Thursday, April 16, 2009

Censorship = More Yummy "Banned Books"?

I like reading "banned books" and encouraging others to do so, especially when they encourage people to freely exchange ideas that might shake up the political and social status quo. Along with those come a few purely entertaining books that may or may not have any "redeeming social value," but that adults ought to be allowed to read, in order to determine their value for themselves. In principle, censorship is a bit like not being allowed to watch the President deliver his State of the Union address, but being forced to watch Fox News tell you what he "really said." Now there's a dangerous idea.

Apparently, Amazon.com has removed certain material from its sales rankings, thus burying it and effectively removing it from public view. For a straightforward explanation of why sales rank matters on Amazon, see this article. First, someone at Amazon explained to author Mark Probst that the company was doing this on purpose, "in consideration of our entire customer base"; now, it appears that in the face of massive protest on Twitter and among bloggers, Amazon representatives are claiming "it was a glitch." A few people think it's a smokescreen for poor accounting practices.

If the folks at Amazon were just being prissy and were truly interested in protecting the sensibilities of their "entire customer base" (which they apparently misjudged as being as prissy as they were), wouldn't they also have removed books on violent, illegal practices such as dog fighting? What about heterosexually explicit books? If there's anything I hate worse than censorship, it's lying and hypocrisy. One of the company's stated explanations must be false. Or maybe it's not Amazon - it's the glitch that was concerned about Amazon's "entire customer base." If you find this disturbing, here are a few things you can do today:

Call or write to Amazon. Amazon executive customer service email is: ecr@amazon.com and the customer service phone number is 1-800-201-7575. Below is a template found on Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary that you can use for starters:

Dear Amazon,

It has come to my attention that you are de-ranking books, supposedly on the basis of “adult content.” Apparently, according to the Amazon Dictionary, this is defined as books that have anything at all to do with GLBT characters, authors, issues, or references, with some general erotica being roped in, as well. In the meantime, however, books on the illegal, inhumane, and horrifyingly violent sport of dog fighting remain ranked and appear on a first page search under “dog fighting”: http://bit.ly/18l70B. Further, a search under “playboy” yields as the first return “Playboy: Wet and Wild Complete Collection,” followed by “Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds,” and so on. At what point did “adult content” exclude nude women and dogs killing other dogs for sport?

This is nothing short of discrimination; this is nothing short of censorship. This is nothing a business that claims commercial integrity at even the most basic level would do. Consequently, as a longtime Amazon customer, I look forward to an immediate reversal of this ridiculous policy. Otherwise, I will purchase elsewhere and encourage everyone else I know to do the same.

Add Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' definition of amazon rank to your lexicon. You can even have a hand in its adoption in the Urban Dictionary.

Sign this petition. Because even if it was "a glitch," bookstores and libraries should take great care to protect our right to freedom of expression. When books are censored based on categories like "homosexuality," "GLBT," "erotica," and - "disability"? - then we're on a slippery slope to nowhere good. Of course, if consumers do find those titles, Amazon will still sell them and take its cut of the profits, right?

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