Notes from the Abyss

The musings of geographer, journalist, and author David M. Lawrence

Censorship by

Amazon recently instituted a policy to remove sales rankings from titles it considers “adult.” It seems, however, that these “adult” titles primarily address GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) issues.

Amazon’s policy was revealed by Mark Probst on his blog,

The problem is not so much the removal of sales rank statistics from book pages, but the effect that removing the rankings has on search results. This is Amazon’s response to Probst: “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.”

To see for yourself the effects of such a policy, do the following searches under Amazon’s “All Departments” category.

First, search for the book “Leaving India” by Minal Hajratwala. As of 1700 EST Sunday (April 12), the only result that showed up in the first four pages of results is a link to a used bookseller’s entry where the book, with an MSRP of $26, is being offered for $77 (the book just came out a couple of months ago and is not anywhere near “rare”). Minal is a lesbian, but that is only peripheral to her story, which focuses on her family’s migration from five villages in India to five continents.

The main entry for the book does show up in a search result under the “Books” category, but potential readers would have to know to switch categories (I only do so to filter out extraneous results, like DVDs from book searches and books for DVD searches). In this search, Minal’s book was being offered for $17.81, a far cry from $77 in the “All Departments” search which, as it is the default on, is the one most readers are likely to perform.

If you do a search for Mark Schleifstein’s “Path of Destruction” — about the effects of Hurricane Katrina — under the “All Departments” category, the link to the book’s main entry shows up right at the top.

Any author who links to Amazon should reconsider the policy. Anyone whose work addresses gay and lesbian issues are probably already affected. What other controversial topics might be similarly targeted in the future? Books that address evolution? Stem-cell research? Youthful anarchy?

There is a Care2 petition already set up to protest Amazon’s action. It can be found at


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