Sunday, April 12, 2009
(Image from Bill T)
In the last couple of days, people have been blogging about how Amazon has been labeling gay and lesbian books as "adult" and removing the books from their search engine. I'm glad the issue is FINALLY getting attention (see links below), because I have been complaining about it since February.
Here's my story: I'm the author of a memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Atria/Simon & Schuster), which is about my journey from grad student to stripper to entertainment journalist to college professor. (I'm currently Associate Professor of Journalism at Northern Illinois University.) Like many authors, I frequently check my sales status on Amazon, so imagine my shock, back in early February when the "Amazon.com Sales Rank" completely disappeared from the Product Details of my book. The book also disappeared from the search listings, so that if a customer looked up "All I Could Bare by Craig Seymour" on the Amazon home page, nothing came up.
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?
I brought this to the attention of my publisher, and they started looking into it. But, in the meantime, I also did some snooping around, and it turned out that the only books I could find without a "sales rank" had gay content like mine. For instance, my gay stripper memoir had no sales ranking, but Diablo Cody's stripper memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,did.
Memoirs by gay porn stars Blue Blake (Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star) and Bobby Blake (My Life in Porn: The Bobby Blake Story) didn't have a sales ranking, but memoirs by straight porn stars Ron Jeremy (Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz) and Jenna Jameson (How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale) did. Clearly, there seemed to be a double-standard.
As a former journalist, I contacted many major news organizations, but no one picked up on the story. Then, on February 27th, without any explanation, the sales ranking returned for my book and I was back in the search results.
I was happy, of course. 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.
I'm so glad that more people are talking about this. Let's demand some answers!!!
UPDATE: A timeline of my Amazon.com ordeal with actual Amazon correspondence.
UPDATE #2: Glitch, please!
UPDATE # 3 (4/13 8pm): Amazon has just released this statement about the controversy:
This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.
It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.
Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.
MY RESPONSE: It's a start but completely insufficient. It does not explain why writers, like myself, were told by Amazon reps that our books were being classified as "adult products." It also doesn't address why they took so long to do something about it, when they clearly knew about my issues back in February. Why didn't they address and fix the problems at that time?
And exactly what does a "cataloging error" mean? Was the error that they ever had an "adult" category or was the category simply overused? And if Amazon is going to maintain an "adult" category, who is going to determine what is "adult?" How will the criteria be applied to ensure that it's not prejudiced toward books with glbt contact; and will there be any way to appeal the process once the determination has been made? All of these questions need to be answered.
I don't think Amazon should be let off the hook until they address these very specific questions. Enough with the generic and vague statements.
Mark R. Probst
In light of the continuing Amazon controversy, here are links to my book on other sites. Perhaps this is a good time to support independent gay and lesbian bookstores again.
BARNES & NOBLE
SCP Books (A Lesbian Bookstore)
If any other bookstore wants me to add them, just let me know.