Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

When a Glitch Is Not a Glitch

If you’ve been following the Amazon delisting debacle (#amazonfail in the Twitterverse and well chronicled in posts on Dear Author here, here, and here), then you probably know that late yesterday afternoon, an Amazon spokesperson announced that it was all just a glitch, not the result of a deliberate policy decision.

A lot of folks have been calling shenanigans on that explanation, but I think it’s at least partly true. There’s no doubt in my mind that sales rankings are being stripped from books by a programming algorhythm that looks for certain metadata “category” tags. The books are stripped of their rankings and then are hidden from certain searches (although this seems inconsistent–some unranked books will display in some searches while others won’t). This happens to a book if it has any of the offending tags (among them, apparently, the words “Gay & Lesbian,” “Erotica” and “Sex”), regardless of its actual content. Thus, books ranging from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to The I Do Anthology (a collection of essays in support of same-sex marriage), Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, and The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability have all lost their sales ranking and, to some extent, are no longer readily searchable.

So, since I just said I think the filtering is based on metacategory and is absolutely intentional, what do I mean when I say I think it’s partly a glitch?

I mean that I don’t think Amazon’s intention was to filter out books like Heather Has Two Mommies or parenting books intended for same-sex couples or most of the books I just listed. It was simply an inintended consequence of implementing a filter that was intended to screen out “dirty books” and instead caught a whole bunch of other thoroughly inoffensive ones (while, I might add, simultaneously failing to screen out sex toys from a search on the word “rabbit”–something I find particularly amusing; why do erotic books lose their sales rankings while erotic appliances retain them?) in its too-wide net.

The outpouring of outrage on the part of the GLBT community has been loud and vitriolic, and rightly so. There’s little doubt in my mind that Amazon will soon set about correcting its filtering matrix so that books that clearly don’t belong in the “adult” category regain their sales rankings and become once again easily searchable.

What worries me is that few people seem to have a problem with Amazon’s continuing to hide books with erotic content. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of comments that are tantamount to suggesting that Amazon’s only mistake here was in not casting its net wide enough to catch all those other filthy romance novels out that that, while not tagged as “erotica,” contain graphic descriptions of “teh secks.”

All I can say is, huh? For the life of me, I cannot grasp the apparent nonchalance of some folks who are absolutely appalled by the delisting of non-erotic GLBT books but seem absolutely unperturbed by the delisting of books with erotic/sexual content and even keen on the notion of getting more of them delisted.

To those folks I say: Sex is part of the human experience. An important part. Sex is also a meaningful component of romantic love. And yes, damn it, sex is fun. Books that celebrate sex are no more deserving of ghettoization than books about any other topic. Should there be ways for people to indicate that they don’t want such books showing up in their search results? Damn straight.

But please, let’s leave those decisions to the end user, not to computers and corporate policies. Because that way lies censorship in its ugliest and most insidious form.

1 Comment

  • Shelli Stevens April 13, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Yeah, huh? Bottom line is it’s censorship. Fortunately I haven’t see TOO many people who are for this Amazon change. It was a big, big mess up. And Amazon’s stock dropping this morning just proves it.


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