Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm Profiled Today at Pop Syndicate, and Why The People at Are A Bunch of Stupid Un-American Asshats

First off, the good news. I'm profiled today at the PopSyndicate blog. This is my most high-profile blog tour appearance yet, so it's pretty cool. Check it out by clicking here.

Second, here's the bad news. I've been meaning to blog about this all week, but I kept having to deal with a bunch of stupid mommy-and-housewife crap and kept putting it off. But now I have a whole hour to myself to rant about the completely asshat censorship bullshit pulled over Easter weekend.

For those of you who haven't heard about it by now, over Easter weekend nearly 58,000 books (including several of mine) where rendered unsearchable on due to their supposed "adult content." In an apparent effort to become more "family friendly", started removing the sales rankings of books that supposedly contained "adult" content. By removing the sales rankings from the books, Amazon essentially made the titles nearly impossible to locate on its site, since only books with sales ranks will come up on bestseller lists, or even come up on topic, title, or authors searches. In many cases, without a sales ranking attached, the only way you can find a deranked title is by searching by ISBN---and who the hell memorizes ISBNs? (I certainly don't, and I used to be a book-acquisitions librarian.)

Once a book is "deranked" from Amazon, it basically becomes impossible to find---and buy. With many small-press and out-of-print titles available only on (what with Amazon putting small independent booksellers out of business, but I digress), essentially made thousands upon thousands of books impossible for Americans to read. Can you say CENSORSHIP?

Big Brother, anyone?

What kinds of books got "deranked" on Amazon? Gay and lesbian books were deranked, for one. At one point, there wasn't a single GLBT-positive book searchable on Amazon (if you typed "homosexuality" into the search field, the only books that came up were homophobic titles like How Not To Be Gay). Erotica titles (heterosexual and gay) as well as many romance novels were deranked (mine included----grrr!), and even nonfiction and medical books on the topic of human sexuality were deranked. Feminist books got deranked. Books on the occult, left-wing politics, and even great works of literature were deranked. apparently decided that the American public does not need to read the works of E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Helen Gurley Brown, Annie Proulx, or Augusten Burroughs due to their "adult" content. National Book Award-winning books were deranked; even New York Times bestselling authors were deranked. (Even the children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, which explains lesbianism to gradeschoolers, was deemed "adult.") Yet books like the annual Playboy Centerfolds anthologies, books on how to run a successful (and illegal) dogfighting business, and even The Anarchists' Cookbook (contains recipes for making bombs and napalm in your own kitchen) were deemed perfectly acceptable for general public consumption.

In other words, if you wrote a book that a) has something to do with sex-positive and/or gay-positive content and/or anything too "lefty", Amazon didn't want anyone to buy your book. Amazon later said this targeted deranking was due to a "cataloging error," but authors who contacted to inquire why their books were no longer searchable were told in writing by Amazon's own staff that it was due to Amazon's new family-friendly "policy."

The public backlash against this stunning act of censorship was swift and far-reaching, thanks to social-media sites like Twitter getting the word out quickly. (Big-name celebrities like Demi Moore got involved in the online #amazonfail protest on Twitter; so did former child star and Internet celebrity Wil Wheaton.) The Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor (two papers not at all known for their liberal ideologies, natch) published scathing editorials attacking Jeff Bezos and Amazon for daring to attempt something so inherently un-American as outright censorship of an entire class of books and writers.

Amazon immediately went into damage-control mode, saying that the whole thing was just a "glitch." Even a few hackers tried to take credit for doing it from the outside without Amazon's knowledge, but those claims have been discredited. But with evidence of Amazon's deranking of gay-themed books going back several months at least, along with plenty of evidence that Amazon's own staff said in writing multiple times that the deranking was "policy," (not to mention how specifically targeted the censored books were) I don't believe for a minute that this was a "glitch." This was a sinister attempt by a major corporation that now controls a huge chunk of the world book trade to control and censor what Americans read.


The public backlash and massive PR gaffe Amazon now finds itself mired in rivals what Coca-Cola dealt with back in 1985 when they tried to impose New Coke on the masses. I think that for decades to come, business schools across the world will use the "amazonfail" debacle as a textbook example (along with New Coke) of a major corporation completely misjudging its customer base. In fact,"amazonfail" is worse than New Coke----New Coke was just stupid. But censorship of any kind, let alone on such a massive scale, is evil. And the public knows it. Amazon tried to pull a fast one on us, but obviously Amazon underestimated just how smart its customers (avid readers and book buyers) really are.

Americans of all political stripes, from the far left to the far right, detest censorship. The First Amendment is sacred in this country. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have died over the past 230 years to protect our right to free speech, which includes the right to read whatever we want without fear of reprisal. It goes without saying that censorship is un-American. And if anyone should have understood that, it should have been the world's biggest bookseller.

My books remain deranked and unsearchable on Amazon, and I have been unable to get a straight answer on when the sales ranks will be restored (Amazon says "soon" but it hasn't happened yet).

Now would be a very good time to buy your books from one of Amazon's online competitors: (Barnes & Noble)

Never forget that this has happened. Never. And vote with your feet, folks. Take your dollars elsewhere.


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