Unfriendly Fire
How the gay ban undermines the military and weakens America

Did Amazon Remove “Unfriendly Fire” Because of its Gay Theme?

Yesterday, a mystery about my book began to resolve itself. Sort of. About a week ago, I noticed that my sales rank on Amazon was no longer appearing on the order page for “Unfriendly Fire.” I assumed it was a glitch and would be restored. A few other strange changes had also occurred, including that the book is now $2 more expensive (huge demand driving the price up?) and that it was harder to find the hardback edition on Amazon’s site. I had planned to call customer service, but hadn’t yet gotten around to it.

Over the weekend, I began to see several blog stories about Amazon and—my book. According to the reports, including one by the Los Angeles Times, Amazon had removed books with gay themes from certain bestseller lists and internal search engines, and de-ranked them. The reason? Amazon told one inquiring author of a gay-themed book, that:

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.

It’s unclear how casting a gay public policy book as “adult” helps Amazon consider its “entire customer base.” Come to think of it, what’s it mean to “consider” a customer base in quite this way? Throughout the blogosphere, “Unfriendly Fire” was singled out as a prime example of a double standard, where a serious policy book is removed from certain lists while other books with violence and heterosexual sex remain. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“American Psycho” is Bret Easton Ellis’ story of a sadistic murderer. “Unfriendly Fire” is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it’s “Unfriendly Fire” that does not have a sales rank — which means it would not show up in Amazon’s bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the “Twilight” series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon’s search results.

If this is indeed what happened, it says some terrible things not only about Amazon, but about what probably a large swath of the population assumes but doesn’t always articulate: that things gay are automatically sexual and, by extension, bad. It would be pretty ironic if a book about the censorship of a gay presence was censored because of its gay presence, and censored by a large company eager to profit from selling that book but all too happy to cave to social conservatives griping about gay themes appearing on a website where millions of books about everything under the sun never warrant a peep.

Amazon, having told the above author that it excluded “adult” content, subsequently called the exclusion a “glitch,” and now claims it never targeted gay-themed books for removal from its lists. Some even theorized that an anti-gay hacker broke into Amazon and was the culprit for the targeting of gay books. This spawned a wave of gotcha blog posts about gays and progressives who are too prone to victim ideology to evaluate things with a clear mind, such as considering the improbability that a generally liberal, Seattle-based book company would suddenly turn anti-gay in a very public, indefensible way.

But it remains unclear how the glitch became homophobic—unless there were so many books that were affected that conspiracy-obsessed, narcissistic gay authors were able to—quite inadvertently—amass a list of gay-themed books that were affected but which is dwarfed by a still-larger list of non-gay-themed affected books, all of which is quite possible.

Where the story stands as of this writing is that, according to the New York Times:

“an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” caused thousands of books on [Amazon’s] site to lose their sales rankings and become harder to find in searches.

I got a shout out in today’s Times story, which you can read here. And the L.A. Times blog post is here.

It’s been kinda fun to sit back and watch a series of other people’s blunders and (possibly) homophobic “glitches” give a new wave of totally unearned visibility to my book.

My instinct has been to believe there is some explanation for all this beyond homophobia pulsing through the highest ranks of management at Amazon (although the fact that they are censoring anything because of “adult” content—while selling it—seems totally indefensible). But it is tough for the company to reconcile acknowledging its censorship of “adult” content—whether gay-themed or not—with its subsequent charge that the de-rankings were a glitch. Perhaps more information will be forthcoming—we might need some research into the entirety of the affected book list to learn more. Here’s hoping this blog post doesn’t mysteriously disappear.

One Response to “Did Amazon Remove “Unfriendly Fire” Because of its Gay Theme?”

  1. Keith says:

    Dr. Frank,

    Nice find. One thing that has always bothered me is that when people refer to homosexuals, all they here is the “sex” part of it. Homosexuals have been vilified for a long time so it will take a long time to reverse that misconception. I believe that the more us homo’s are out in mainstream America, the more they will see that we are people just like them and that our lives do not revolve just around sex. Another misconception is that straight people think that if you’re gay you will try something with them. How laughable; I guess since we’re gay we have no standards. I hope you can get Amazon to understand what your book is about and change their behavior.

    Thanks again for a great book.
    Serving in Silence since 1986

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