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Queerty Interview

Christopher Rice Loves His Kindle, But Fears Amazon’s Superpower

chrisrice

QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE — Late Monday, Amazon — the online retailer which, over the weekend, de-listed hundreds of gay books from their page rankings — responded in a brief email explaining the incident as a “a ham-fisted cataloging error“, debunking a hacker’s assertion that he had caused the books to be removed. Uh huh.

But as angry as the “cataloging error” makes customers, what about gay authors? Queerty spoke exclusively Christopher Rice, celebrated gay novelist and chairman of The Lambda Literary Foundation, which represents the interests of gay and lesbian authors and publishers, about how Amazon’s actions have affected the LGBT community. Oh, and what Amazon needs to do to make things right.

QUEERTY: What do you think of the response from Amazon calls the de-ranking of LGBT books “a ham-fisted cataloging error”?

Christopher Rice: Well, I think it remains muddled. We’re not seeing the clear and decisive response to this that everyone was hoping for and that I know the board of Lambda Literary Foundation has been hoping for.

We’re seeing a sort of gradual reappearance of sales rankings. We’re seeing a progression of odd, oblique statements about the cause behind this and that’s really only served to fuel the suspicion’s out there. I think there’s been a lot of inaccurate rumor-mongering around around the real cause of this, but at the same time, I think there’s a knowledge vacuum there. I think we don’t truly know what went on.

What concerns me is that I think that gay writers are not going to explore writing a book.

I mean, if this was truly just a cataloging error, why did it seem to reach a tipping point this weekend? Why did it come to everyone’s attention on Easter Sunday? I mean, the Easter Sunday thing has led to various rumors, as if it was timed around there.

Ultimately, I’d like to speak as the Board Chair of Lambda Literary Foundation, but as a customer of Amazon– and I am a customer of Amazon– I’m confused. I still don’t have a grasp on what’s going on and I don’t know if they do or they don’t.

I think that if it’s a cataloging error, it’s a cataloging error. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t specifically effect LGBT books, it matters that it affected LGBT books in this wide and sweeping way. This is just not the time for this. I mean, publishing is going through one of its worst periods in history. It’s an incredibly painful period of transition and minority authors of all strips already feel under siege.

I mean you know, we already lost A Different Light in [West Hollywood, CA], several weeks ago and in no small part because of internet giants like Amazon. So, they need to stop acting like a drunken elephant and starting like a gentle giant. They need to recognize their influence and their size and they need to behave accordingly. I think there needed to be a much better P.R. campaign around this and there still needs to be greater clarity in their response.

Are you concerned that a site like Amazon has an outsize influence on LGBT authors and publishers?

It does concern me that they’ve become so large, but I’ll tell you honestly, it doesn’t concern me as much as the sort of parallel attitude out there on the Internet that everything should be free, including people’s writing. If we’re talking about the Internet, that is a bigger enemy for organizations like mine and for writers in general to have to combat then the size of Amazon.

At the same time, yes, it is a concern, because it does take away our options. It does take away our choices, but not if they act responsibly—and that’s the part I can’t stress enough.

What excites me about Amazon is that they are embracing technological changes that may be the new lifeblood of publishing. If the technology they’ve released in the form of Kindle. If their digital book technology gets out there and becomes competitive technology, the opportunities for minority writers or other writers that might have been shut out of mainstream publishing to reach readers directly, through these devices of the future—those opportunities will be great. And we may have Amazon to thank for that, or may not.

I’m not an anti-Amazon person and I’m not willing to bash them unilaterally. I think there’s some potential there, but I think right now, they have no competitors and I think that’s the scary part for a lot of people, but I think in the future, they may.

kindle

Yeah, I just bought a Kindle three weeks ago and I love it.

Yeah, I do, too. You can print that. I’m a proud owner of Kindle and it’s a hypnotic product. I don’t want to turn it in! [Laughs] It’s all very distressing!

It is! I’ve been buying books left and right.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you look at that device and use it as a frame of reference, so much of when a writer chooses to self-publish, or when they don’t carry the imprint of a major publisher, so much of that stigma is visual. And when you have a device like Kindle, which gives a uniform type face, a uniform page setting to every book that appears on it, that stigma is taken away. It may seem like a subtle or superficial point, but I think it has a potentially huge impact for gay writers and for writers who are not major best-sellers who are necessarily commercial.

Looking at the troubles that gay publishing has been going through, not just this week, but in general, what sort of things has The Lambda Literary Foundation done to help the gay book market?

Well, we spend a lot of our time and energy on trying to cultivate and celebrate small and independent presses, because really, that’s where a lot of the yeoman’s work in the GLBT community is being done right now. The lesbian community has done a really fine job of supporting small publishers– most of which are outside of New York… Gay men have not done such a good job. So, I think there’s an area where there needs to be dialog. Anything that Lambda can do to elevate and publicize those small publishers is a goal for us.

If you look at our nominees for the Lambda Literary Awards, you’ll see that there’s a nice representation of those small publishers.

What concerns me is that I think that the number of gay writers is only growing. This may be my personal bias here, but I think a lot of those writers are not going to explore writing a book. They’re going to go in the world of blogs and the world of online journalism and that’s all great, but I like books. I’d hate to think that because of market forces, the next great gay novelist won’t sit down and take a chance at writing a novel.

Well, let me ask you this, with all the hating, opaque responses so far from Amazon, what should they do? What sort of things can they do to develop stronger ties with the LGBT literary community?

They should reach out to some of the individual writers who were affected and invite them to provide additional content or promotional materials that could then be included on the page for their books. Obviously, I don’t think that’s as necessary to do with say Brokeback Mountain as it is to do with say, lesbian mystery novelist Ellen Hart, who had all of her sales rankings pulled in the course of a single day.

I think if they would reach out and use the influence that they have for the good of some of these authors– and I don’t think it would be special treatment because they send this invitation to big name authors all the time. I was invited to write a personal letter about the experience of writing my last novel, Blind Fall, which is still up there on the page for Blind Fall and it’s this sort of additional tasty treat for anyone who visits the page. That kind of offer could be extended to a lot of these writers.

I also think, just a clear explanation. If there was a technical error behind this, we need to know a little bit more about this technology, particularly if we are loyal customers, as I am. I would like to know more about who was responsible and what they’re doing to contain it. It may not be intentional, but the repercussions are huge. They were really huge.

By:           Japhy Grant
On:           Apr 14, 2009
Tagged: , ,
  • 25 Comments
    • Gregoire
      Gregoire

      Ugh, is this hack the new go-to for gay writers?

      Apr 14, 2009 at 10:19 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Slider
      Slider

      How about Lambda Literary creating its own Kindle? This way we can get GLBT Literature without having to worry about censorship and/or corporate stupidity the likes of which was shown by Amazon. In a bad economy this is no time to shun authors of any genre and to encourage all consumers to want to buy books not boycott corporate monsters for their stupidity. My guess is that this was a ham fisted way to ban GLBT books and I wouldn’t be surprised if under neath it all is something like Focus on the Family or other anti GLBT groups pushing a ban.

      So, how about Lambda Literary connecting with its own company to create a Kindle (I bet Apple would love to do that as part of its own “Ibook” (Unless they are connected to Amazon with Kindle already)

      Just a thought….if Christopher Rice reads this….by all means use it…and I do love all your books……I can’t wait for the next one!! I love your style of writing….thanks for all you do in your writing and for our community:)

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:14 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Norman
      Norman

      @Gregoire: I suppose you are a distinguished Literary Theory professor.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:20 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      I still think Christopher Rice is mostly famous because of his mom, and I find him as effective a representative of Lambda Literary as I found Hilary Rosen for the HRC.

      Much wiser words come from Richard Eoin Nash, a self-identified “straight white male publisher”:

      http://rnash.com/article/amazonfail-a-straight-white-male-publisher-on-glitches-and-ham-fisted-error/

      He explains very clearly why this matters, and why Amazon is guilty, even if their censorship was not deliberate.

      Please don’t buy anything from Amazon until they come out with an apology targeted to the GLBT population (others specific to other censored minorities.) It is truly the very least they can do and I don’t think anyone, straight or gay, should let them off the hook for that.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:24 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alex
      alex

      In the greater scheme of things, is this really what we should be protesting? An e-commerce site got screwed up (either intentionally or not) for a few days. It sounds like things will be back to “normal” soon on Amazon.

      Personally, I have greater concerns than Amazon: the economy, the elimination of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and the fact that both gay marriage and civil unions are now illegal in Florida.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:34 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • The Gay Numbers
      The Gay Numbers

      The central problem with a company like Amazon becoming the go-to place for gay works is that when covering so many subjects it’s hard for an organization like Amazon to specialize to one niche audience. We should not depend on them for covering the wide variety of works that maybe out there.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:42 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • The Gay Numbers
      The Gay Numbers

      @alex: Why is it that on every issue that comes up there is always some other issue that people claim is important? How about let’s just say gay issues together are important, each when they are actually on stage, rather than prioritizing according to which one’s we think are sexy to us personally? For the record, the reason this is important is all those pesky issues like gays in the military are shaped through books and popular culture.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 11:44 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ducdebrabant
      ducdebrabant

      Why won’t Amazon just be honest? I would like to know why the “flip” affected only gay & lesbian subject matter or – in the words of Amazon – “a broad number of categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive and Sexual Medicine, and Erotica.” Amazon emphasized the latter to suggest that gay content wasn’t targeted, but what do all those areas have in common? Definitely the likelihood that they would touch on homosexuality. Knitting, woodworking, mathematics, the American Revolution, the cavalier poets, scholastic philosophy, the Arian Heresy and the history of baseball seem to have come through unscathed. The works that were affected were obviously tagged in some way that targeted them. Not every book in Reproductive and Sexual Medicine was de-ranked. Books fall into more than one category. What painted the target on a particular book was evidently some identification with gay and lesbian subject matter. When will Amazon stop denying this?

      Apr 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • HayYall
      HayYall

      @Norman: You don’t need a doctorate in zoology to recognize a pile of dog crap.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • GranDiva
      GranDiva

      @Landon Bryce:
      But Hilary Rosen wasn’t the spokesperson for the HRC; her partner, Elizabeth Birch, was. Hilary Rosen was the chief speaker at RIAA.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 12:39 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • naprem
      naprem

      I would like to say that I absolutely hated “Light Before Dark.” A horrible, horrible book.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 1:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Slider
      Slider

      Landon, Hillary Rosen was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for HRC while her then wife, Elizabeth Birch was the CEO of HRC. Why no one ever screamed conflict of interest is beyond me. But that’s another topic and another time. In any event, Amazon is a huge issue and having our community shut out reeks of fascism and not capitalism and down right pure censorship. There is no way we should once again sit down and shut up. Once again, bigger is not better and a huge multibillion dollar corporate conglomerate cares about one thing..the bottom line..so unless we stand up, scream, protest and vote with our dollars we will be kicked out the door and no where to go…so time to stand up and say hell no and vote with our dollars.

      I still say time to find our own Kindle and find a way for GLBT authors to band together, get GLBT publishers (didn’t The Advocate used to have its own online bookstore (the problem was it was extremely pricey as I recall) to get to someone like the Gill Foundation or say Mr. Geffen and create our own Kindle and always make sure we support it..but make it affordable…there has to be a way in the 21st century to do that.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      Rosen filled in briefly as co-HRC head after Cheryl Jacques was forced out and served as a spokesperson at that time. This was after her RIAA nonsense made her one of the most hated people in America (the most justly hated lesbian in American history?), and it marked the time I decided the HRC would never get another penny from me.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Joe Kort
      Joe Kort

      This whole thing on amazon.com really shook me up. As the author of three books on gay issues I worry that my books will not be found by my intended audience. With the closing of several gay and lesbian bookstores over the years, I rely on amazon.com for gay men and women looking for information who cannot go to an all gay bookstore and for those who would find the internet a more insultated place to get GLBT books without facing homophobia at Borders or B&N.

      Also to (The Gay Numbers) who asks Why is it that on every issue that comes up there is always some other issue that people claim is important?

      My answer is that it is because as GLBT’s we are so silenced that everyone uses these issues to bring their own issue into it not knowing how to start their own thread.

      It happens to me all the time when I do a talk to gay audiences or with gays and lesbians in the audience. They always have something to say that either supports, contradicts, differs or is a separate related issue to talk about and they try to use my presentation as their place to talk about it.

      I understand why and I usually have to ask them to wait for Q&A and inside I know it is because they are busting at the seams to get their point of view across too.

      It would be better if everyone knew to say on topic and find healthier appropriate ways to express their other view points.

      Warmly, Joe Kort

      Apr 14, 2009 at 5:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • The Gay Numbers
      The Gay Numbers

      @Joe Kort: That’s a great response. I had not thought of it as you describe.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 5:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark
      Mark

      During this debacle, when one entered the word ‘homosexuality’ on their ‘All Departments’ search page, the results were ONLY ANTI-HOMOSEXUAL books. Specifically ANTI homosexual books.

      This was a deliberate and malicious act of censorship. Someone deliberately made sure that the word homo was to be seen in a negative context.

      Clearly, this was a MALICIOUS ACT. How plain can it be? Amazon owes ME a apology, and a carefully worded one at that, since ALL of my novels were affected by this so-called glitch.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 6:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • MokoForever
      MokoForever

      @Landon Bryce: Of course, having a famous mom didn’t hurt, but I’ve read Christopher’s books and enjoyed them a lot. Besides, I won’t be reading his mom’s work ever again unless she makes Jesus into a vampire in one of her new books.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 7:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alan brickman
      alan brickman

      this will
      just sell more books…

      Apr 14, 2009 at 9:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Hannah
      Hannah

      This whole thing hit me hard as well. As a college student who is out at school, but not at home, I find my support through the internet and through reading books bought through Amazon. I don’t know about all the gay titles out there, so I generally search by keywords such as “homosexuality” or “lesbian” and follow the tags to go from there. If I had been looking for something on Sunday night, I would have seen books about preventing homosexuality and what the Bible says about homosexuality.

      As a loyal customer to Amazon mostly for books on this subject, it really ticked me off to see hateful books pop up instead of support books. By not admitting the mistake, Amazon makes this situation worse.

      Apr 14, 2009 at 10:22 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Scott
      Scott

      I totally agree with Slider. If we don’t use our “gay dollars” to force respect in the marketplace then we’re not much of a community, are we? Atwo month boycott on something besides a taco stand in calif. will show that we can be a force to be reconed with. Of course the gay community can’t get together on anything besides “nice abs!”
      Barnes and Noble does just as good a job as anybody, I guess.

      AND I agree with NAPREM. Horrible book. That first sentence is 66 words long! Isn’t that what editors are for?

      Apr 15, 2009 at 12:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • HYHYBT
      HYHYBT

      @Scott: “Of course the gay community can’t get together on anything besides “nice abs!””

      Taking a quick pass through the comments on almost any “Morning Goods” will show we can’t agree on that either.

      Apr 15, 2009 at 3:15 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • nobody
      nobody

      @GranDiva: Hilary Rosen is a member of the HRC board of directors, far more powerful than a mere spokesperson. Quite ironic since she’s one who’s done far more serious and lasting damage to freedemocracy than anyone in recent memory.

      Apr 15, 2009 at 11:33 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hm
      hm

      Amazon’s story doesn’t hold up. The glitch only removed gay titles, not straight titles that fit. I have the misfortune of working with Amazon a lot. This sort of arrogant lying is typical of the culture there. I never can get a straight answer from them and it is almost impossible to speak to anyone there who can fix problems. No one takes repsonsibility and Amazon hides behind anonymous emails so you can’t reach the person you need to reach. If they don’t like a quesiton they simply ignore it. Our business is working to disassociate from Amazon as quickly as possible. Our last year of working with them has been one long nightmare. Until I started working with Amazon through our business I was an Amazon customer. Not anymore.

      Apr 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John from  England(used to be just John but there are other John's)
      John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

      @HYHYBT:

      Lol, so true!!

      ;)

      Apr 15, 2009 at 6:43 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      Silly video I made about the @amazonfail saga

      Enjoy— http://tinyurl.com/dea69y

      Apr 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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