The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon Backhands Track Book has quietly made a significant change in how it lists books.
One of these books has been removed from Amazon's sales rankings because of "adult" content; the other has not.

"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.

Amazon's policy of removing "adult" content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon's customer service explained:

"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."
Books deemed "adult" include Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (recently made into an R-rated film) and Maurice by E.M. Forster, but do not include Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds and titles written by such porn stars as Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson. Books even remotely connected to the LBGT community appear to be, from Amazon's perspective, more appealing to the prurient interest than self-admitted pornography. The exceptions? The Amazon-only Kindle format, of course.

This may be appalling, but why does it belong on a track blog? Because of the possible effect on one of the most important track books of all time, Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner.

Released in 1974, it was the first widely available sports novel about homosexuals, and it was the first running novel ever to hit the New York Times best-seller list. The basic plot summary is a young superstar runner who is outed on his way to the Olympics and the resulting public hatred he receives. The novel's importance is so great among the LBGT community that "Front Runners" is a near-universally used name for LGBT endurance-sports clubs.

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