Incident 15: Amazon Censors Gay Books
Suggested citation format
CSET Taxonomy ClassificationsTaxonomy Details
Amazon's book store experienced a "cataloging error" in which 57,310 books lost their "sales ranking", a number used to help books show up quicker in the book suggestions algorithm. The books affected are reported to include between "dozens" and "hundreds" of books containing gay and lesbian themes, often labeling them as "adult material" or "pornographic" when similar books containing heterosexual characters remain at the top of the sales ranking.
Amazon's book store "cataloging error" led to books containing gay and lesbian themes to lose their sales ranking, therefore losing visibility on the sales platform.
Harm Distribution Basis
Sexual orientation or gender identity
Harm to social or political systems
AI System Description
Amazon's bookstore sales ranking algorithm used to rank popular books and display higher-ranking books on earlier pages of Amazon marketplace
Sector of Deployment
Arts, entertainment and recreation
Relevant AI functions
sales ranking system
Online retailer blames reduced profiles of Winterson, Hollinghurst, Vidal and others on glitch in new family-friendly charts
The internet retailer Amazon has found itself at the centre of a censorship row after it decided to remove a number of so-called adult books from its online charts.
Over the weekend, thousands of books have lost their sales rank – the number that Amazon uses to show how well one title sells compared with another – as the company apparently seeks to make its bestseller lists more family friendly.
But thousands of users have voiced concern after the seemingly random application of the new rules not only affected a number of high-profile authors, including Annie Proulx, EM Forster and Jeanette Winterson, but also led to thousands of gay and lesbian titles being stripped of their sales rank, regardless of their sexual content.
After being bombarded with angry emails from authors and readers, Amazon blamed a "glitch" in its system, which it said last night was being fixed.
But just a few days ago, the company told complainants books classed as containing "adult material" had been prevented from appearing in some searches and bestseller lists "in consideration of our entire customer base". Yesterday a spokeswoman denied there was ever any such "policy".
Rankings matter to authors because they affect how their books come up in a search. The higher the ranking, the more likely the book is to come up when a customer is looking for it.
As of this morning, books without rankings included Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Maurice, Forster's coming-of-age tale about a young man's first gay love, had also disappeared, along with the 2004 Booker-winning novel The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst.
The ranking removal seemed to depend on how Amazon filed each book. The 2003 paperback edition of Fry's autobiography Moab Is My Washpot, which Amazon tags as "gay", is unranked, whereas the original hardback , filed under "memoir", has a ranking.
Amazon's customers are able to tag books themselves, and a number of contributors have flagged up hundreds of books affected by the "glitch" using the tag amazonfail.
The affected books all seem to have hetero- and/or homosexual content. The New Joy of Sex, an updated version of the 70s classic, which is filed under the subject "sex/sexuality", has lost its ranking, while the original edition (subject "love/sex/marriage"), from 1974, is ranked. DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, meanwhile, is now unranked.
The removals prompted furious remarks on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere online.
One Twitter user noted: "THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK is ranked; THE JOY OF SEX is unranked. In other words, Amazon would rather you make napalm than get laid."
Zoe Margolis, the blogger and author of Girl With A One-Track Mind, complained on her Twitter feed that the US edition of her book, which Amazon had filed under "sexuality" or "erotica", had lost its ranking, while the UK version, filed under "memoir", was ranked.
"It's as if Amazon said 'An idea! Let's get rid of all the queers and perverts!!!' and then reset all their search algorithms," she wrote.
She told the Guardian that if the policy was really to safeguard users from "adult" content, it was inconsistent, as many titles had slipped through the net.
"Horribly ironically, the stuff that does seem to be widely available are books like the Playboy Centrefold collection, which Amazon classes as 'photography'," she said.
Jeanette Winterson told the Guardian: "I hate categories anyway, I think they are unhelpful, but if Amazon are making a value judgment here, then that's much more serious and obviously that needs to be addressed."
Craig Seymour, author of the gay memoir All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C, wrote on his blog yesterday that his sales rank was dropped in February, then restored nearly four weeks later, after he was told by Amazon that his book had been "classified as an adult product".
When one author, Mark R Probst, wrote to Amazon last week to ask whether the firm has "some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books", he received a similar reply.
"In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude 'adult' material from appearing in some searches and bestseller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature," explained "Ashlyn D" from Amazon's member services department.
When contacted by the Guardian, an Amazon spokeswoman said that there was "a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed". However, the company refused to elaborate on why that move was made, or how the filter to choose which books were excluded was applied.
An online petition, which already has almost 10,000 signatures, is lobbying Amazon to answer questions about the seeming double standard, and other complainants have sent objections to the Seattle-based company.
It’s all a “glitch”, says Amazon. After a weekend of being bombarded by emails organized by Twitter (we told you it was an important gay political tool!) under the hashtag #amazonfail, the world’s largest online retailer of books is apologizing for de-ranking dozens of gay books by classifying them as “adult literature.” Amazon responded to our requests for more information with a statement that it sent to other reporters:
“We recently discovered a glitch to our Amazon sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed. We’re working to correct the problem as quickly as possible.”
As of the publication of the story, some of the books de-ranked over the weekend, including Paul Monnette’s 1992 National Book Award winner Becoming a Man, have been added back, but many others, including E.M. Forster’s Maurice, remain classified as too-hot-to-handle adult material, which means that in Amazon’s eyes, Hugh Grant was in a porn when he appeared in the Merchant & Ivory adaptation of the book.
The L.A. Times tried to get more information from the retailer, but Amazon Director of Corporate Communications Patty Smith said:
“Unfortunately, I’m not able to comment further. We’re working to resolve the issue, but I don’t have any further information.”
So, is the de-ranking some random computer glitch. Not likely. The books targeted are almost exclusively LGBT titles. As one commenter points out:
“Porn star Ron Jeremy’s raunchy autobiography is still ranked. A scholarly bio of Ellen DeGeneres is de-ranked. Mein Kampf is still ranked. Heather Has Two Mommies is de-ranked.”
Amazon’s silence isn’t helping the impression that there’s some homophobic censorship going on, either. Do a search for “homosexuality” on Amazon and the first title to show up is A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. By removing gay-related content from its rankings, Amazon has made it so that they do not appear easily in searches and do not appear in book suggestions throughout the site.
Neither can we blithely assume that this is the result of a single homophobic rogue system operator. When author Mark Probst asked two weeks ago, why two of his gay-themed romance books were removed from the listings and received this reply:
“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,
This implies that this weekend’s actions are not the actions of a single employee, but rather the result of a company policy. The Inquistor mentions that at least one author was told that the decision was based on policy, not technical error. Even if it’s not, even if, beyond all plausible reality, Amazon’s software just randomly decided to mark a wide swath of gay literature as “adult”, including the children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies, the fallout for the company is likely to be intense.
On Twitter, the rage towards the company continues unabated. It’s the number two topic (only outstripped by talk about the Mikeyy worm hitting PC’s) and users have already organized a full-on boycott, reaching over 9,000 signatures so far. The speed at which Twitter was able to take a single blog post by author Craig Seymour and transform it into a national news story shows just how much power the service has in collectively organizing direct political action. And of course, YouTube is now getting in on the act, as you can see from this entertaining call made about the Twilight book series:
It seems beyond comprehension that Amazon won’t apologize for the “glitch”, but the damage has already been done. The phrase “Amazon Rank” has already received a new definition:
Inflected Form(s): amazon ranked 1. To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies).
- To make changes based on inconsistent applications of standards, logic and common sense. Etymology: from 12 April 2009 removal of sales rank figures from books on Amazon.com containing sexual, erotic, romantic, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer content, rendering them impossible to find through basic search functions at the top of Amazon.com’s website. Titles stripped of their sales rankings include “Bastard Out of Carolina,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” prominent romance novels, GLBTQ fiction novels, YA books, and narratives about gay people. Example of usage: “I tried to do a report on Lady Chatterly’s Lover for English Lit, but my teacher amazon ranked me and I got an F on grounds that it was obscene.”
Alternate usage: “My girlfriend wanted to preserve her virginity, and I was happy to respect that, then she amazon ranked and decided anal sex was okay.” “
To say this is bad for busines
I've been asked for more information and am collecting the books/authors that are affected
Level of explicitness/genre
Censored on which amazon website
Link (maybe even a screencap)?
Collection: Books that had their sales ranks removed:
Out of a Top 100 Gay Novels List on Elisa Rolle's LJ almost all the books are "purged", including authors such as Jamie O'Neill, Edmund White, Andre Aciman. Link:
James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room
Annie Proulx Brokeback Mountain
Stripped of sales rank on amazon.com, but not on amazon.ca
Jeanette Winterson's OrangesAre Not The Only Fruit
Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness.
None of which can be called "erotica" by any stretch of the imagination.
(the only "sex scene" in The Well of Loneliness consists in its entirety of the words "And that night they were not divided.")
Alex Beecroft: False Colours, m/m historical romance, just broken through and ranking in top 10 historical novels-- i.e. non-romance, non-gay-- and then it suddenly disappeared entirely from the rankings. The novel is NOT erotica, contains only one non-explicit sex scene, but the central premise features two male characters falling in love.
The Kindle version of False Colors has a sales rank but has had the 'an m/m romance' taken off its name!
Censored on Amazon.com
Alex Beecroft, Captain's Surrender
heat level mild; about one page of sex scenes all told in a book 196 pages long
Censored on Amazon.com
The Kindle version of Captain's Surrender has no sales rank either.
Erastes Transgressions - similar case to False Colours, screen cap here:
Erastes Speak Its Name
Erastes Frost Fair
(on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk)
Storm Grant - Gym Dandy
Level of explicitness/genre: a RomCom with a heat level of 2 out of 5.
GLTB content?: boy meets boy
Censored on which amazon website: .com, .uk, and .ca*
Proof of sales rank:
Leslie Feinberg Stone Butch Blues
Sales rank removed
Rita Mae Brown Rubyfruit Jungle
Sales rank removed
Sarah Waters Tipping The Velvet now has no sales rank in one of its editions ...
It still does in another edition:
The only difference seems to be that this one doesn't have the word "lesbian" anywhere in its "Look for similar items by subject".
E M Forster - Maurice
(Amazon.com - "Heat level" - neglegible)
(Sales rank removed)
Charlie Cochrane: Lessons in Love
(no sex in the book)
(Sales rank removed)
Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man
Gay protagonist. I don't recall any explicit sex.
(Sales rank removed)
Edmund White's The Beautiful Room Is Empty
Haven't read, however, it's certainly critically acclaimed (as is A Single Man)
(Sales rank removed)
Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story
Both of the Edmund White novels do contain explicit sex scenes, but they're far from not "erotica", and they're acclaimed as literary classics.
(Sales rank removed)
Andrew Holleran's Dancer From The Dance
Gay protagonist. Non-explicit, though much is implied. Harold Robbins is steamier and retains his sales rank.
(Sales rank removed)
JL Langley's Tin Star (Amazon.ca)
(Sales rank removed)
James Buchanan: The Good Thief, Twice the Cowboy, Twice the Ride, Cheating Chance
(Only his print editions have had their sales rank stripped) Amazon.com
Screencap for Good Thief here:
R W Day A Strong and Sudden Thaw Iris Press edition - has a ranking, Kindle version of the Lethe edition has a ranking. The print version of the Lethe edition does not (
When you search by title from the Amazon home page, the Lethe print edition doesn't even make the first page of results. In fact, the first hit is a book by another author with the same name as me, and the second is Ginn Hale's Wicke
But OP, why are you bringing up freedom of expression issues in the freedom of expression section? It seems crazy to me, a fact I will illlustrate by using a large bold font and some irrelevant reference to 4chan.
One of these books has been removed from Amazon's sales rankings because of "adult" content; the other has not.
"American Psycho" is Bret Easton Ellis' story of a sadistic murderer. "Unfriendly Fire" is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it's "Unfriendly Fire" that does not have a sales rank -- which means it would not show up in Amazon's bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the "Twilight" series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon's search results.
Amazon's policy of removing "adult" content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon's customer service explained:
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.
Probst wrote a novel for young adults with gay characters set in the old West; he was concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted. Amazon has not responded to the L.A. Times request for clarification.
Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs, "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, "The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1" by Michel Foucault, "Bastard Out of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), "Little Birds: Erotica" by Anais Nin, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and "Becoming a Man" by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award.
Books that remain ranked include: "Naked" by David Sedaris, "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller, "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis, "Wifey" by Judy Blume, "The Kiss" by Kathryn Harrison, the photobooks "Playboy: Helmut Newton" and "Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds," "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs, "Incest: From 'A Journal of Love'" by Anais Nin, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (2007 Vintage International edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 Penguin Classics edition).
Certainly many of the books that are no longer ranked are no more "adult" than many of those that are -- as the list above shows, the same book, by different publishers, might meet either fate. And Kindle editions of some books remain ranked. "Unfriendly Fire," for example, is #1 in Gay and Lesbian Nonfiction on the Kindle -- even as the hardcover of the book, which was released on March 3, does not show up at all when searched for.
When book critic Bethanne Patrick came across the news, she posted in on Twitter, where it circulated rapidly. Sunday afternoon it took just an hour for the hashtag #amazonfail to become the top trending topic on the site. An online petition was created. A site run by romance writers started an effort to redefine the phrase "Amazon rank" as "To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies)."
But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, it's a bit beside the point. It's the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can't be a good idea.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
It’s been called #amazonfail on Twitter, but it represents the greatest insult to consumers and the most severe commercial threat to free expression that we’re likely to see in some time. Amazon has decided to remove certain books that they deem “adult” from their ranking system. But the “adult” definitions include such books as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Amazon link) (screenshot), Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina (Amazon link) (screenshot), Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain (Amazon link) (screenshot), John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (Amazon link) (screenshot), and numerous other titles. [NOTE: These titles have now been ranked again. But please see UPDATE 11 at the bottom of this post, which contains additional links and screenshots. Amazon is still deranking many titles, but only seems to be restoring the ones directly called out by multiple sources.] Books that, in some cases, have fought decades to gain literary respectability have become second-class overnight because of Amazon’s draconian deranking policy.
To add insult to injury, such anti-Semitic texts as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Amazon link) and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Amazon link) remain within the ranking system while the less offensive books named above are considered too “adult.” In other words, if you’re a writer who has written openly about sex, Amazon considers you worse than an anti-Semitic writer who helped initiate pogroms and concentration camps.
As Kassia Kroszer noted, this is an offensive and unacceptable gesture from Amazon to the many readers and writers who make the publishing industry what it is. This is retail maneuvering of the most spineless and despotic form. It amounts to a store treating adults, who are informed individuals who can make up their own minds about how “adult” something is, as if they are incapable of independent decision making. It is a betrayal of the community that keeps Amazon thriving with the customer reviews. It is an insult to any author or reader who has dared to take a chance.
This decision must be responded to by a complete and total boycott of Amazon’s services. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM AMAZON unless they restore the ranking system. Boycott Amazon and let them feel the sharp pincers of your wallet going somewhere else. Instead of supporting a corporate behemoth who wants to put up the equivalent of a beady curtain at a video store for many titles that don’t deserve it (including numerous GLBT and sex-positive books), go to an independent bookstore who will treat you with inclusive respect. Remove all links to Amazon from your websites. Let Amazon know precisely how you feel in these economically uncertain times, and then maybe they’ll think twice about treating you as if you are unthinking cattle.
We can make a difference in this. We made a difference back in February with the Facebook TOS snafu. We can make a difference with this needless and demeaning ranking system. Boycott Amazon. Because a retailer should never be in the position of determining what is “adult” or salable. As the old maxim says, the customer is always right.
UPDATE: See also thoughts from Mark Probst, a petition to protest the policy, and Google bomb efforts from Smart Bitches. Also, as many helpful people on Twitter have noted, the Amazon customer service line is 800-201-7575. Although we may want to see if we can track down the executives who enacted this ridiculous policy and hold them accountable instead.
UPDATE 2: Goddammit, that’s the last straw. Nobody deranks Jonathan Ames and gets away with it. Here are the numbers for the Amazon Board of Directors. Flood all these people with your complaints on Monday morning.
Thomas O. Ryder (914) 244-5782
William Gordon (650) 233-2750
Myrtle Potter (650) 225-1000
Alain Monie (206) 266-1000
L. John Doerr (650) 233-2750
Tom Alberg (206) 674-3000
Patricia Stonesifer (206) 709-3140
UPDATE 3: On Twitter, the Washington Post‘s Ron Charles reports that Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener has told him that there was recently a glitch in the sales rank feature and that he is working to correct the problem. I am likewise pursuing investigations to get Amazon’s side of the story.
UPDATE 4: Of course, if the glitch was only just “recently” discovered, the big question here is why Amazon told Mark Probst two days ago that the company was now in the practice of excluding “adult” material in some searches. For that matter, why did Amazon offer the same answer to author Craig Seymour? Something is fishy. I have left voicemails and emails for Amazon spokespersons. What they do not realize is that I am a rather tenacious fellow. If they do not answer me tonight, starting tomorrow, I will be contacting them once every hour until they offer a reasonable answer to these many questions.
UPDATE 5: An Amazon search for homosexuality revealing anti-homosexual books in the top results is more than a “glitch.” In the comments, it has been reported that if you search for Olympia Press
April 12, 2009 Amazon Censors Its Rankings & Search Results to Protect Us Against GLBT Books
JaneLetters of OpinionAmazon / censorship / LGBTQ
UPDATE No. 2: Amazon executive customer service email is: email@example.com and the customer service phone number is 1-800-201-7575. You can use Robin’s template:
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 erotically-oriented works 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 and unconscionable policy. Otherwise, I will purchase elsewhere and encourage everyone else I know to do the same.
UPDATE: Apparently romance authors are seeing their rankings removed as well. (If you comment, I’ll add you to the list)
Jaci Burton’s books 2 and 3 in her Wild Rider series have been deranked. If you type her name in, her most recent release will not show up.
Larissa Ione & Stephanie Tyler’s Sydney Croft series cannot be found from a front page search. (You can find books about dog fighting, though, from a front page search. So does a search on “sex toys”).
Maya Banks’ Heat books do not appear in a front page search. All Banks’ Berkley Heat titles have been deranked except June 09 release.
Alex Beecroft’s False Colors has no ranking.
Oh, Amazon, you make it so easy to despise you! Amazon has excluded GLBT books from appearing in “some searches and bestseller lists” based on the premise that books about gays falling in love and possibly having sex is “adult material.” Barnes & Noble had committed to shelving Running Presses new m/m romance fiction line in the romance section but is now moving these dangerous to our children books to the GLBT section, obviously because books with women having sex with barbed beasts is so much safer and morally circumspect.
This is the response to one author, Mark Probst:
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
I’m no constitutional scholar and discrimination suits are very difficult but the exclusion of GLBT books from search engines and rankings on Amazon seems to be some kind of violation of something. Given the recent ruling of the Iowa Supreme court that the gay and lesbian community have the same fundamental right to marriage, it seems like GLBT books should be afforded the same rights in bookstores as those books depicting romances between straight men and women. Heck, even threesome books such as Lora Leigh’s Bound series is shelved in straight romance. COME ON, AMAZON!
Edited to add: I just remembered that eHarmony.com was sued because it failed to offer gay man dating services. The case was settled out of court and eHarmony agreed to set up another website offering gay and lesbian dating services.
Thanks to Erastes for the link.
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Within 24 hours, authors of erotic books that found themselves de-ranked on Amazon.com speak out online and in mainstream media, with Zoe Margolis becoming the issue's spokesperson in the UK. Amazon accused of censoring books by removing gay titles More Angry that books with adult content became de-ranked from Amazon.com search lists, with classics like The Well of Loneliness, Tipping the Velvet, Brokeback Mountain and Lady Chatterly’s Lover disappearing from the website’s listings, popular writers took charge of the issue by alerting thousands of their Twitter followers of the situation. Zoe Margolis (@girlonetrack) the author of “This is a serious f**** issue and anyone that cares about censorship and sexual repression should be boycotting Amazon.” Within 24 hours the issue had reached mainstream news headlines including “You know what's great? A few hashtags and tweets result in something far better than a boycott: bad publicity - it always works,” she Twittered. While Amazon.com offered a short statement to mainstream media, they have not responded directly to the thousands of people who expressed views, with many saying they will boycott the bookseller, through Twitter. The online retailer has several Twitter identities, including @amazon, but has not used this presence to address the general public. “I think the ‘glitch’ was in human judgement and the right thing to do would be step up and apologize.,” commented the Twitter user @yuricon. “What we want: Acknowledge a mistake in policy and in judgement, apologize, then allow us to make our own decisions.” Amazon.com found itself at the centre of a storm of consumer outrage over the Easter holiday weekend, when authors of gay, lesbian and erotic literature took to Twitter to instantly raise awareness that the online bookseller had dropped their titles from the website’s best selling lists.Angry that books with adult content became de-ranked from Amazon.com search lists, with classics like The Well of Loneliness, Tipping the Velvet, Brokeback Mountain and Lady Chatterly’s Lover disappearing from the website’s listings, popular writers took charge of the issue by alerting thousands of their Twitter followers of the situation. A campaign to start a Googlebomb was also launched, along with an online petition gaining more than 10,000 signatures, and bloggers took up the issue quickly raising attention even further.Zoe Margolis (@girlonetrack) the author of “Girl With a One-Track Mind” began broadcasting her views about Amazon.com on Sunday using Twitter, saying that:“This is a serious f**** issue and anyone that cares about censorship and sexual repression should be boycotting Amazon.”Within 24 hours the issue had reached mainstream news headlines including CNET ,and Amazon.com responded to the media calling the situation a “glitch in our system.” The well-connected Margolis attracted her followers attention, including media and celebrities such as Jonathan Ross , and she quickly became a spokesperson for the topic, appearing on Channel 4 news and elsewhere.“You know what's great? A few hashtags and tweets result in something far better than a boycott: bad publicity - it always works,” she Twittered.While Amazon.com offered a short statement to mainstream media, they have not responded directly to the thousands of people who expressed views, with many saying they will boycott the bookseller, through Twitter. The online retailer has several Twitter identities, including @amazon, but has not used this presence to address the general public.“I think the ‘glitch’ was in human judgement and the right thing to do would be step up and apologize.,” commented the Twitter user @yuricon. “What we want: Acknowledge a mistake in policy and in judgement, apologize, then allow us to make our own decisions.” More about Amazon, Gay, Titles, Books More news from amazon gay titles books
Online bookseller Amazon.com blamed technical problems after lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) themed works disappeared from searches on the site over the weekend. Several authors, however, are skeptical of Amazon's explanation, and outrage over the de-ranking of the works has led to outcry within the online community.
Early this afternoon, Amazon began re-ranking some of the affected works and, shortly thereafter, offered an explanation for the disappearance of the books, telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
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.
Among the books that vanished on searches of Amazon's offerings were some editions of John Barrowman's and Stephen Fry's autobiographies, some editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, and Lesléa Newman's children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, as well as works of erotica such as Emmanuelle Arsan's Emmanuelle.
Mark Probst, author of gay-themed romance novel The Filly, said in his blog that problems began on April 10:
On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings....
Probst then contacted Amazon.com, whose Member Services team replied that
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.
Sales rank is an important part of a book's visibility on the website, determining whether it appears in searches, on the website front page, and in recommendations to customers.
Amazon told Publishers Weekly that a "glitch" was to blame for the de-ranking on Sunday evening. The period of the de-ranking covers a holiday weekend in the United States and it is possible that technical staff at the company were unavailable. Amazon director of corporate communications Patty Smith told the Los Angeles Times, that the problem was being resolved, but when asked for further details replied "Unfortunately, I'm not able to comment further. We're working to resolve the issue, but I don't have any further information."
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal: "GLAAD has reached out to Amazon.com and they indicate this was an error, so we expect to start seeing evidence of its correction immediately, and any loss of visibility of gay-themed books as a result of this error will be made right by Amazon."
Author Jules Jones, meanwhile, told Wikinews that the suppression of sales rankings is not solely a gay issue. "[An]other point to make is that a lot of the people affected by this are straight", she says. "the two books that sparked this are published by a mainstream publisher, and intended to be marketed in the romance section in stores, to the same women who read any other romance books."
Authors of the affected works have expressed skepticism of Amazon's explanation, accusing Amazon of homophobia and deliberate censorship. Craig Seymour, author of All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C., recounts an exchange in early February 2009 with Amazon. On February 2, his book lost its sales rank, in the same fashion as the other LGBT-themed works this month. After inquiring about the loss of rank, Seymour received a reply on February 25 saying "the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The ISBN 1416542051 was classified as an Adult product"; Seymour then found through routine searches that the rankings of gay themed works had been dropped but that rankings of books by porn stars like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson had not, in an apparent double standard. Seymour's ranking was restored on February 27 and All I Could Bare is not among those books whose rankings have been dropped this month.
Protesting what they see as censorship, many people in the online community began organizing petitions and boycotts of Amazon. Microblogging site Twitter saw conversations
I can tell I’ve been out of PR for a while. My spidy sense did not kick in when I made my first #amazonfail tweet about 4 pm Pacific. About an hour later, I realized that #amazonfail had passed a tipping point. A Twitter search on #amazonfail revealed that the 100th page of the search only went back in time for one hour!
This meme is far more viral than Motrin or Skittles for two (probable) reasons: there are more people in the Twitterverse and the topic is far more substantive: mucking around with sales rank lists is not acceptable, given that this data point plays into Amazon’s recommendation engine.
Clearly, whomever authorized this policy clearly did not think it through. Amazon is not a parent or an editor making judgments. This is far worse than complying with German law about Hitler, for example. [Note: I own stock.]
What’s The Story?
The LATimes blog Jacket Copy broke the story for me.
“American Psycho” is Bret Easton Ellis’ story of a sadistic murderer. “Unfriendly Fire” is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it’s “Unfriendly Fire” that does not have a sales rank — which means it would not show up in Amazon’s bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the Twilight series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon’s search results. […] Certianly [sic] many of the books that are no longer ranked are no more “adult” than many of those that are — as the list above shows, the same book, by different publishers, might meet either fate. And Kindle editions of some books remain ranked. “Unfriendly Fire,” for example, is #1 in Gay and Lesbian Nonfiction on the Kindle — even as the hardcover of the book, which was released on March 3, does not show up at all when searched for.
Amazon’s statement to Publisher Weekly (which has been slash-dotted):
Amazon Says Glitch to Blame for “New” Adult Policy
By Rachel Deahl & Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 4/12/2009 5:49:00 PM A groundswell of outrage, concern and confusion sprang up over the weekend, largely via Twitter, in response to what authors and others believed was a decision by Amazon to remove adult titles from its sales ranking. On Sunday evening, however, an Amazon spokesperson said that a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy. For most of the weekend on Twitter, in conversations with the hash tag “#amazonfail,” users were discussing the fact that the e-tailer was removing the sales rankings for books that it deemed featured “adult content.” Many readers, and writers, decried the fact that Amazon appears to be removing the sales ranking for titles that feature gay and lesbian characters and/or themes. The director of the Erotic Authors Association, who goes by the pen name Erastes, told PW that many of her members “noticed their titles had been stripped of their sales rankings” on Amazon. One, Mark Probst, contacted a customer service representative at Amazon and wrote about the exchange on his blog. Probst wrote that the Amazon rep responded to his inquiry by saying that “‘adult’ material” is being excluded from appearing in “some searches and best seller lists” as a “consideration of our entire customer base.” Whether a glitch or new policy, titles like James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain are among the titles who have lost their ranking. (Publishers Weekly, taken in entirety because their site is seriously swamped right now)
This statement does not jibe with the story from Mark Probst, who was delisted in April (see his blog post for the official Amazon response at that time), or from Craig Seymour, who was delisted in February.
What You Can Do
Give them a call ( 1-800-201-7575) or send an email and let Amazon know how you feel about this.
or send an email and let Amazon know how you feel about this. Sign the petition.
See the “who is affected” list at MetaWriter and add to it.
Updated several times to fix formatting issues and to add links. Screenshots moved to foot of post.
By 6.45 pm, Amazon had the top two spots on Yahoo! Sideline:
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Hundreds of gay-and lesbian-themed books suddenly disappeared from Amazon.com's rankings over the weekend, causing an uproar among authors and activists who alleged it was a stealthy extension of the company's policy concerning adult content. The internet bookseller claimed it was the result of a technical "glitch." (UPDATED– Amazon now says it was an internal "cataloging error." See official statement below)
Some of the titles reported to have been dropped were back on the rankings, including Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain." Not all gay/lesbian works were dropped. There is also no comprehensive list (yet) of the affected titles, and some reports of outed titles contradict others.
But clearly the pages of some books with with gay but no particular "adult" component have been shorn of their metrics.
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, for example, no longer has a sales ranking, nor does Amazon list any longer the categories in which the book about the assassinated, openly gay San Francisco activist politician is popular (see below). But as recently as April 7, according to a cached Google page, the Randy Shilts-penned biography was ranked 7,923 overall and was the most popular book in both "Gay & Lesbian >> Biographies and Memoirs" and all non-fiction books about local government. It was # 4 in all books about the history of California.
Amazon's initial and only response has been to say the cause was technical, not editorial. "There was a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed," Amazon's director of corporate communications, Patty Smith, said in an e-mail to the Associated Press Sunday.
But word of the incident went viral quickly, and it seemed few were buying the innocent explanation. A Twitter hashtag, #Amazonfail, is now the top trending topic and a site has been set up to filter #amazonfail tweets and facilitate discussion around the sales rank issue. People have also begun tagging books on Amazon with "amazonfail" so all de-listed works can be easily located, and there's an online petition protesting "Amazon's new 'adult' policy."
One author says he's been having this fight with Amazon for months. Craig Seymore, Associate Professor of Journalism at Northern Illinois University, writes on his blog that he noticed his Amazon.com sales rank disappear back in February for his memoir All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay
But he also noticed that Diablo Cody's (hetero) stripper memoir Candy Girl:
A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper was not removed from the rankings.
Seymore says his ranking eventually reappeared after weeks of discussion with Amazon reps, including one that told him his book was deemed adult content.
Author Mark Probst noticed that gay romance books like Transgressions by Erastes and False
Colors by Alex Beecroft being removed and claims he was also told that they were removed because of adult content. But he points out that Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds was not affected.
The LiveJournal community MetaWriter is keeping track of titles that have had sales rank removed, and it includes a wide range of topics.
"Glitch" or not, this is a fresh example of the new challenges brands have with social media. These great marketing tools can just as easily work against a brand. We're betting Amazon's last word can't be its last.
UPDATE: Amazon now claims it was a huge internal glitch, while an internet troll says he did it to cause outrage. See update.
Statement below from Patty Smith, director of corporate communications for Amazon.com:
UPDATE: Amazon Gay Book Removal Was Massive Prank, I Did It, Claims Troll
This holiday weekend, Amazon quietly made some changes to their sales ranks, removing selected gay and lesbian books from the site-wide rankings and from some search results. What books were “selected” and speculation as to why they were selected has led to an online uproar.
Besides the one thing they have in common, the de-ranked books are all otherwise diverse, ranging from romance novels to serious nonfiction books; policy analysis to teen novels. Amazon should have learned by now that they really can’t do this sort of thing these days unnoticed.
When author Mark Probst noticed popular gay romance novels disappearing from the sales rankings and contacted Amazon about it, they explained their logic thusly:
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.
Oh. Well, that explains it…hey, wait a minute! Why are books with little to no sexual content flagged as “adult” and losing their position in the sales ranks? Why do much dirtier books about heterosexual characters or people still have their sales rank? What, exactly, is Amazon up to here? It’s unclear, and that’s making people mad.
Writers on Livejournal are building a comprehensive list of de-ranked books, and a Google bomb campaign is also afoot. I can’t wait to see how very seriously Amazon will take this tomorrow.
But hey, at least all books about homosexuality haven’t been removed from search results:
Amazon de-ranks so-called adult books, including National Book Award winner [LA Times]
Amazon Censorship – Who is affected? [Livejournal]
Amazon Rank Google Bomb [Smart Bitches, Trashy Books]
Thanks to everyone who sent this in!
Updated at 7:15 p.m. PDT with comment from Amazon.com.
Amazon.com recently delisted from its sales ranking system gay and lesbian book titles that it deemed "adult," raising the ire of some who characterize the move as online censorship.
Author Mark R. Probst wrote on his blog Sunday that he noticed the change a few days ago:
On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: "Transgressions" by Erastes and "False Colors" by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book "The Filly." There was buzz, What's going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books?
Probst, the author of a novel with gay characters in the Old West, said he was perplexed by the move and used his status as a publisher to contact Amazon for an explanation. He said he received the following response from an Amazon Advantage service representative:
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.
Of course, being delisted from the rankings doesn't mean that the book giant has stopped selling the title; it just means that the title won't show up with a public sales ranking or in the best-seller lists--often a factor in how shoppers make their purchases.
An Amazon representative characterized the move as a mistake but declined to elaborate.
"Essentially, there's a glitch in our system and it's being fixed," Amazon spokesperson Patty Smith told CNET News.
Certainly, one could make an argument that deranking titles with "adult" themes would make a reasonable policy for a site that attracts a wide range of the Internet population. But as demonstrated by an online petition that has already attracted more than 4,000 signatures, the policy appears to be biased against books with gay, lesbian, and transgendered characters.
Here's a sampling of books titles that the petition's backers noted are still ranked in the listing system (all notes and descriptions on the titles are supplied by the petition supporters):
"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)
Alan Moore's "Lost Girls" (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)
The petition supporters note that the following titles with gay and lesbian themes are no longer ranked on Amazon:
Radclyffe Hill's classic novel about lesbians in Victorian times, The Well of Loneliness, and which contains not one sentence of sexual description;
Mark R. Probst's YA novel "The Filly" about a young man in the wild West discovering that he's gay (gay romance, no sex);
Charlie Cochrane's "Lessons in Love" (gay romance with no sex)
"The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience," edited by Louis-George Tin (non-fiction, history and social issues)
"Homophobia: A History" by Bryan Fone (nonfiction, focus on history and the forms prejudice against homosexuality has taken over the years)
The move has raised the ire of heterosexuals, including Kassia Krozser, who wrote an open letter to the online retailer:
Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the "entire" Amazon customer base by restricting access to content that someone (who?) decided was offensive. In your zeal to protect me from myself, of course, you managed to leave content that I find singularly repulsive online (really, exploring the human condition is bad, but Mein Kampf As a heterosexual, happily married adult female, I am deeply offended by this decision. As a customer, I am angered enough to take my business elsewhere, and I'd like a refund on my Kindle since, despite reports that your database sweep was not complete, you have decided to limit my ability to purchase books -- from literary classics like Lady Chatterley's Lover to newesque titles like Tipping The Velvet and Running With Scissors.
It's unclear what--if any--impact this backlash will have on Amazon, but certainly many are troubled (and should be) that the bookseller is apparently trying to make certain books harder to find.
Amazon.com says wide variety of titles among 57,310 books removed from global rankings.
Amazon.com released a statement this afternoon seeking to explain why thousands of books — including many gay- and lesbian-themed titles — were removed from its sales rankings over the weekend.
“This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection,” said Drew Herdener, the Seattle company’s communications director.
“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 books from Amazon’s main product search.”
Amazon previously blamed a “glitch,” which seemed to intensify anger among some gay and lesbian activists who suspected homophobic censorship.
Books without sales rankings are still listed on Amazon.com but deleted from its best-seller lists, reducing the chances that they’ll come to the attention of someone browsing the Web site for popular titles.
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in New York, released a statement earlier today saying it contacted Amazon and was led to believe the deletions were a mistake.
“We expect to start seeing evidence of its correction immediately, and any loss of visibility of gay-themed books as a result of this error will be made right by Amazon,” Giuliano said. “It is so important that stories about the lives of our community are available, and that companies like Amazon promote these titles in equal fashion.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org
After gay-themed titles disappeared from Amazon.com's search results this weekend, everyone looked for someone to blame. One hacker took credit. Some faulted an Amazon engineer in France. One source thinks it was the Conficker worm.
The only thing anyone can agree on was Amazon.com PR's complete mishandling of the situation, once people noticed that gay and lesbian books were getting marked as "adult" titles, which Amazon.com omits from its sales rankings and search results. Top flack Patty Smith didn't do much better with her latest excuseplanation:
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. Thanks for checking in. Best regards -
In other words, it happened and they're fixing it. That's worse than nothing. So here are the rumors that have crossed our inbox:
Blame France! An Amazon.com alumnus tells us this story about "how it went down":
guy from Amazon France got confused on how he was editing the site, and mixed up "adult", which is the term they use for porn, with stuff like "erotic" and "sexuality". That browse node editor is universal, so by doing that there he affected ALL of Amazon. The [customer service] rep thought the porn question as a standard porn question about how searches work.
It's the Conficker worm! A source who claimed to work at Amazon.com told me that internal logs revealed a massive wave of automatically created accounts shortly before the incident, apparently using machines infected with the Conficker worm.
We don't have concrete evidence that it was Conficker, but a few days before the incident, there was a mass registration of accounts on Amazon. We're talking MASSIVE. I don't have an exact number, but from the regions the accounts were registered from, it looked like it followed a trend. There were quite a few from India, eastern United States as well. According to my coworkers who have done more research into it, the regions that the registrations were from followed a strong trend with the regions that Conficker has most affected.
The hacker did it. That brings us back to the claim by Weev, a well-documented website prankster, that he's responsible — a claim which Smith, the Amazon spokeswoman categorically denies. ("No," she said, in response to a series of direct questions asking if Weev was involved. Smith is quite possibly the least verbose director of corporate communications in the world.)
In his detailed explanation of how he allegedly pulled off the stunt, Weev says he hired third-world workers to break Amazon's "captcha" security, which displays a random set of numbers and letters in an effort to block hackers who attempt to mass-register accounts using scripts. Might he have hired a third party which then used a Conficker botnet to create accounts which then flagged gay and lesbian books on Amazon as inappropriate? Or is this all part of an elaborate attention-getting stunt to take credit for an Amazon employee's mistake? Either way, it's a masterstroke to tie together the month's two big Internet memes.
Gay and lesbian advocates took umbrage at Amazon.com on Monday after the online seller removed sales rankings for hundreds of books that contained homosexual themes.
The delisting, which affected books including James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, and Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, has been taken as an affront by many because sales rankings are often used to promote specific titles. Higher scores frequently lead to better placement on Amazon and third-party sites. Some critics have called for a boycott of Amazon to protest what they say was bias by the online seller.
Amazon officials blamed the delisting on an error that they said affected more than 57,000 titles that touched on a variety of topics, including Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica.
"This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection," Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith wrote in an email. "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."
But that didn't stop critics from advancing conspiracy theories that the move was the result of people inside Amazon bending to the will of right-wingers trying to censor books they don't like.
"This doesn't strike me as a glitch," author Kevin Sessums, whose paperback version of Mississippi Sissy was affected by the delisting, told The Wall Street Journal. "Maybe a right-wing troll got into their system, or they have a right wing troll working for them. But the gay blogosphere is afire."
Indeed, it was, with many calling for a boycott on the online seller. They pointed to Amazon's search results for "homosexuality," which prominently offers titles including A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality and You Don't Have to Be Gay: Hope and Freedom for Males Struggling With Homosexuality or for Those Who Know of Someone Who Is. (Interestingly, the same search conducted on Amazon.ca yields vastly different results.)
"By removing gay-related content from its rankings, Amazon has made it so that they do not appear easily in searches and do not appear in book suggestions throughout the site," a blogger for gay rights blog Queerty wrote.
A separate account by a blogger calling himself Weev claimed the delisting was the result of a CSRF, cross-site request forgery, vulnerability on the Amazon website that forced people to unwittingly flag gay- and lesbian-themed books as inappropriate. We seriously doubt this account, however, as there was little to support the hacker's contentions, and we're still trying to locate a feature on the site that allows users to report inappropriate merchandise to administrators. ®
Sponsored: Becoming a Pragmatic Security Leader
One hacker even tried to take credit for the incident, writing on his blog that he had taken advantage of bugs in Amazon’s Web site to trick people into flagging gay-themed books as inappropriate. Thousands of Twitter users included the tag “#amazonfail” in their messages on the subject, pushing it onto rankings of the most popular topics on the site and drawing in other users.
Some affected books started appearing in searches, with sales rankings restored, by early afternoon on Monday.
Sales rankings on Amazon are important to authors because they help place books on the Web site’s best-seller lists and help shoppers find them. Many of the affected titles disappeared from basic searches so that, for example, a search from Amazon’s home page for “E. M. Forster” did not turn up “Maurice,” Forster’s classic novel about a homosexual relationship. Nathaniel Frank, the author of the well-reviewed “Unfriendly Fire,” said he could not find a link to the hardcover edition of his book last weekend.
Word of the problem started spreading across blogs and Twitter on Sunday after Mark R. Probst, the author of “The Filly,” a gay western romance for young adults, posted on his blog that several gay romances, including his, had lost their sales rankings on Amazon. Mr. Probst e-mailed Amazon and got a reply that said the company was excluding “ ‘adult’ material from appearing in some searches and best-seller lists.”
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Probst said he was giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt. “I believe it was an error,” he said. “I don’t think it was anything malicious they were trying to do.”
But other authors were unconvinced that the changes were caused by a simple glitch.
“There are mistakes and there are mistakes,” said Daniel Mendelsohn, an author whose memoir “The Elusive Embrace” lost its sales ranking over the weekend. “At some point in this process, which I don’t understand because I’m not a computer genius, the words gay and lesbian were clearly flagged, as well as some kind of porno tag. I say, do I want my book in anyone’s mind to be equivalent to a porno? And the answer is no.”
Mr. Mendelsohn pointed out that books like “American Psycho,” a novel with sexually and violently explicit content, did not lose its sales rank. He teamed up with others affected by the problem, including the playwright and author Larry Kramer, to start a petition to boycott Amazon. As of Monday afternoon it had attracted more than 18,000 names.
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Mr. Kramer said on Monday that he was willing to shelve the boycott for now. But in an e-mail message he wrote: “I don’t think for one second that this was a glitch,” adding, “We have to now keep a more diligent eye on Amazon and how they handle the world’s cultural heritage.”
Several publishers whose books were affected, including Simon & Schuster, the Penguin Group USA and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, declined to comment. Calls to a Random House representative were not returned.
Christopher Navratil, publisher of Running Press, a division of the Perseus Book Group, said in an e-mail message that his company had been in touch with Amazon to make sure its books were “ranked fairly and appropriately.”
At least one author said he had encountered malfunctions in his sales rankings on Amazon as far back as February. Craig Seymour, an associate professor of communications at Northern Illinois University and the author of “All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C.,” a memoir, said his book had disappeared from most searches for several weeks but was restored in late February.
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In a blog post late Monday, Mr. Seymour wrote that Amazon’s statement was a start, but not sufficient. “It does not explain why writers, like myself, were told by Amazon reps that our books were being classified as ‘adult products.’ ”
Amazon said in the statement that it planned “to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.” It did not elaborate on its statement.
Even after it explained the scope of the problem, Amazon continued to face criticism for its slow and limited response to the online blowup, particularly at a time when sites like Twitter can so easily accelerate and amplify a public outcry.
“Frankly, it’s surprising to hear that Amazon, which was a pioneer in the digital space, would miss this opportunity to react in real time and to manage this
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Online retailer Amazon has said a system error caused it to remove a number of gay and lesbian-themed books from its sales charts.
American novelist Gore Vidal has long been known as a liberal intellectual.
On Sunday, a number of distinguished writers, including Gore Vidal, Annie Proulx and E.M. Forster, suddenly lost their best-seller ranking -- which is the number that Amazon uses to show how well one title sells compared with another.
As a result, famous novels such as Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" and Vidal's "The City and the Pillar" were unranked Tuesday morning. However, Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds" by Chronicle Books, which features pictures of over 600 naked women, remains ranked.
Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith told CNN partner Web site CNET News that the "glitch" was being fixed, but declined to elaborate. "This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection," she wrote in an e-mail statement.
"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," the statement said.
"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."
Craig Seymour, author of gay memoir "All I Could Bare," wrote in his blog, "craigspoplife," that his sales rank was dropped earlier this year, only to be restored after a month. Amazon said his book had been classified as an "adult product."
"I brought this to the attention of my publisher, and they started looking into it," Seymour wrote. "I also did some snooping around and it turned out that the only books I could find without a "sales rank" had gay content like mine."
Thousands of users have voiced their concerns online, with many accusing the retail giant of blatant censorship. This prompted Amazon to deny the move was part of a strategy to make the chart more "family friendly." It said the changes were caused by a "glitch" in the system.
The ranking removal appeared to depend on how Amazon originally categorized each book.
According to the Guardian newspaper, a paperback edition of British broadcaster and actor Stephen Fry's autobiography "Moab Is My Washpot," which Amazon tags as "gay," is unranked, whereas the original hardback, filed under "memoir," is.
The issue quickly became a hot topic over the weekend among Twitter users. In conversations under the hash tag "#amazonfail," people tagged hundreds of titles affected by the apparent glitch. Others simply mocked the e-tailer. Share your views here
"Looks like Amazon did a government style u-turn. Of course it was an error, yes," was the sardonic response from Jonnyp. Houseinrlyeh, meanwhile, said "apologies work best when they contain an actual apology and not just an explanation."
Nara Filippon was one of the many outraged Facebook users to make their feelings known on various discussion boards. After describing herself as a loyal customer she said: "Unfortunately your new policy to ban LGBT books has disappointed me and I won't be buying anything else from your Web site from now onwards."
Wendy Sumner Winter, who described herself as a straight college professor, said: "I am sickened to see that the powers-that-be have de-ranked some of my favorite authors and their books, including James Baldwin (are you serious!?), Mark Doty and Paul Lisicky."
All About Facebook Inc. • Amazon.com Inc.
Amazon.com apologised yesterday for an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that led to the sales ranking being removed from tens of thousands of books.
The online retailer initially said on Sunday that a "glitch" had caused the problem and promised that the numbers would be restored. But yesterday afternoon, sales numbers were still gone for such recent works as Chelsea Handler's "My Horizontal Life" and from such classics as Gore Vidal's "The City and the Pillar" and James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room."
"What kind of a childish game is this?" Vidal said yesterday. "Why don't they just burn the books? They'd be better off and it's very visual on television."
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view. From 15p €0.18 $0.18 USD 0.27 a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.
Yesterday, Amazon spokesman Andrew Herdener called the deletions an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection." He said that 57,310 books in categories ranging from gay and lesbian literature to health and erotica had been affected.
"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," Herdener said. "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."
Authors strongly questioned Amazon's explanation, with some posting e-mails they had received from the online seller that said their books had been placed in an unranked "adult" category, excluded from some searches and best-seller lists. And the glitch dates back to at least February, when Craig Seymour noticed that the ranking for his memoir "All I Could Bare" had been deleted. (It came back, he said, a few weeks later.)
Affected books include the scholarly (Michel Foucault's "The History of Sexuality, Volume 1"), the obscure (V.K. Powell's "Suspect Passions") and the famous. The sales rank has been missing for E. Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," the basis for the acclaimed movie which starred Heath Ledger, and for Paul Monette's "Becoming a Man," winner of a National Book Award in 1992.
The "glitch" has even turned on former Amazon favorites, among them M.J. Rose's "Lip Service," promoted back in 1999 as a a self-published novel which found an audience on Amazon.
"Through Amazon.com Advantage ... Rose was able to market and distribute her book directly to Amazon.com customers so successfully that the Doubleday Book Club selected it as a featured alternate," Amazon announced in August 1999. "After enrolling in the Advantage program, 'Lip Service' generated such a buzz from the large volume of positive reader reviews that the publishing industry was forced to take notice."
Still ranked were such bloody novels as Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club" and Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho." Also intact were two novels banned for decades because of their language and erotic content: D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer."
News of the glitch emerged around the same time that the American Library Association announced the death of Judith Krug, the head of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom and founder of Banned Books Week, which features an annual list of the books most often criticized or removed.
"It isn't fair to say that Amazon is actually censoring books, but you can't help draw the parallels, simply because the same kinds of books are involved," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the library association's intellectual freedom office.
The Amazon affair
Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll , stands for a photograph inside the studio on Thursday Jan. 29, 2008 in San Francisco,Calif. Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll , stands for a photograph inside the studio on Thursday Jan. 29, 2008 in San Francisco,Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle Image 1 of / 1 Caption Close The Amazon affair 1 / 1 Back to Gallery
I don't tweet. I have several friends who tell me that tweeting is the wave of the future, but I already have so many ways of communicating with people that I just can't abide the idea of adding another arrow to my data-downloading quiver. Plus, there's this column thing I can use to communicate my opinions on issues of importance.
Also, and here's an idea, face-to-face conversation. Sure, it's got limited bandwidth, but sometimes the people are attractive. All factors must be considered.
But over the past weekend, there was this thing with Amazon. Maybe you heard about it. If you spent time hanging out on the Intertubes, you definitely heard about it. Probably it made a few television programs and newspapers too, although I did not see anything.
And Twitter led the charge. Twitter became the go-to source of information. People who still thought that Twitter was mostly "my left leg hurts today LOL" were disabused of that notion. People who thought that Twitter was just a marketing tool that could be molded to their advantage were likewise disabused. If you get tweeters irritated, stuff happens, and it ain't marketing.
Apparently, the first word of the problem came from a writer named Mark Probst, who complained that his gay cowboy novel "The Filly" had suddenly disappeared from the Amazon rankings. People began poking around, and it turned out that all sorts of books with gay themes had suddenly disappeared from the rankings, no matter how well they were selling.
Among the books were "Giovanni's Room" by James Baldwin, Edmund White's "A Boy's Own Story," E. Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," Jeanette Winterson's "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit" and "The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" by Randy Shilts. Still available - indeed, numero uno in the rankings under the keyword "homosexuality" - was "A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality," which - well, let's see how that works out for the parents involved. I think show tunes may be a significant warning sign, although "Brokeback Mountain" contained not a single mention of Judy Garland.
Then it became obvious that it wasn't just gay-themed books - it was erotica in general. Susie Bright's popular series of erotic anthologies also disappeared. (To be clear, the books were still available for purchase; they just didn't show up on any lists.)
Amazon, not apparently the most public-relations-savvy company in the nation, responded to the complaints by saying that the whole thing was a "glitch." No further explanation necessary; just a glitch; nothing to see here; move along. No word on the nature of the glitch or when said glitch might be fixed, if ever.
You'd think companies would have learned by now that these problems just don't go away. They get bigger. People organize. The word "boycott" is tossed around. In the movies, one often hears executives saying that they have to "get out in front of the story," which is a really good idea. How come it doesn't happen more in real life?
Finally, three days after the brouhaha started, an Amazon spokesperson (who was perhaps on a vision quest when this whole thing blew up) issued a statement: "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."
This explanation received confirmation from an unexpected source: the monologuist Mike Daisey, who spent three years as an Amazon employee. According to his sources, someone in France (France!) mis-tagged whole categories of titles as pornographic, which had the effect of shuffling them off to one of Amazon's dim back rooms, where men in overcoats type furtively into mud-encrusted search engines.
One aspect of this story, of course, is the amount of paranoia that exists in any community that feels it has been marginalized. The "censorship" issue turned out to be a big nothing. But the other aspect is how much power formerly marginalized communities have gained thanks to grassroots tools like Twitter. Interesting, yes?
In other news: I will be interviewing Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar award-winning actress Rita Moreno at the Berkeley Rep on Monday as a benefit for the Park Da
Amazon censoring books with "adult content"? Feels like the 1950s... Amazon's decision last weekend to make their website more "family friendly" can be described as nothing less than a complete balls-up.
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Amazon's decision last weekend to make their website more "family friendly" can be described as nothing less than a complete balls-up. The retail website has applied a filtering system, which means that any novel seen as containing "adult material" loses its sales rank, and therefore does not appear in some searches and best-seller lists. However, a "glitch" (technical term for "massive screw-up") has meant that some well known authors' works have been included in this filter, including Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" and DH Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover".
"Glitch my ass" screamed outraged Twitter and Facebook users. "It's as if Amazon said 'An idea! Let's get rid of all the queers and perverts!!!' and then reset all their search algorithms" tweeted Zoe Margolis, author of "Girl with a One Track Mind". The internet is buzzing with complaints, and I can understand why, Amazon should never have implemented a filter unless they were sure it actually worked.
Yet, whilst conspiracy theories are being thought up about fascist aliens taking over Amazon, surely the main issue is why does the site suddenly want to become more "family friendly"? The decision seems completely unexplained, with Amazon merely commenting that it was "in consideration of our entire customer base". Of course, mummies don't want their precious ten year olds buying a pornographic book, but I find ordering stuff off Amazon highly confusing, and I'm twenty-one. Just because a sex book comes up in a best-seller list, doesn't mean a kid is going to buy it. For a start, they'd need to be in possession of a credit or debit card, and then they'd need to manoeuvre their way through the complicated personal details bit. In any case, what fifteen year old boy would pay for porn when he could get it free off the internet? Sarcastic comments aside, bookshops don't have these "adult content" filters, so why does Amazon need one?
Even if Amazon does fix its little "glitch", it is unclear what their filter system will regard as "un-family friendly". Some of the best novels ever written contain scenes of a highly sexual nature, but should they be hidden away from young eyes? Personally, I'd much rather children were introduced to the big bad world of sex through well-written literature, than through Playboy.
The internet has increased the accessibility of pornography to an already highly-sexed up world, meaning that Amazon's vague attempt to protect children is completely futile. All it has done is annoyed a lot of people, and given bloggers something else to rant about.
Amazon’s apparent censorship of gay authors has been a marketing mess for the company, writes DANNY O'BRIEN
PUBLIC RELATIONS can be a tricky business on the internet: there aren’t many other media that can love your company on a Friday, turn savage on you by Saturday, and have gone so far as to coin a new word for their disdain by Sunday.
The senior executives and management at Amazon left for the weekend earlier this month, no doubt subtly buoyed by the largely untarnished reputation their Seattle company has for electronic commerce – especially books. By the time they returned on Monday, the internet was a-twitter with “Amazonfail”: a scandal that may not have been a scandal at all, but was certainly quite the marketing mess.
Here’s Amazonfail in a nutshell. On that weekend, a handful of gay and lesbian writers noticed that their Amazon book pages were not like other book pages.
The vast majority of book profiles on Amazon include, down among the number of pages and reader reviews, a “sales rank” figure. This shows the relative popularity of the book, compared to the hundreds of thousands of other volumes being sold by Amazon at that moment.
A sales rank of “one” means this book is the bestseller on the website. A sales rank of 27,746 is somewhat less popular.
The actual meaning of Amazon’s “sales rank” is a little blurry when you start dipping below the top 500 or so books: out there, a book’s ranking can jump up and down by thousands in the course of a few days.
Despite that variability (or perhaps because of it), many authors hawkishly track the rank’s waxing and waning, and so do their publishers, agents and other market players.
So what does it mean if Amazon doesn’t show a sales rank at all? That’s what the writers were wondering when they discovered that dozens of gay and lesbian fiction and non-fiction were omitted from any Amazon ranking – and even seemed to be removed from the top listings returned by Amazon when users searched the website.
The story of Amazon’s apparent censorship of gay authors spread like wildfire through key segments of their readership online.
Outraged bloggers posted lists of books that had been removed; a veritable baying mob called for boycotts and demanded that Amazon explain itself.
Amazon did, in the end, explain. The omission had been a software “glitch”, an accidental classification made by one of their employees, and the company was working hard to re-include a wide range of books in their rankings – not just gay literature.
But the explanation struggled to catch up with the rumours and damage that had been caused.
It also remained incomplete as an explanation: why would a software glitch target lesbian and gay literature disproportionately, compared to other categories? And why did Amazon even have a system for removing books from its sales rank? Theories abounded, unconstrained by correction or further elaboration by Amazon.
The stories that had spread so quickly over the weekend continued to circulate (and at time of writing still reverberate) around the internet.
It’s not a question of whether the stories are accurate or not: without a consistent story for it to tell, Amazon’s image as a liberal, Seattle bookstore has taken a major hit.
Despite the criticism of an angry, uninformed mob leaping to conclusions, and then leaping off them into angry online denunciations, I suspect that Amazon’s profits barely showed a blip. Despite the rumours, no boycott was seriously planned. And despite the remaining clouds of distrust, Amazon did fix a profound problem with its ranking system.
Amazon admitted, after its nightmarish weekend had drawn to a close, that the problem had been escalated to the highest levels of management. That is a strong and powerful feedback loop between customers and company, even if neither side quite knew what the other was doing for most of the affair.
An open question remains, however. What about the customers who are not so online-savvy, who lack the background in activism and advocacy (and marginalisation) to recognise when they’re being sidelined and kick up an online fuss? Not every “glitch” has a matching firestorm.
It looks like Amazon’s bug may have been sabotaging the visibility of some of its catalogue for many weeks. And, while I don’t want to add too much to the conjecture as to what happened exactly, it does look as though the glitch was a misapplication of a deliberate policy of removing some books from the sales listings: in particular, adult books which sell very well indeed but don’t look so great on official top-10 lists.
Individuals working together on the internet can cast light on all kinds of oddities online.
Established internet companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook have an amazing reciprocal power to make content disappear by simply omitting to index, catalogue or refer to it.
Both companies and individuals need to be careful with their power; and perhaps both need each other to give us re
Gay literature has a long history of censorship. Since the 1881 censorship of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, gay and lesbian content has been classified as obscene. As recently as 2001, the ACLU was asked to intervene when the Anaheim, California school board pulled The Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians of the shelves of its libraries.
It is in light of this history that I read about Amazon's recent removal of sales ranks from books considered to have adult content (Thank you Alex Leo for the tip). Included in that list (and potentially the target of that label) are a number of important LGBT works: Giovanni's Room, Brokeback Mountain, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Rubyfruit Jungle, the list goes on.
None of these books have obscene or explicit content. In fact, many of these are the first books I read as a young adult that depicted characters with whom I could identify. Many of them are highly regarded pieces of fiction and some, like Giovanni's Room have a long history of grappling with censorship.
Losing a sales rank is not the same as burning existing copies or removing them from Amazon's site altogether. But sales ranks, in the age of the computer, are important. Books that sell well (like Brokeback Mountain) get special placement because of their popularity. The Rank also has significance for publishers and book stores. Imagine it as something like the New York Times' Bestseller List. Then imagine if the New York Times refused to list any books with gay content.
There would be an outcry.
In this case, an outcry of sorts did happen. At least those tech savvy enough to notice the rank change started looking into the policy and eventually an AP reporter got Amazon to state that the removal of LGBT books was a "computer glitch."
I don't believe that the program was a glitch. And history tells me I am likely correct in my suspicions.
That said, what progress we have made that a few stories on the internet can make a giant like Amazon apologize and change because their actions offend notions of equality and decency that include LGBT Americans.
Amazon is trying to make its vast website a bit less NSFW.
The internet giant made some sudden changes to the way that erotic novels surface in its search results.
As a result of the update, erotic novels have been filtered out of the results for main categories and many of their 'best-selling' titles have been stripped.
The move has angered many erotica authors who say it could lead to a massive dent in revenue.
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Amazon is trying to make its vast website a bit less NSFW. The internet giant made some sudden changes to the way that erotic novels surface in its search results. Stock image
With their best-selling titles stripped, many of the authors say it will be harder for prospective buyers to find their content.
Now, many say they've been 'sent to the no-rank dungeon,' according to Motherboard.
When a book has been labeled a 'best-seller,' it might make the title more likely to appear at the top of search results, in advertisements or in the suggestion sections titled 'If You Like This Book, You Might Like...'
Amazon has yet to issue a statement on the changes to its search results.
However, one author said it received a notice from Amazon via email following inquiry.
It said: 'We’ve re-reviewed your book and confirmed that it contains erotic or sexually explicit content.'
Erotic novels have been filtered out of the results for main categories and many of their 'best-selling' titles have been stripped. The move has angered many erotica authors who say it could lead to a massive dent in revenue
'We have found that when books are placed in the correct category it increases visibility to customers who are seeking that content.'
'In addition, we are working on improvements to our store to further improve our search experience for customers.'
Many of the erotica authors are self-published and say they make significantly more money on Amazon than through brick-and-mortar stores or other online marketplaces.
According to AuthorEarnings, which compiles data for authors, about 80% of erotica downloads for Kindle are written by self-published authors.
In recent years, it's become a booming business for many.
Erotica author Jenny Trout told Motherboard that Amazon's latest change to its search results is 'censorship' and that there's 'no recourse for writers'.
'There's no way for an indie author to make a living without Amazon, so whatever nonsense they decide they're pulling this month is just one other thing we've got to put up with,' Trout explained.
'And that sucks, but they're a private business and they get to do what they want, so we can only really complain from a consumer standpoint,' she added.
Several erotica authors said Amazon didn't warn them ahead of time that their books had their best-selling title removed.
IS THIS THE FUTURE OF PORN? AI IS USED TO AUTOMATICALLY RECREATE NUDE PORTRAITS An artificially intelligent (AI) machine that creates surreal nude portraits has been built by a teenager in Virginia. AI whiz Robbie Barrat fed a neural network - an AI that functions like the human brain - thousands of naked portraits and then trained it to create its own racy artworks. In a Twitter post, he said the software often paints people as fleshy blobs spouting random tendrils and limbs, adding: 'I wonder if that's how machines see us'. An artificially intelligent (AI) machine that creates surreal nude portraits has been built by a teenager in Virginia While most of the women in the images appear lumpy and misshapen, some of the subjects closely resemble slender, standing figures. Mr Barrat, who recently graduated high school in West Virginia, said he is currently doing 'deep learning interning' for AI computing giant NVIDIA. He said the AI created images by interpreting a set of 'rules' about the shapes, sizes and colours of figures that it learned by looking at thousands of nude portraits. To train the algorithm - a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) - he mostly used portraits from 'a few hundred years ago at least'.
Amazon has been known to make sweeping changes to its erotica section in the past.
Matthew Prince, CEO of cloud services provider CloudFlare, said in 2015 that his concerns around internet censorship were shaped by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' decision to ban dinosaur erotica from the platform.
'I worry about Jeff Bezos' bizarre obsession with dinosaur sex,' Prince told ZDNet.
'You can make a rational argument that if you're writing books fantasizing about having sex with animals or children, maybe that promotes a certain kind of behavior'
'But there's no risk of someone abusing a dinosaur," he said.
In 2013, Amazon began cracking down on erotica featuring monsters like Bigfoot and aliens, as well as dinosaurs.
Amazon has been known to make sweeping changes to how erotica is featured on the site. In 2013, the firm started cracking down on erotica featuring bigfoot, dinosaurs and aliens
Ann Mayburn, an erotica author, told Motherboard that her erotica novels featuring 'vibratin
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