Apropos of my interview with Ted Striphas, I want to discuss the weekend's news that Amazon is/was censoring books with "questionable" content–"questionable" in this case being defined as homosexual behavior. It's not completely clear what was happening, but it is arguable that this represented an effort to censor books.
The known facts are that many books that have little to do with each other–besides dealing with gay and lesbian issues–were suddenly "delisted" over the weekend. Many of these books were literary in nature: e.g. Giovanni's Room and Brokeback Mountain. Others were serious nonfiction (e.g. Unfriendly Fire, about banning homosexuals from the military). What happened was that Amazon effectively ostracized them by zapping their sales rank, making them very difficult to find by a browse or a search. The equivalent of sticking these books in a back room with a curtain in front of it.
Maybe, although it's that's questionable. Amazon's explanation doesn't exactly square with the email author Mark Probst received from Amazon after noticing that his book was delisted:
This could just be the good old corporate brush-off, or it could be evidence that Amazon considered homosexually themed books worthy of being censored.
Needless to say, the rapidity with which Amazon about-faced on this is encouraging–clearly they'll do what their consumers say. But it does raise questions about giving so much power to just one bookstore, especially when Striphas's analysis indicates that future contenders are going to have a tough time knocking Amazon off its perch.