Editorial: Amazon fails at explaining Amazonfail
Leva CygnetView all articles by Leva Cygnet
Amazon now claims that this is due to some sort of internal error. Variously, they've described it as a cataloging error or a "glitch."
I would note that there's not much that Two Mommies has to do with Brokeback Mountain, except for the fact that both books have Teh Gayz in them and are listed under the same tags on Amazon.
And finally, Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald Mage series -- about a gay guy, his boyfriend, and his magical horse. Again, it's not listed under gay/lesbian and it's ranked just fine. And this series tends to be one that the conservatives really target; Misty is openly critical of certain flavors of crazy and this series, and the author, push their buttons in many ways.
For giggles, I also checked what I consider to be one of the worst books ever published by a mainstream publisher, which is the pedophilia-positive Firefly by Piers Anthony. This stinker made me swear off Piers Anthony forever. Not only is it gratuitously explicit, some of the explicit scenes include erotica between prepubescent children and adults. Guess what? No GLBTQ related tag. And it has a sales rank.
Here's my suspicion, though I can't prove it: Someone at Amazon decided that anything in a gay/lesbian or homosexual category on the site was automatically "adult" and should be removed from easy public view. Unless you searched by author name or ISBN, or were otherwise performing a search specifically targeted to that book, you wouldn't see it. You'd have to be looking for the book, you couldn't just stumble over it. The site wouldn't suggest it to readers when they searched for something else, and it wouldn't be easy to find via keywords.
One thing I'm wondering about is if someone at Amazon who wasn't familiar with the genre (note that, besides books, Amazon sells everything from groceries to mousetraps) may have just assumed everything tagged gay/lesbian or homosexual was adult in nature, with explicit descriptions of sex acts between same-sex partners. That would be a bad and wrongheaded assumption, but it's possible. And then they just decided to derank the whole category, without double checking what was in the category.
However, even if they get it straightened out, fix the listings for the majority of the books, and only de-rank truly "adult" material in the future, there's one basic question I have here, and that is, are they trying to derank adult material? And if so, who determines what's adult? And should it be deranked?
I can flat guarantee what I consider to be adult is not the same as Jane Doe Wingnut from the Bible Belt of middle America. I've spent more than half my life involved in SF fandom, cheerfully consume my share of professional and amateur writing including an occasional bit of erotica, and it takes a fair bit (Piers Anthony ...) to shock me, or even surprise me. I've even beta read for a few authors known for writing gay characters. I would be annoyed if Amazon chose not to list related titles just because they contained "adult" content. I might want to read them!
On the other hand, Jane Doe Wingnut might find your average Harlequin novel (or a relatively inoffensive gay romance equivalent) to be shocking, immoral, and worthy of burning, possibly with the author on a spit above it.
So, hypothetically, if they wanted to derank adult material ... who gets to decide what's adult? And what criteria are they going to use? Will they be subjective or objective?
If they decide to be objective, how do they do that?
Are they going to count sex acts per book? And if so, would they divide the number of words by the number of sex acts per book, to determine the ratio of sex to plot?
Would a furry comic with sexy gay foxes and cat people be more or less adult than yaoi manga?
Is two guys kissing more adult than a pretty girl kissing a handsome man? What if there's tongue and groping?
What sex acts are more adult than others?
Do you ban books for mention of underage sex? If so, what about Romeo and Juliet, where the kids not just did the wild thing, they killed themselves afterwards?
If it's a graphic novel, or a movie, what counts as adult? Does a quick flash of titties rank as more or less adult than a minute-long view of someone's posterior? What if said posterior is unattractive? Does a cute butt count towards a formula for declaring a title "adult" where someone's hairy, pimply nether cheeks wouldn't? Or vice versa? Are guy butts more or less adult than girl butts?
Is a movie featuring repeated displays of full-frontal male nudity too adult to be ranked? What if the movie's a blockbuster hit, and the wang in question is big, blue and on display in triplicate?
Figuring out what's adult and what isn't is entirely subjective, very difficult, and not a job I personally would want. Banning entire categories from the ranks, however, is not the way to do it ... and if Amazon really did try to do it this way, they deserve every bit of the mockery and all the targeted outrage they're receiving.
ETA> Dearauthor has a detailed analysis of which tags were deranked here.
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