Books | Censorship | Discrimination | News

Amazon Says Gay Book 'Adult' Label, Stripped Sales Rankings a 'Glitch'

UPDATE: AMAZON blames "glitch" for problem. "A groundswell of outrage, concern and confusion sprang up over the weekend, largely via Twitter, in response to what authors and others believed was a decision by Amazon to remove adult titles from its sales ranking. On Sunday evening, however, an Amazon spokesperson said that a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy."

Amazon will need more than a one-liner to explain this situation. It must have been a very intelligent and homophobic "glitch" to have selectively de-ranked gay titles while leaving equally "adult" straight titles alone. The issue exploded on Twitter (#amazonfail) over the weekend where it is still high on the trends list. Unless Amazon explains what happened and publishes a transparent set of guidelines on how books are classified going forward I don't think anyone will be satisfied. Demand answers.

It also brings up a wider issue. This kind of double-standard happens not only across the internet but across media. Towleroad, for example, although we carry no pornographic content, is widely blocked as "adult" by many corporate filters simply because we write about gay issues. It's the same reason magazines like OUT and The Advocate are often placed among porn titles on newsstands when they clearly don't belong there.

***Previously... appears to be exacting a double standard on material it deems "adult" and has begun stripping hundreds of gay and lesbian books of their sales rankings, writer Mark Probst reported this weekend on his LiveJournal blog:

Brokeback "Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening. As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

"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.

"Best regards, Ashlyn D Member Services Advantage"

Giovannisroom Meta Writers has posted a list of the books that have been stripped which includes almost all novels in a user's Top 100 Gay Novels List including James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, and Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance.

Our theatre critic Kevin Sessums reports that the hardback edition of his memoir Mississippi Sissy retains a sales ranking while the ranking for the paperback edition has been stripped. Michelangelo Signorile reports that his books have all lost their rankings.

Writer Craig Seymour says he noticed the de-ranking happening months ago...

The L.A. Times reports on the de-ranking:

"Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs; "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, "The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1" by Michel Foucault, "Bastard Out of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), "Little Birds: Erotica" by Anais Nin, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and "Becoming a Man" by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award.

"Books that remain ranked include: "Naked" by David Sedaris; "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller; "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis; "Wifey" by Judy Blume; "The Kiss" by Kathryn Harrison; the photobooks "Playboy: Helmut Newton" and "Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds"; "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs; "Incest: From 'A Journal of Love'" by Anais Nin; "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (2007 Vintage International edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 Penguin Classics edition)."

No doubt there will be forthcoming revelations about what is happening at Amazon. A petition protesting the de-rankings has sprung up on Facebook.

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  1. In addition to completing the petition, you can call Amazon to complain. I did. Here is a link to their contact page:

    Posted by: Chris in MN | Apr 12, 2009 8:11:09 PM

  2. BOYCOTT!!!

    Amazon hurts small businesses of all kinds, but they are particularly killing independent bookstores. They really should have been boycotted previously just for the damage they're doing to local communities, but this is it.

    They know how much money they make from each of us, so e-mails would be very effective at getting this point of concern across to them.

    Posted by: paul c | Apr 12, 2009 8:15:25 PM

  3. Twitter is going nuts over this #amazonfail, and a google bomb 'amazon rank' has been launched and is already the first result.

    amazon rank
    Function: verb
    Inflected Form(s): amazon ranked

    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.

    Etymology: from 12 April 2009 removal of sales rank figures from books on containing sexual, erotic, romantic, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer content, rendering them impossible to find through basic search functions at the top of's website. Titles stripped of their sales rankings include "Bastard Out of Carolina," "Lady Chatterly's Lover," prominent romance novels, GLBTQ fiction novels, YA books, and narratives about gay people.

    Example of usage: "I tried to do a report on Lady Chatterly's Lover for English Lit, but my teacher amazon ranked me and I got an F on grounds that it was obscene."

    Alternate usage: "My girlfriend wanted to preserve her virginity, and I was happy to respect that, then she amazon ranked and decided anal sex was okay."

    Posted by: qjersey | Apr 12, 2009 8:20:43 PM

  4. F--k Amazon, "Powell's world of books" has LGBT themed books galore and will happily take my Queer $$$$. Plus, it's an independent book seller.

    p.s. They also de-ranked "Heather Has Two Mommies". WTF? Since when is that porno?

    Posted by: Wheezy | Apr 12, 2009 8:32:14 PM

  5. Previously their Books section was criticized for forcing independent authors to use their printing service instead of third party and arguable better services and I didn't care all that much.

    But this time I'm rather angry, so I've started a facebook group to call for a boycott (link at my name). Homophobia and censorship are among my least favorite things in the world so together it displeases me to a great extent.

    Awfully enough, a book with scenes of incest orgies remains ranked while autobiographies of gay people are being deranked.

    Posted by: Dean (BOYCOTT AMAZON!) | Apr 12, 2009 8:38:06 PM

  6. Ellen DeGeneres' autobiography about her relationship with her mother is delisted. This means that any book by a GAY AUTHOR can be delisted by Amazon, unless s/he stays safely in the closet and doesn't write about "that stuff".'' Now, go to and search for "homosexuality". The results are disturbing, to say the least!

    Posted by: Stan Scott | Apr 12, 2009 8:39:32 PM

  7. I smell a big fat rightwing rat somewhere in the halls of Amazon!

    Posted by: niles | Apr 12, 2009 8:55:49 PM

  8. Can i just go off topic slightly and ask why, in the yellow box at the bottom of your front page, in the top right corner above the google link there is a barely visible link, with the words "n****r barrack obama", except without the asterixes obviously.

    highly offensive

    Posted by: jakob1978 | Apr 12, 2009 9:03:33 PM

  9. If our titles aren't good enough to be ranked, our dollars aren't good enough to be spent there.

    Posted by: AndyNiable | Apr 12, 2009 9:07:05 PM


    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Apr 12, 2009 9:10:42 PM

  11. I don't shop amazon, I prefer alibris, so my protest may not mean much to amazon. Still, this will make me hesitate the next time I search amazon's database. If they filter my search like this, what else are they filtering?

    Posted by: Eric | Apr 12, 2009 9:13:14 PM

  12. you can still search for gay books on amazon canada but i don't know where you can see the ranking

    Posted by: baophac | Apr 12, 2009 9:23:21 PM

  13. ANDY: "n****r barack obama" IS ON YOUR SITE! I do not believe this is something you placed, perhaps someone has hacked your site?

    Posted by: CJ | Apr 12, 2009 9:24:21 PM

  14. According to Publisher's Weekly, it was a glitch that is currently being fixed.

    Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 12, 2009 9:30:53 PM

  15. Thank you for alerting us to the offensive language that was at the bottom of the site. We apologize that some of you came across it. We believe our site may have been hacked and have removed the associated search box and are looking into it.

    Posted by: andy | Apr 12, 2009 9:32:11 PM

  16. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. we were able to get it off the page but so far have been unable to figure out how it was done or where it came from. We're going to do our best to get some answers from Google which we rely on for site search, to help us get to the bottom of this. If anyone has information or insight, please forward it on directly to us at tips[at]
    Mike at towleroad

    Posted by: michael goff | Apr 12, 2009 9:32:22 PM

  17. I've refused to buy from them for a long time, due to their refusal to stop selling materials on dogfighting (not documentary but actual how-to materials--it's something I just blogged about last month, here and here). This just gives me one more reason to maintain my boycott.

    Posted by: Jess | Apr 12, 2009 9:35:35 PM

  18. I must be missing something. I can still find all of those books by just typing the title in the search box. And that's on the US portal. Is this something that only the author's would see?

    Posted by: Liam | Apr 12, 2009 9:36:36 PM

  19. Hmmm. Looks like the links in my prior comment didn't work. Well, here are bare links (if anyone cares)...

    Posted by: Jess | Apr 12, 2009 9:37:34 PM

  20. History of sexuality by Michel Foucault classified as adult!!!! hahahahaha!! Foucault wold have been delighted by the stupidity of this! I can't believe how many morons you can find in charge of censoring everything.

    Posted by: Catalyst | Apr 12, 2009 9:44:00 PM

  21. Amazon has been somewhat selective in what they have reclassified. I searched for all three of Randy Shilts' books and only Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military has been reclassified as "porn."

    Both "The Mayor of Castro Street: the Life and Times of Harvey Milk" and "And the Band Played On: People, Politics, and the AIDS Epidemic" have been left alone. No doubt that these books have been left untouched because of the popularity of Milk, the movie and the fact that "And the Band Played On" is the #1 all-time best-selling book in the HIV/AIDS department on Amazon.

    Shilts was an out gay author who died of complications from AIDS. But only his least successful book was declassified, also the only one with the words Gay/Lesbian in the title.

    Amazon may be run by gutless, homophobic trolls -- but they are selective and greedy homophobic trolls. I'm sure that they'll try to convince us all this was a harmless mistake or glitch. I'm not buying it, or anything else from them for that matter ever again.

    I'm sick of this crap.

    Posted by: FRESNO | Apr 12, 2009 9:51:35 PM

  22. Thanks for this post--I just checked and my gay travel memoir "You Can Run" has also been de-ranked. My book details 2 years spent in the "third world" which is, it appears, mighty less homophobic than Amazon.

    Posted by: Jesse Archer | Apr 12, 2009 10:00:04 PM

  23. If you know anything about programming you know that this statement:

    Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

    is utterly bogus. It is spectacularly easy to design programming to exclude certain items from a list without having to corrupt your sales ranking data. Assuming you have to exclude things at all of course.

    Posted by: Boxerdad | Apr 12, 2009 10:01:37 PM

  24. I think there's significant evidence that Amazon is being trolled:

    That link is well-worth reading before you get too pissed at Amazon.

    Posted by: Ariel | Apr 12, 2009 10:02:31 PM

  25. If you look on some of the commentary threads linked to GLBT books on Amazon, you'll find discussion threads on GLBT books and Kindle that date back to at least February that were already noting the de-ranking Amazon was doing for many GLBT books. If Amazon tries to claim this was a "glitch"-- and they will-- it's a "glitch" that was pointed out to them at least two months ago and they did nothing about it.

    Oops! Clumsy us! We hit the wrong button and suddenly, selectively de-ranked all sorts of gay titles, from biographies to histories to children's books, but not some of our most graphically sexual hetero titles. And then when some people pointed this out by contacting Amazon a few months ago, we ignored them until it became a big embarassing internet scandal. Just like if we accidentally spilt milk all over the kitchen, we'd wait to clean it up until the sour smell became so strong all of our neighbors formed a mob and threatened to evict us. Whoops!

    Amazon's got some serious 'splainin' to do.

    Posted by: bobbyjoe | Apr 12, 2009 10:08:16 PM

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