A number of publishers, most of them university presses, are taking Target Corporation to task for redacting certain key words in the product descriptions of their books. They say the Minneapolis-based chain retailer has scrubbed certain words from their descriptions, including “transgender,” “queer,” and even the term “Nazi.”
While some of the redacted product descriptions were corrected by Wednesday morning, a number of publishers say their product descriptions currently contain asterisks instead of key words.
PW reached out to Target’s public relations department several times about the glitch but, as of press time, had received no response.
Heather Gernenz, publicity manager at the University of Illinois Press, said Cáel Keegan, the author of the November release Lana and Lilly Wachowski, alerted the press on Monday that the word “transgender” had been replaced in three places by asterisks in the product description on Target.com. The book is about transgender siblings,
Gernenz requested online that the description be corrected. And, although the product description for the paperback edition of the title was quickly changed, Gernenz had to make a second request before the description for the hardcover edition was updated by Wednesday morning.
Publishers told PW that Target.com has fixed some initially-altered product descriptions. But several books having to do with LGBTQ issues continue to feature redacted words, such as We Make It Better: The LGBTQ Community and their Positive Contributions to Society (Mango, Oct.) by Eric Rosswood and Kathleen Archambeau; and Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (Univ. of Calif. Press, Jan.) by Jack Halberstam.
Titles with LGBTQ themes are not the only ones being affected on Target.com, either. Some publishers told PW that their books about Nazi Germany also contain redactions. For example, Adolf Hitler’s last name along with the term "Nazi," have been scrubbed from the product description of World War II: The illustrated Story of the Second World War by John Burns (Classic Illustrated Comics, 2015).
As it happens, Target has redacted words from book product descriptions before. In late December, Nina Packebush tweeted about the fact that the word “queer” had been removed from the product description of her YA novel, Girls Like Me (Bedazzled Ink, 2017), about a pregnant teen who identifies as pansexual.
Packebush told PW on Wednesday that a Target representative had responded to her complaint by explaining that the company regarded the word “queer” as a slur, and thus removed it from the description. After pressure from Packebush, her publisher, and others, the word was put back into the product description by January 6. Subsequently, however, Target replaced the word “queer” with “trans.” The change, Packebush points out, leaves the site with an inaccurate reference to the book’s protagonist.
According to Ohio State University Press director Tony Sanfilippo, Target’s move might be a well-meaning policy gone awry. “I understand that they might want to avoid controversy. But if they want to keep Nazis off their site, or Nazi-themed products out of their search results, there are ways of doing that that don’t censor. If you can’t say 'Nazi,' you can’t stop Nazis. And if you can’t search for books about the trans community and trans issues, your search engine and your corporate philosophy are morally flawed."