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Amazon Labels All GLBT Titles as Adult

Amazon Labels All GLBT Titles as Adult
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Apr 13, 2009 9:00 AM PDT    Text size: 
SEATTLE — Amazon.com's adult selection got a whole lot bigger over the weekend.

Word broke online that Amazon had started to systematically tag any and all titles that feature gay characters or GLBT themes as adult, thereby removing them from the website's lists of bestselling titles.

Amazon responded to the widespread criticism of the move, saying that it was a technical error.

"There was a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed," said Amazon's Patty Smith.

The fracas started when self-published author Mark Probst noticed that his gay-themed western novel "The Filly" had disappeared from Amazon's rankings. He asked about it, and Amazon told him, "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."

Probst found this especially puzzling because he wrote his novel for a young-adult audience. The Los Angeles Times broke the story, conducting research into what books do and do not appear on the site's bestseller lists.

According to the Times, these books (among others) have lost their spots on the list: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs, "Maurice" by E.M. Forster and "Becoming a Man" by Paul Monette, winner of the 1992 National Book Award. Also excluded is Nathaniel Frank's nonfiction book "Unfriendly Fire," which criticizes the U.S. government's current policy against gays in the military.

Among the books that remain on the bestseller list are "Naked" by David Sedaris, "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller, "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis, along with "Playboy: Helmut Newton" and "Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds," "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs, and "Incest: From 'A Journal of Love'" by Anais Nin.

The Times also noted that different editions of Jean-Dominque Bauby's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and E.M. Forster's "Maurice" appear on the bestsellers list, while other editions do not.

Amazon's actions have drawn swift and broad condemnation from the online community. Slate.com's Meghan O'Rourke criticized the company in a column titled "Sh-amazon."

"Now, to my mind, any censorship is bad censorship, so even if this action were limited to gay porn, I'd be deeply bothered by it," she wrote. "But to make matters even more complicated, so far Amazon's little project has affected not only books that might be deemed to have full-on adult content but also literary novels, memoirs and books of poetry that portray gay sex."

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