Amazon accused of removing gay writing from sales rankings

14 Apr 2009

Online retailer Amazon has found itself at the centre of a censorship row, when it emerged over the weekend that a number of books, many of which had gay or lesbian themes, had been removed from its online charts.

The controversy began when Amazon removed a number of so-called adult books from its charts, in an apparent bid to make these more family-friendly.

However online outrage spread via blogs and Twitter over the weekend, with news that many gay and lesbian-themed titles had been classified as adult books, regardless of their sexual content, and removed from Amazon’s sales ranking and main search page.

Sales rankings have an impact on how titles come up in a search. If a sales ranking is removed, the less likely it is that this title will be returned in a search.

Many titles from best-selling authors such as EM Forster, Jeanette Winterton, and E Annie Proulx, author of the novella Brokeback Mountain which was made into Hollywood movie starring the late Heath Ledger, have been affected.

Amazon blamed an internal cataloguing glitch which resulted in the removal of over 57,000 books from its sales rankings, and said that it was not just gay and lesbian-themed books that had been affected, but also categories such as health, mind and body and reproductive medicine.

However, it has not offered any further explanation on what went wrong with its cataloguing process to result in the removal of the titles.

 “This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection,” wrote Drew Herdener, Amazon’s director of communications, in an email to the Wall Street Journal.

“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,” Herdener said.

By Jennifer Yau