Look What Amazon.com Is Doing

Amazon.com has just initiated a new marketing policy. They are stripping away the sales ranking of any book with so-called Adult Content. Here’s their little explanation:

“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. Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards, Ashlyn D Member Services Amazon.com Advantage

What this mean in effect, however, is that books primarily with gay and lesbian content are being singled out for exclusion from database searches. It is being applied in a bigoted and surprisingly hamfisted manner to conform to someone’s standard of what constitutes Offensive Material. Adult Content generally means anything with more than coyly suggested sex in it.

However, as a sample of the books not having their sales ranking stripped away, consider these:

–Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)

–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);

–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);

–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances

–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

These book sell very well, generally, so it’s obvious that there’s a dollar connection to this new policy. Midlist—the vast majority of books—will be targeted. Why is this important? Because this will delete titles from amazon search engines. It will make a dent in writers’ incomes. It will render invisible Those Sorts of Books. This is 1950s Era censorship and it is a threat to livelihoods as well as the general public’s right to choose what to read.

Here is a cogent article about this.

What I want to say right here has to do with the whole notion of isolating Adult Content to appease the screeching of those who would defend us from our own choices. We see this time and again and it is always the same appeal to Family Values, often expanded with a plea to Protect the Children. I see billboards in certain parts of the country now that declare that Pornography Destroys Families. We are meant to hide that part of ourselves from any kind of public display in the name of some sort of imagined “purity” that must be preserved among children so that they aren’t “damaged” by early exposure to human sexuality.

I’m tired of it. It’s absurd. Not that I think kids ought to be exposed to pornography—not at all—but the whole idea that adults do not have a right to indulge in adult things, without being ashamed of it, from fear that junior might see something he or she is too young to deal with. It does not proctect the children, it makes adults self-conscious, and it falsely assumes that Adult Content is about things none of us should indulge or admit to indulging. It is the age old game of trying to shame people into denying their own sexuality because some people can’t deal with their own.

And in this instance it has serious consequences for writers and publishers. Amazon.com is an enormous source of income for the publishing industry. Along with the mega-chain booksellers, they have the power to influence the acquisition choices of publishers. Which means that something like this can have a direct impact on the kinds of books that get bought and published.

This is an offensive against a wide range of subject matter, topics, authors, and sensibilities. Not to mention that it is hypocritically applied. There is a petition here.

To be sure, we are not talking exclusively or even largely about pornography. We are talking about work that addresses topics that include matters of adult concern regarding sex. By rights, this kind of policy would once again cast Catcher In The Rye back into the shadows of censorship. Censorship.

It is illegal when the government does it to an already published book. But this is private industry and they set policy any way they please.

However the power of the purse ultimately is in the hands of the consumer. We have been in some ways tyrannized over the last three decades by the persistent sensitization of protecting children from adulthood. We have been inundated with the suggestion that the private proclivities of some adults are too odious to be revealed or publicly discussed. In the seventh grade I was caught in class reading Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers. The principle thought this was serious enough to call my mother in for a conference. He made it clear by his word choice and body language that he expected my mother to be appaled at my choice of reading material. Instead, she said that she never censored what I read and that if I couldn’t handle something I wouldn’t read it and she would appreciate it if in future he would not censor me.

She was largely correct. Most of what I read in that novel then went right by me. I don’t advocate handing out Harold Robbins novels to 14-year-olds, but I believe our readiness to panic over such things is ill-advised. Better to discuss these things with kids rather than slap them down or, worse, pretend such books don’t exist. But most importantly, we have to stop behaving as if becoming and adult and embracing adult things is somehow a degradation. I have said before, quite simply certain things are just not for children.  Parents should deal with it.  I do not accept for an instant that the world ought to be ordered exclusively for their level.

I will not say for their benefit, because people who engage in this kind of idiotic social engineering are not, by and large, doing it for the children—they’re doing for themselves, for what they think the world ought to be like. Using the children is just an excuse.

I’m tired of it. I think we should all be tired of it.