Apr. 13th, 2009

Amazonfail

Apr. 13th, 2009 12:42 am
desayunoencama: (Default)
I'm digusted with Amazon.

If you haven't been reading about what has been happening, check out this post:
http://markprobst.livejournal.com/15293.html

In an nutshell, most books with LGBT content have had their amazon sales rank numbers stripped and are not showing up in the search functions.

Type in "homosexuality" now and the first thing that comes up is A PARENT'S GUIDE TO PREVENTING HOMOSEXUALITY. Book 3 is YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE GAY. Book 5. is CAN HOMOSEXUALITY BE HEALED?

Please sign the petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/in-protest-at-amazons-new-adult-policy

And please consider buying your books someplace else.

http://Indiebound.org is a great resource/community, a list of independent bookstores and other independent and local shops.
desayunoencama: (Default)
Because all of my gay or queer titles have been de-ranked at Amazon, they no longer show up on a search of my name the way they used to. Now, mentions of me in other people's still-ranked books show up before my own de-ranked gay titles.

BEST GAY POETRY 2008 was de-ranked in print, but Amazon's own kindle edition is still ranked.

After finding 13 of my own titles have been stripped of Amazon rankings, I gave up checking (mostly because I had to filter through so much "noise" of any anthology I've ever appeared in--over 200--or anyone who's ever cited me in a book... even if I'm just mentioned in someone's bio note as co-editor.)
desayunoencama: (Default)
I should note that the de-ranking was very targeted: only my gay or queer titles were de-ranked. My vampire titles like FIELDS OF BLOOD: VAMPIRE STORIES FROM THE MIDWEST (even though it's out of print) or my children's books like LITTLE PIRATE GOES TO BED all still have amazon sales ranks. (The non-English titles, whether for adults or kids, generally don't have rankings.)

And now, like Little Pirate, I should ignore all this for a while and go to bed.
desayunoencama: (Default)
In a piece in PW last night, an Amazon spokesperson claims it was all a glitch.

Yet they've been deranking erotic titles and otherwise making moral judgments at least since August 08:
http://tinyurl.com/ca4hqx
desayunoencama: (Default)
IndieBound is a great resource of independent bookshops and other stores. They have an affiliate program, as well.

You can find me there at http://www.indiebound.org/users/lawrenceschimel
desayunoencama: (Default)
THE GEORGIA REVIEW has a call for submissions for new entries a la Ambrose Bierce's classic DEVIL'S DICTIONARY. So sharpen your wit and send it in. Here are the details from their webpage:

http://www.uga.edu/garev/devil.html


A Devil's Dictionary for the Twenty-First Century

The Georgia Review is now taking submissions for a planned special feature, “A Devil’s Dictionary for the Twenty-First Century”—an update of sorts of Ambrose Bierce’s brilliant satirical work The Devil’s Dictionary, published just about one hundred years ago. Taking Bierce as a model, all writers are invited to send one or two original dictionary entries—maximum length, two hundred words each—for publication consideration; those writers who include with their submission a paid order for a new, renewed, or gift subscription to The Georgia Review ($30) may send up to six dictionary entries. All entries will be considered for publication in our pages and/or on our website. All accepted authors will receive an honorarium and also will be eligible to receive “The Devil’s Due” in the amount of $500 for first place, $150 for second, and $100 for third. Please write "Devil's Dictionary" on the submission envelope. The postmark deadline is 30 June 2009, with no electronic submissions accepted and no reply absent a stamped, self-addressed return envelope.

A few representative entries from Bierce's Devil's Dictionary:

Apologize, v. i. To lay the foundation for a future offence.

Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Defame, v. t. To lie about another. To tell the truth about another.

Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.

liberty, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.

Novel, n. A short story padded . . .

peace, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

scribbler, n, A professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one's own.

and, of course,

Editor, n. . . . a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself; who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering its mind at the tail of a dog; then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star . . .



All submissions and queries
should be sent to:

The Georgia Review
"Devil's Dictionary"
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-9009

1 (800) 542-3481
(706) 542-3481
garev@uga.edu
fax (706-542-0047)
desayunoencama: (Default)
This troll claims credit for Provoking Amazonfail: http://tinyurl.com/czgczp
desayunoencama: (Default)
There are two primary issues here, I think, which can be broken down into:

A) Who has the authority to determine what is or is not obscene or morally objectionable?

and

B) How Amazon has reacted over the past months to works that have been deemed "morally objectionable" by some of their clients.

Both issues, however, involve power struggles, imbalances, and abuses.

Questions of obscenity such as Issue A are almost always a case of a majority group--already in power--attacking and suppressing a minority group.

The reasons for the attack are almost irrelevant.

Whether one group is trying to impose their morality on everyone or the very existence of the minority group undermines or calls into question some fundamentals they hold as doctrine or just makes them feel less powerful, the bottom line is that a powerful group uses its power to squelch a less-powerful group or groups.

In the case of amazonfail, this was metonymic: not the groups themselves but cultural manifestations of the groups, so it included works with LGBT content, works of alternative erotica and other sex-positive texts, etc. These victim groups happen to have strong collective identities--which in part emerge from or are reinforced by the homophobia, misogyny, sex-negativity, etc. they have to endure and fight against from the mainstream culture--and are also internet-saavy and vocal; they were able to spread the word quickly and widely.

A rhetorical question:
What would have happened if some white supremacists, for instance, had systematically tried to rig the system to derank works by writers of color?

Especially communities of color who, for whatever reason--questions of access, socialization, etc.--aren't as internet-enabled...

It's quite likely what was going on might have gone unnoticed for much longer.

One of the reasons many minority groups have watchdog organizations like the Anti-Defamation League or GLAAD is because they need them to combat anti-semitism or homophobia/lesbophobia/transphobia, respectively, in the two cited instances.

(Having grown up as a Jew in America, when I came out of the closet as a gay man in my late teens, I suddenly went from belonging to a minority of perhaps 2% to a much larger minority of 10%!)

But I digress. The underlying fundament of Issue A is a question of wanting both power and control and using it to imposing one's personal belief system on others.

It's pretty obvious that for Issue B, Amazon has responded badly and irresponsibly by using an automated system that deranked titles with objections against them--without inquiry or recourse.

Many (though by no means all) libraries and schools, for instance, have systems in place to protect books which have been challenged, and even in today's fully-automated world their challenge systems are not simply a one-click process. There are checks and balances in place to prevent rigging the system.

Those of us who've been in the LGBT publishing and bookselling field for a while will remember the targeted and biased homophobia by Canada Customs and Vancouver LGBT bookstore Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium.

Some over-simplified backstory: Sex-negative anti-pornography activists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon equated all pornography with rape and male violence against women, and in 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada incorporated some of their anti-pornography legal work into their obscenity law (in the decision R. v. Butler).

In practice, Canada Customs used this obscenity legislation not to impede the importation of actual works of heterosexual works of pornography which might conceivably be considered violence against women (an issue I won't get into for the present) but to specifically target gay material and lesbian material, preventing or making difficult and expensive its entry (or event re-entry) into Canada.

As I recall, one of the items that had been seized by customs and which was influential in the lawsuit were copies of an issue of the US lesbian magazine GIRLFRIENDS that were going to Little Sister's. What was deemed obscene in the magazine--their justification for the seizure--was an excerpt from a book by Canadian author Persimmon Blackbridge which had been published by a Canadian publisher (Press Gang, as I recall) and which they were now banning from re-entering Canada.

Canada Customs were in fact found guilty of this homophobic targeting and discrimination {see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Sisters_Book_and_Art_Emporium_v._Canada_(Minister_of_Justice)} though they were exonerated under the Butler decision.

The problem with these situations is that the burden of proof falls on the victims, and even then the power imbalance is such that the system usually remains in place.

Little Sister's was the victim of systematic and targeted homophobia by Canada Customs, for which they had to pay the financial burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours to fight and prove (time and money taken away from their primary pursuit, which is selling literature). And at the end of the day, after winning a highly-publicized case, nothing changed.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund exists to fight many analogous situations with regard to illustrated or sequential art works.

In the case of amazonfail, the burden once again has fallen on the victims, in this case writers of LGBT material, sex-positive erotica, etc. It's not like a notification was sent to them that their book was challenged or objected to, they find out--if they even do, I'm sure some have been celebrating the recent holidays and have not yet become aware of the situation--after the fact, and must now expend time and energy to undo a situation which should not have been allowed to happen in the first place (and this is where Amazon's culpability primarily lies).

Aside from the direct losses (books not able to be found and therefore bought because they've been deranked and no longer show up in searches) there are indirect losses: how many pages of LGBT material are not being written because their authors are checking to see if their books have been deranked, taking action to try and have them reranked, or are otherwise following the situation?

What is further underscored by all of this is just how dangerously out of balance the system is, and how Amazon.com in particular has far too much power within the system today. Too many publishers, especially publishers of books that speak to or about "minority" experiences, rely on Amazon for getting their titles into the hands of readers.

A few weeks ago Amazon.co.uk unashamedly threw its weight around (see http://www.thebookseller.com/news/81820-publishers-unsure-over-amazon-terms.html): "Last week, theBookseller.com revealed Amazon was changing its terms and scrapping the existing 30-day payment period. Instead, publishers can have a 15-day payment period but must offer Amazon a further 2% off—bringing the total discount to 62%. Those publishers who do not offer the extra discount will see their payments made on Amazon's "standard terms”--effectively 60 days. Amazon applies the payment period at the end of the month in which the transaction took place. This means that those publishers on the latter scheme could wait up to 90 days for payment.

Although the internet retailer first contacted publishers on 24th March, the deadline for a decision was 1st April."

Distribution is, today, the biggest problem in publishing, and publishing has been changing because of changes in the distribution channels and system.

On the one hand, With the consolidation of distributors, we've seen the disappearance of the midlist.

We've seen a loss of diversity of voices as distributors go under and many independent publishers can't survive the losses of the monies owed to them.

(Not to mention the consolidation on the publishing side of things, with imprints being combined or canceled, leading only to more homogenization instead of plurality.)

It's worth remembering how, a decade and a half ago, a number of independent publishers went under because of the aggressive expansion of Barnes & Noble; at first, everyone was euphoric, because all of a sudden the major chain store was ordering much larger quantities of books than before. But this was a false increase in demand; it was not that there were more buyers for these books, but rather that B&N needed to "wallpaper" all those new stores. And rather than get stuck paying for those books, they returned them, and instead of the expected money for all those higher print runs publishers got stuck with a higher print run and a boxes of unsold inventory, many of them hurts.

On the other hand, we've seen a rise in e-books and p.o.d. technology, which is changing who has access to books: both in terms of who writes them as well as who and where people can buy and even read them.

Where will things end up? I, for one, don't know. I do think that the system as it currently stands is broken (distribution, returns, centralized chain bookstore ordering, etc.). I've also learned, after years of publishing with both mainstream and independent publishers, that it's very difficult to change the system. Let's say you write a children's books about horses that would be perfect to sell at tack shops. If you sell this book to a corporate publisher like Scholastic or Simon Schuster, you're not going to be able to change the system to get them to invest the time and legwork to get their books into this alternative distribution network, even if it might sell many more copies than they would through traditional book channels. The system is inflexible. For an independent publisher, especially one which doesn't already exist entrenchedly in the traditional book channels, it may be worth their time to investigate such alternatives (although everything works on economies of scale).

Recognizing that the system exists and how it works is an important and I think essential step step.

Why we write is a personal decision we each need to answer for ourselves.

And why--or if--we publish is a separate question and decision.

How we publish is in flux, and affects all of us: writers and readers both. Some of it (technological advances, etc.) is beyond our control. Some of it (where we purchase, what we purchase, etc.) we can influence. I think it's important to know that our actions can and do have repercussions, and we should try and act consciously and responsibly whenever possible.

That's another way of fighting, especially when one belongs to one (or many) groups that do not have power.

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Lawrence Schimel

July 2009

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