Monday, April 13, 2009

De-ranked by Amazon

I don't write about it much because it looks like boasting, but I've written a few books (currently on number 10). They are mainly academic books that only a very small number of people will ever read, and tend to be stocked in university libraries. I'll never make much money from writing, although they earn me promotions at work and I like writing them.

About half of my books are about sexuality (mainly homosexuality) and have the word "gay" in the title. The books are on Amazon, although it's been noted that Amazon has a policy of not giving sales rankings for books with "adult" content. This policy seems to have been employed in a rather blanket way, which includes self-help books for gay and lesbian people, academic books, travel guides and gay fiction includin The Well of Loneliness, The Dictionary of Homophobia and Foucault's History of Sexuality. This has the effect of keeping these books out of the public eye.

However, books with heterosexual content like Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds (which contains 600+ pictures of naked women) does get a ranking.

The policy has resulted in most of my books being "de-ranked", although not all - one which contains a linguistic analysis of a pornographic short story has been kept in because the title of the book is relatively innocuous. That's probably the most subversive thing I've written. Not only is the policy unfair, but it's ineffective.

There's a petition set up to object to this, which I've signed. To be honest, I don't really care about my own book rankings, but the policy is biased and wrong.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Poison Pen

Do you ever read those comments in "Have your say?" sections of blogs or news sites? If you did, you might end up thinking that the world was populated by spiteful, cynical, stupid bullies, some with severe mental illnesses. I'm not the only person who's noticed it. David Mitchell pointed it out in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, noting that "if there's one thing the internet demonstrates it's that a lot of angry people can read". He also references a blog called ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere which is a repository of hateful comments from the BBC News website. And Charlie Brooker in his BBC4 show Newswipe, recently commented on the outpouring of bile over the death of Jade Goody.

Brooker is clever and funny and incisive (although he is often very abusive himself). For me, the key point he makes, however, is that the majority of people who post up comments online, don't use their real name. And I think that's the crux of it.

In real life, we wouldn't dare say 1% of what we say online, because we have to "own" those beliefs or comments and live with the consequences of them in society. But online, everyone is anoymous. You can get away with saying almost anything because they are so few consequences. Prior to the internet, writing things anonymously used to be viewed as immoral - I remember reading Enid Blyton stories about anonymous letter writers, for example, who always got caught by the child-detectives in the end.

Now, though, being anonymous is seen as a good thing. Loads of people have gone on about how the internet affords all of this wonderful fluidity of identity etc. And it allows us all to take part in this enormous online debate about everything. Except the debate itself has become so degraded that it simply acts as a showcase for how nasty people can be if they are allowed to be.

The internet is still very young, and I think a crucial mistake has been made. We should not have allowed the security of anonyminity to be abused. I'm not saying everyone should be issued with a government-stamped email address which also contains a link to your face picture, address and date of birth, but sites that allow comments should force their commenters to account for their opinions by making it possible for anyone to trace those comments back to their original source. I think we would see a good 95% of the spite vanish over night, and in its place we'd find the sort of things that society is based on - people actually making some sort of effort (even if it's misplaced) to take the feelings of others into account. Because as the internet increasingly becomes what society "is", I find that I like it less and less.