Friday, May 29, 2009

Amazon Calls "Gay" "Inappropriate"


I'm steamed this morning.

The letter I just sent off to Charles Flowers, president of the Lambda Literary Foundation, explains what has me so up in arms:

Hi Charles,

I was just writing to call your attention to a situation at Amazon that potentially affects authors of GLBT literature.

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from Amazon announcing their new "author profiles." If you have a book on Amazon, you're eligible. I went in to do mine and was stopped short when I tried to post it because I got an error message saying that a term in my bio was "potentially inappropriate" and needed to be addressed before I could proceed. That word? GAY...of course. I removed the word because I could not post until I did, but found this to be extremely disturbing, especially in light of the recent fiasco at Amazon with sales rankings.

I have written the following message to Amazon, but have not heard back yet. I have also since learned that there are other authors who are having the same problem with the word "gay" in their bios (even when it's part of a title).

Here's what I wrote to Amazon:

When I tried to update my bio, the system flagged the word "gay" as potentially inappropriate and would not let me post the bio until I removed it. Since I write award-winning GLBT fiction, I feel a bit censored by this and do not appreciate it. Since when is the word "gay" inappropriate? I would think you would have learned from your recent "glitch"! I removed "gay" from my bio, even though it's important. I hope you will look into this discriminatory policy. Also, only two of my books (I have ten in print) show up and when I tried to add the others, it said they were already added...but they didn't show. Curiously, the only two books that showed up are "straight" titles.
Rick R. Reed (the writer UNZIPPED magazine called "the Stephen King of gay horror")

UPDATE: Amazon has since resolved the "glitch" and, as of yesterday afternoon, I was able to add the word "gay" in my author profile. Customer Service sent me a response to my query, which I am pasting below. It was interesting to see how fast they corrected this. But I still wonder how the word "gay" got flagged as "inappropriate" in the first place.

Thank you for contacting Amazon Author Central.

We appreciate your feedback on the beta version of Author Central. We have fixed the issue and you can now upload all the content you want.

With respect to the books you tried to add, the changes will be reflected on Author Central within 3 days and on your Author Page within 7 days.

If you have further questions don't hesitate to contact us again.

Best regards,

Shivani
http://authorcentral.amazon.com

36 comments:

  1. Unbelievable!!!! Are the people at Amazon just stupid or homophobic? You have to let us know what their answer is. I'm curious to see how they will spin it!

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  2. I continue to be appalled by Amazon's descriminatory behavior towards authors and the GLBT community. This proves (to me) their glitch was not a glitch, but part of their systematic censorship of anything that speaks of or to the GLBT community.

    Sarah Bewley

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  3. Why am I not surprised?

    Kudos for writing -- and for letting Lambda Literary know (especially since I found their post-glitch suck up letter to Amazon highly offensive).

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  4. I am amazed! How retarded do they have to be? However, I am not sure it is "homophobic." I am certain amazon does not fear gays. It sounds like somehow their sytems identfied the word "gay" as a curse word and it is getting caught up in their systems. I mean sersiouly, how could this be intentional?

    (Flip side, it can't be any worse than stupid, or retard even if it was a curse word.)

    Rick, chek your mysapce headline. I commented and asked a question.

    Cheers,

    ~Shane

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  5. I thought the furious backlash on the sales rankings would have let the yahoos (in a bad sense) at Amazon know that they are wrong.I must have been too optimistic. But it has me wondering if somewhere in the Amazon machine there isn't a bigot with an inflated ego that needs to be "let go" as quickly as possible. - Elaine

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  6. I have been twittering like mad since I first heard of this from Kathleen Bradean. My last tweet linked to this blog post. I'm also using the #amazonfail hash mark.

    As a question, did you try "stumping the band" by using GLBT in place of the word "gay?" Not that that's a reasonable alternative, as there should be no need for an alternative at all, but it's a question.

    I'm also very disturbed that all your books aren't showing up, although I just checked your name on Amazon and they seem to be now. Perhaps they "fixed" it quickly. Books with the word "lesbian" in the title or description seem fine--at the moment.

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  7. I'm VERY curious to see how they're going to address this one....there's no glitch that added the word gay to their inappropriate list. What are they thinking?


    Elle Parker
    http://elleparkerbooks.blogspot.com/

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  8. What next? I am totally baffled by your story. But, I cannot say I'm surprised. California's Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 and has re-established the ban on gay marriage just one year after they said such a ban violated the equal protection clause. Sometimes I think I'm living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

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  9. I can't believe this, considering all the criticism they got over the rankings! I supposed until it's dealt with, GLBT will have to suffice or "male-male," but still we shouldn't have to run rings around a system that shows such obvious discrimination to us or our writing.

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  10. I think Amazon should be flagged "potentially inappropriate" WTF is wrong with America, when a word...an INNOCENT word is WRONG??? what happened to that freedom of speech thing we USED to have...
    and that's just the tip of the iceburg of what's wrong with this entire issue....

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  11. Can you show a screenshot of the site specifically telling you that the word "gay" is forbidden? I was just able to update my regular customer profile to include the word "gay" without any error.

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  12. Oh not again! (Rushing off to check mine. Then to Twitter about it.)

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  13. After the last CF, you'd think Amazon would learn. I'll be curious to hear the response to your letter. *shakes head*

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  14. I don't know that I can show a screenshot. I'll look into that. But this happened with a new beta program, author profiles, not with regular customer profiles (my regular profile has the word "gay" in it, too and has for a long time).

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  15. Wow that's surprising. Please let me know what they say in response. Thanks handsome.

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  16. UPDATE: I just went in and edited my Amazon author profile again (mainly to get a screen shot of the offending flag) and the word "gay" went through just fine. I'm sure this morning's incident that happened to me and other gay writers was just a glitch. Uh huh.

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  17. Unbelievable. Everybody but everybody needs to be shopping with independent booksellers -- who are good for towns, good for books, good for the quality of life. And if you don't live near one, independents can order you anything you want. Giving this huge anaconda of a business more power is the last thing any of us need to be doing.

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  18. Maybe it was all the Rick Reed followers e-mailing Amazon with the vague notion of a boycott. I did, (didn't mention any specific author) it worked with Coors in California in the 70's.

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  19. Mark, thank you for reminding everyone how dearly independent booksellers need our support! I work at A Room of One's Own in Madison, Wisconsin--still in business still after 33 years, thanks to a community who appreciates what they do.

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  20. This makes no sense. I just searched for "Rick Reed", got lots of your books, and looked at the tags... which included "gay". What the hell is going on?

    If in fact Amazon DOES enforce this, I'm done. Really. Done.

    Please keep us up to date.

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  21. I'm so over this. What is their problem? I hope no one buys a single copy of my book off amazon.com. Go to indiebound.org instead, folks, and support your local independent booksellers.

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  22. Again, just to remind people: Amazon has changed the policy. As of this afternoon, I was able to include the word gay in my author profile bio.

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  23. Can you provide links to put up the author's bio? Maybe a few more of us should try it out & see what's doing. I can't find anything like that - only the Profiles, which have been on amazon.com for a long while.

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  24. Helen: It's a beta program. I was sent an invitation to the program by e-mail from Amazon this morning. Here is the URL: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/landing?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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  25. I think maybe "gay" was flagged to prevent offensive reviews. I don't like Amazon anyway, since Borders gives me free kickbacks given that I keep our local one in business almost single-handedly by virtually pillaging the poetry section. I love my indie bookstore too. Unfortunately it isn't as kid-friendly as I'd like (and with 5 kids, that's a big selling point). My English professor actually bypassed our university bookstore and ordered our texts through our local indie and really boosted his business. I encourage all you teachers out there to do the same!

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  26. Amazon is doing this because they think they will get away with it. They know if they tried this to African American fiction there would be millions of people up in arms.

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  27. Rick that sucks that happend but im glad to see Amazon saw the "ERROR"of their ways. RIIIIIIIIIIGHT

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  28. Rick that sucks that happend but im glad to see Amazon saw the "ERROR"of their ways. RIIIIIIIIIIGHT

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  29. Thank you, Rick. I'll report back.

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  30. Oh no they didn't! I buy your books and my DVDS and music almost exclusively from Amazon. Say the word buddy, and I will yank my bucks.

    Reminds me for no apparent reason of the filter on my sister-in-law's work email. Catches "crap" and every form of the f word, except the actual root word.

    Time to get in their face.

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  31. Unlike #amazonfail, I think this may actually have been a genuine oversight, and here's why. Especially on MMORPGs, racist and other inappropriate language gets tossed around all the time--and this includes called people names like niggers, fags, Jews, and gay (the last two obviously are meant as pejoratives). I'm thinking that the language filter had this tossed in (with this reasoning in mind. After all, it's still ridiculously common to hear "That's so gay" when talking about something negative. Also, here's a slightly different slant on this sort of thing: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2009/05/the-digital-closet-online-gaming-struggles-with-gay-voices.ars

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  32. The only problem I have with this line of reasoning (whether it's truly Amazon's or not), is that terms like nigger, fag, etc. are purely pejorative. Gay is not. We have gay rights, gay literature, gay people...we do not have the same things for other pejorative, negative terms. I'm not saying you're wrong, but that it just doesn't make sense to flag "gay" because someone could choose to use it in a negative way. It is not automatically negative, as other terms are.

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  33. Um, actually, the word "fag" isn't purely pejorative either. Not if you're British, in which case we use it a lot to mean "cigarette"...

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  34. Rick, thanks for posting the update. I'm glad the situation was resolved, but I'm with you...how did the glitch happen in the first place?

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  35. The response letter to you, referring to "the issue" rather than specifically addressing why and how the word "gay," in particular, got flagged! Mealy mouthed avoiding of the fearful "issue." Thanks for publicizing this.

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  36. Amazing, how many apologists Amazon has working for them -- they must all be working pro bono!

    As asked by a friend about your experience, "Will Amazon ever learn?" No. They will not. Learning requires interest and curiosity, and the Great Wal-Mart In The Sky has none of either. On the other hand, will GLBT and friends ever learn? No. They too, will not. They, too, as a collective, have no interest in positive change. Way too much effort is required for that. Hell, they don't even vote.

    I rarely wonder if I miss much by never going to Wal-Mart, Amazon, Home Depot, etc., but it never keeps me awake. If you're not at my indie book store, or they can't order it, or they dry up thanks to Amazon et al., crushing the breath out of small town America, I won't be reading it. It's not like I have a shortage of great reading material, but I do have choices -- and I alone am responsible for all of my choices.

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