April 20, 2009

Policy Change

Last week, I posted (along with many others) about a situation on Amazon.com. Today I'm posting an update.

On Monday, Amazon.com said that due to “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” thousands of books categorized as gay and lesbian themed lost their sales rankings. That also caused them to be more difficult to find in basic searches.

Amazon's apology came after a lot of online criticism from bloggers and from Twitter users who quickly accused the bookseller of homophobia, discrimination and censorship.

Amazon did not give a full explanation of how the error occurred which lead some critics to question whether the mistake was in programming or if that was an excuse for a bad decision to suppress gay and lesbian subjects.

More than 57,000 titles were affected, from E. M. Forster’s Maurice to the the children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies.

Was it an online mob mentality or justifiable outrage? Even this article in The New York Times seems to have mixed feelings.

The original post is below:
Amazon is a company I use very frequently. I think they have done a lot for readers - and readers have done a lot for them. It's a place I often find (new or used) poetry books that I can't find in local stores.

So I am disturbed to read (on Mark Doty's blog) that the company seems to have instituted a policy of identifying books they classify as "adult material" and leaving these titles out of their sales rankings and thus off their bestseller lists.

Mark feels they are targeting gay and lesbian content. He notes that some titles like Mark Wunderlich's Voluntary Servitude: Poems, Paul Lisicky's Lawnboy and Mark's own Heaven's Coast: A Memoir.

You can take your business elsewhere (Support local and independent booksellers!) but that doesn't change a bad policy by Amazon. There is a petition drive at Care2 and that's a start.

(I included links to those 3 titles at Amazon above - hopefully if you're clicking those links some time after this posting, you might see a ranking because things have changed.)

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