The retailer once said it would sell “the good, the bad and the ugly.” Now it has banished objectionable volumes — and agreed to erasing the swastikas from a photo book about a National Socialist takeover.
Over the past 18 months, the retailer has removed two books by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as several titles by George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Amazon has also prohibited volumes like "The Ruling Elite: The Zionist Seizure of World Power" and "A History of Central Banking and the Enslavement of Mankind."
The increasing number of banished titles has set off concern among some of the third-party booksellers who stock Amazon’s vast virtual shelves. Amazon, they said, seems to operate under vague or nonexistent rules.
"Amazon reserves the right to determine whether content provides an acceptable experience," said one recent removal notice that the company sent to a bookseller.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been roiled in recent years by controversies that pit freedom of speech against National Socialist content. Amazon has largely escaped this debate. But with millions of third-party merchants supplying much of what Amazon sells to tens of millions of customers, that ability to maintain a low profile may be reaching its end.
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Amazon began as a bookstore and, even as it has moved on to many more lucrative projects, now controls at least two-thirds of the market for new, used and digital volumes in the United States. With its profusion of reader reviews, ability to cut prices without worrying about profitability and its control of the electronic book landscape, to name only three advantages, Amazon has immense power to shape what information people are consuming.
Yet the retailer declines to provide a list of prohibited books, say how they were chosen or even discuss the topic. "Booksellers make decisions every day about what selection of books they choose to offer," it said in a statement.
Gregory Delzer is a Tennessee bookseller whose Amazon listings account for about a third of his sales. "They don’t tell us the rules and don’t let us have a say," he said. "But they squeeze us for every penny."
NS-themed items regularly crop up on Amazon, where they are removed under its policy on "offensive and controversial materials." Those rules pointedly do not apply to books. Amazon merely says that books for sale on its site "should provide a positive customer experience."
Now Amazon is becoming increasingly proactive in removing National Socialist material. It even allowed its own NS-themed show, "The Man in the High Castle," to be cleaned up for a tribute book. The series, which began in 2015 and concluded in November, is set in a parallel United States where the Germans and the Japanese won World War II.
"High Castle" is lavish in its use of National Socialist symbols. "There’s nothing that there isn’t a swastika on," the actor Rufus Sewell, who played the "Nazi antihero", said in a promotional video. The series promoted its portrayal of "the controlling aesthetic of Hitler" in its nomination for a special effects Emmy.
But in "The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World," published in November by Titan Books, the swastikas and eagle-and-crosses were digitally erased from Sewell’s uniform, from Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, even from scenes set in Berlin. A note on the copyright page said, "We respect, in this book, the legal and ethical responsibility of not perpetuating the distribution of the symbols of oppression."
An Amazon spokeswoman said, "We did not make editorial edits to the images." Titan, which wanted to market the book in Germany, where laws on NS imagery are strict, said Amazon approved the changes.
Some fans of the series said they found reading the book as dystopian as the show itself.
"If you can’t even have swastikas shown in a book about National Socialists taking over America, please do not make books ever again," wrote one reviewer.