12 Apr 2009

#AmazonFail

Update at bottom!

Oh dear.

Just when we thought the world was becoming a little more progressive, it goes and does something like this.

It appears that just before the weekend, Amazon Ranks were quietly removed from select books. The books affected appear to be erotica, sexual instruction and … a load of titles that deal with gay and lesbian themes.

What does this mean in a nutshell? Essentially, if your book is a bestseller but doesn’t have an Amazon Rank, it won’t show up on the site’s bestseller list. In some cases, this can greatly affect people's ability to find your book in a search, especially if you’re going by keywords and viewing results by “bestselling.” This has a two-fold affect:

1) It falsely suggests that these books aren’t as popular as they are. When someone types in the word "gay" and searches for bestsellers at the site, they'll be mislead. Badly. These are not the top-selling books that deal with the subject.

2) Sales numbers can go down as the books are less visible, natch. Plus, people have a very irritating habit of buying into whatever is already popular (this is one of the reasons why I suspect generic bands like Nickleback still exist).

So, was it a programming glitch? A hack? Surely it couldn’t be corporate policy?

In the wee hours of this Easter Sunday, author and publisher Mark R. Probst - was one of the first to receive an official response from Amazon, which he consequently posted on his blog:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage


Samples of the “adult” material that is too offensive for the “entire customer base” and have had their Amazon Rank stripped include:

  • Heather Has Two Mommies (a children’s book that talks about diverse families)
  • The Mayor of Castro Street (a biography of civil rights leader, Harvey Milk)
  • Brokeback Mountain (you know, the book that inspired the Oscar-winning film)
  • Unfriendly Fire (explores the gay ban in the US military)
  • The Joy of Gay Sex

  • Meanwhile, somehow, the following books have retained their Amazon Rank:

  • A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality
  • Ted Bundy, Biography of a Campus Serial Killer
  • Playboy: The Complete Centrefolds
  • The Gay Agenda: It's Dividing the Family, the Church, and a Nation
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex

  • Hmm. Neat.

    So how do *I* know about this? After Probst and others created their blog posts, they went to Twitter and let me tell you, hell hath no fury like a Tweeter scorned.

    I realize it was only a couple posts ago that I made fun of Twitter and its users – and I still feel much of it is deserving of mocking. But Twitter also has some great uses – its ability to foster breaking and spreading stories, as determined by its users, is pretty phenomenal. It's one of the top reasons it would suck to be a stupid company like Amazon right now.

    This topic has been a big one today. It’s been trending higher than “Easter”, “Tiger Woods” or even the popular and festive “Zombie Jesus.” As more people talk, more of Amazon’s handiwork is being scrutinized (books dealing with disabilities and sexuality have also been de-listed, for example) and more “electronic activists” take on different methods of showing their disgust (Google bombing, boycotting, promoting different bookstores, e-mailing and calling Amazon customer service / board members).

    It doesn’t look good and Amazon is surely hearing that message loud and clear. I’m eager to hear from someone other than "Ashlyn D" for an explanation (and hopefully, a resolution).

    The latest: Amazon is claiming this is a glitch. A distinctly homophobic glitch. Hmm. Credibility is running a little low right now, especially as it took a looong time in terms of crisis communications to issue a semblance of a statement. The lag in response and the lack of clarity and authority in the statement is a major #PRFail.

    So, even if this were a glitch or some magnificent trolling (as others are now suggesting), it's now known that Amazon has a Rank-removal ability - one that can seemingly be applied based on tags or keywords - and that doesn't vibe well with the anti-censorship / free marketers of the world. Somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.

    1 comments:

    New Wife 9:07 am, April 13, 2009  

    It was on twitter that I even heard about this. Quite amazing actually. Very interested to see if they will get any real decline in sales as a company.

    As for Nickleback, that's an entire different post i think. One I'd LOVE the read :)

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