An open letter to Jeff Bezos

Dear Jeff,
I don’t know if you use Twitter, but you might be aware of something called #amazonfail, currently the most talked-about topic among the network of 5m+ users. This is an online expression of dismay at Amazon’s new and apparently discriminatory censorship policy.
If the version circulating on the Internet is correct, your new policy of excluding ‘adult’ material from Amazon searches by removing their sales ranking runs as follows:

“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.”

The idea of protecting us from ‘adult’ material seems unnecessary, when your own Conditions of Use (USA / UK) restrict Amazon purchases to adults. But my concern – and that of the many people tweeting with the #amazonfail tag – is how you define ‘adult material’.
In my country, a few years before you were born, a book was published following a notorious obscenity trial. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor asked if it was the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”. Publication went ahead, 32 years after the book was written, and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” has since become regarded as a classic work of English literature.
Overnight, you appear to have overturned that hard-won decision and reclassified it as filth that we should be protected from.
Worse still, D.H. Lawrence notwithstanding, your definition of ‘adult material’ appears mainly to apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books. Non-explicit LGBT literature, history and biography is censored, while explicit hetero books are not. No longer can we find Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” or Annie Proulx‘s “Brokeback Mountain” by sales rank. But we may still find “Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds” and Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls”, a graphic novel in every sense. Even our National Treasure, Stephen Fry, appears to have had his autobiography de-ranked, while it it all too easy to find Jackie Collins.
You can see many more examples of this curious inconsistency listed on the online petition that many of us are currently signing, and on this handy list.
This looks very much like blatant homophobia. Would you care to share your selection criteria with us? Or have you simply gone through your Gay & Lesbian section with a red pen?
This approach to what is deemed obscene and what is not takes publishing on a backward step that makes you seem as out of touch with modern social norms as Mervyn Griffith-Jones. As Kassia Krozier points out, we can freely find “Mein Kampf”, books on training fighting dogs, and other offensive material. But the works of E.M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence appear not to be the kind of books you would wish us to read.
Well, you have your wish. We will not buy them – from Amazon at least. As well as signing the online petition, joining the Facebook Group and redefiningAmazon rank“, we shall boycott Amazon until this policy is reversed. Other online retailers are available, other highstreet chains – maybe we shall even support our local independent bookshop.
I hope this is a mistake that will be quickly corrected, and not a conscious policy of discrimination. I look forward to a public response to the many blog posts and tweets on the subject that have been written this weekend.
Jon Reed, Publishing Talk
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Jon Reed

Jon Reed is a content writer, author, screenwriter, lecturer, blogger - and the founder of Publishing Talk. He was previously a publisher for 10 years. Publishing Talk aims to help new and emerging authors write, publish and sell books. Advice is available via the blog and our masterclasses and membership programme. More...

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