales rankings are the result of a "glitch" and that "its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy."
Update 8: An interesting theory on what might be behind Amazon's "glitch," though it's a bit hard to believe that the "glitch" was the really the result of a planned weekend holiday meta-trolling when Craig Seymour, as we mentioned earlier, received notification that his book had been stripped of its sales ranking and "classified as an adult product" back in February, which indicates that this "glitch" has been around for some time now.
Update 9: Oh, Internet: there are currently 463 items tagged with "Amazon Fail" at Amazon right now.
Update 10: The Associated Press has a quote from Amazon's director of corporate communications, Patty Smith: "There was a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed." Writer Lilith Saintcrow doesn't buy the "glitch" theory, noting that "this does not wash for two reasons. One, a customer service rep admitted in writing this was 'policy'. Saying it is a 'glitch' or 'not a new policy' is both disingenuous and outright patronizing. Second, and more compelling reason: A 'glitch' would have taken out other books–like, say, Mein Kampf or the disgusting 'how to cure homosexuality' screeds. Instead, what we have is a specific targeted campaign, albeit a clumsy and not-very-well-thought-out one."
Twitter has responded with the hashtag #glitchmyass, indicating that glitch or no glitch, unhappy customers aren't going to let the company off the hook just yet.
This Is Not A Glitch, #amazonfail [Lilith Saintcrow]
Amazon 'Glitch' Removes Sales Rank From Gay Books [AP]
On Amazon Fail, Meta-Trolls, And Bantown [TehDely]
Amazon Says Glitch To Blame For "New" Adult Policy [Publishers Weekly]
Amazon Rank [Smart Bitches, Trashy Books]
Is Amazon Homophobic? [Craig's Pop Life]
Amazon Follies [Mark R. Probst]
Amazon Fail: Who Is Affected? [MetaWriter]