An open letter to Jeff Bezos

Dear Jeff,

I don’t know if you use Twitter, but you might be aware of something called #amazonfail, currently the most talked-about topic among the network of 5m+ users. This is an online expression of dismay at Amazon’s new and apparently discriminatory censorship policy.

If the version circulating on the Internet is correct, your new policy of excluding ‘adult’ material from Amazon searches by removing their sales ranking runs as follows:

“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.”

The idea of protecting us from ‘adult’ material seems unnecessary, when your own Conditions of Use (USA / UK) restrict Amazon purchases to adults. But my concern – and that of the many people tweeting with the #amazonfail tag – is how you define ‘adult material’.

In my country, a few years before you were born, a book was published following a notorious obscenity trial. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor asked if it was the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”. Publication went ahead, 32 years after the book was written, and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” has since become regarded as a classic work of English literature.

Overnight, you appear to have overturned that hard-won decision and reclassified it as filth that we should be protected from.

Worse still, D.H. Lawrence notwithstanding, your definition of ‘adult material’ appears mainly to apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books. Non-explicit LGBT literature, history and biography is censored, while explicit hetero books are not. No longer can we find Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” or Annie Proulx‘s “Brokeback Mountain” by sales rank. But we may still find “Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds” and Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls”, a graphic novel in every sense. Even our National Treasure, Stephen Fry, appears to have had his autobiography de-ranked, while it it all too easy to find Jackie Collins.

You can see many more examples of this curious inconsistency listed on the online petition that many of us are currently signing, and on this handy list.

This looks very much like blatant homophobia. Would you care to share your selection criteria with us? Or have you simply gone through your Gay & Lesbian section with a red pen?

This approach to what is deemed obscene and what is not takes publishing on a backward step that makes you seem as out of touch with modern social norms as Mervyn Griffith-Jones. As Kassia Krozier points out, we can freely find “Mein Kampf”, books on training fighting dogs, and other offensive material. But the works of E.M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence appear not to be the kind of books you would wish us to read.

Well, you have your wish. We will not buy them – from Amazon at least. As well as signing the online petition, joining the Facebook Group and redefiningAmazon rank“, we shall boycott Amazon until this policy is reversed. Other online retailers are available, other highstreet chains – maybe we shall even support our local independent bookshop.

I hope this is a mistake that will be quickly corrected, and not a conscious policy of discrimination. I look forward to a public response to the many blog posts and tweets on the subject that have been written this weekend.

Jon

Jon Reed, Publishing Talk

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About Jon Reed

Jon Reed is a writer, lecturer and social media trainer. He is the author of Get Up to Speed With Online Marketing (2nd edition, Pearson, 2013) and The Publishing Talk Guide to Twitter. He runs the social media consultancy Reed Media, providing training and workshops on social media marketing. He previously worked in publishing for 10 years, including as publishing director for McGraw-Hill. He launched Publishing Talk in 2007. More about Publishing Talk...

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13 Responses to An open letter to Jeff Bezos

  1. Pingback: Amazon rank = #amazonfail « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

  2. lelangir says:

    Hear hear! Indeed there are many used bookstores that I’ve been meaning to check out.

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  4. Sheila Ruth says:

    Very well said. I hope that Bezos reads it. This is such an unbelievable situation!

  5. KeMari Blue says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I hope he does read it. It’s a shame too, because, you would think a bookseller, even a large corporation such as this, would welcome any and all books to be sold via its company. You would hope at the very least that they LOVE books as much as their customers.

    Amazon has to be aware that alienating an entire community of people, not just gay and lesbian, but bisexual, transgender, any and all queer folk, and those who are friends and family of anyone from the LGBTQ community, is a bad, bad move on their part. In the end, its only hurting them.

    By taking popular, award-winning books out of their ranks, they are forcing those of us seeking out these specific genres and books to look elsewhere (I prefer my local bookstores, truth be told).

    It would seem that Amazon.com has become nothing more than the Walmart of bookselling.

    How sad.

  6. Dayngr says:

    Thanks for not only speaking out but bringing this to the attention of others. Well said!

  7. Luxie Ryder says:

    Thanks to all for their outrage over this matter. My book is mainstream romance with an erotic element. For those of you familiar with the genre, it is very tame (almost vanilla) compared to some I have read. I can no longer find my book in a search from the main page nor do I have a rating.
    Many of my friends and colleagues have been affected by this insanity.

    I call it insanity because most of our books are available elsewhere and if they can’t be found at Amazon, customers will simply start using the sites that do cater to them. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting where some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to alienate thousands of authors and their readers!

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