Updated 3/16/2021– Amazon has responded to four Senators who expressed their concern over the removal of When Harry Became Sally from sale. In their letter (available here), they state that “Amazon works hard to ensure customers have a great shopping experience, and access to the widest and most diverse cross-section of written and spoken word in retail today.” As to the removal of this specific book, the letter states that Amazon has “chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

This is a new policy that was either not in place or not publicly stated when the book was removed from sale. The letter is signed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s Vice President for Public Policy.

Originally posted 3/4/2021– The National Coalition Against Censorship is deeply concerned by Amazon’s sudden decision to remove from sale a book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson.  Amazon had been selling this controversial title for the last three years.  While the book’s arguments anger many people, they are part of the public debate over gender identity.  Amazon’s decision to stop selling it threatens the marketplace of ideas.

Amazon has a First Amendment right to sell whatever books it wants.  However, from its earliest days, it has committed itself to selling an unprecedentedly wide range of books.  Its website states, “As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important, including content that may be considered objectionable.”  Though Amazon’s content policy reserves the right to exclude “hate speech…or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive,” the company has not defined what it considers hateful or offensive content.

Amazon is not like other booksellers.  It sells more than half of all print books and a significant share of e-books and audio books in the United States.  This gives the company an outsized role in shaping opinion and discourse.  When Amazon decides to remove a book, it matters not only to the author and their publisher, but to the entire public sphere.