Amazon.com de-gays search results, sales rankings

What do Radclyffe Hall‘s classic lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness and Ellen: The Biography have to do with gay porn?

You’d think the answer would be pretty much "nothing." But if that’s true, why would Amazon.com strip the sales ranks of those books as well as almost all gay and lesbian books on their site — including Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, Sarah Water’s Tipping the Velvet, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the Only Fruit and James Baldwin’s gay classic Giovanni’s Room — at the same time it’s removing the sales rankings for adult novels?

This is obviously a big problem for authors, but where it really impacts readers is that those sales rankings dictate search returns on the site — in other words, books that have low or no sales rankings turn up much lower in search results, if they turn up at all.

You can only find the de-ranked books if you both search by title and choose the search category "Books." If you do a generic title search from the Amazon front page without specifying that it’s a book search, you will not find the de-ranked books among the top results (or anywhere on the first page of results, in some cases). Which means that not only will those who browse Amazon.com’s "top sellers" lists in various genres never come across any of these books, they may not even find these books when they’re deliberately looking for them.

This appears to have started as early as February, but it’s become a high-profile issue this weekend as more and more people have blogged and twittered about it (it’s the number-one trending topic on Twitter today, via the hashtag #amazonfail).

And it’s not just fiction. The blog Meta Writer noted that affected titles also include The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students and The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience.

And indeed, not one of those books has its sales ranking listed.

Neither do Kate Bornstein‘s Gender Outlaw, Katherine V. Forrest‘s detective
novels or Leslie Feinberg‘s Stone Butch Blues.

Asked "What’s up with that?" by a number of authors, Amazon sent out a form 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.

It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: That they’re removing gay and lesbian books from their search results and sales rankings in the first place, or that they’re categorizing anything about our community and our lives in the stigmatized "adult" category even when there’s nothing "adult" about it.

I mean, in what universe are books like The Lesbian Parenting Book: A Guide to Creating Families and Raising Children and that G-rated chestnut Patience and Sarah "adult" books?

Meanwhile, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Speechless: Silencing the Christians: How Liberals and Homosexual
Activists are Outlawing Christianity (and Judaism) to Force Their
Sexual Agenda on America
and Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds are all considered acceptable for all ages and retain their sales rank and search results prominence.

I checked the gay young adult titles by AfterElton.com‘s Brent Hartinger, and they still have their sales rankings. But a few other YA titles I looked at didn’t, including Sandra Scoppettone‘s lesbian-themed Happy Endings are All Alike and, ironically, The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004.

Neither did Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends or Heather Has Two Mommies, which has got to be one of the most banned books in American history.

Nice company you’re in, Amazon.

Amazon.com has not responded to a request for a comment by AfterEllen.com.

UPDATE #1: Here’s the response Christie Keith received from Amazon: “Thanks for your message. There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is currently being fixed.”

UDATE #2: The Seattle PI and others have now received the following statement from Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener:

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.

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