Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon fail

This is upsetting. In case you haven't heard -- the internet has been all abuzz about this so forgive my repetition -- here is my understanding of what's going on:

Over Easter weekend, appears to have removed sales ranking information in its listings for some books it deems to be of "adult" content. No listed sales rank on Amazon means those titles don't always come up when their subjects are searched for on the site. If the book isn't in anyone's search results, it's not likely anyone's going to come across it and buy it.

Now, that alone should really piss you off. Who is Amazon to decide what is and isn't "adult" content? The way the site works, masking sales rank information becomes, effectively, a form of censorship.

But it's worse than that. The deranking has been shown to have happened preferentially to books about homosexuality, transgenderedness, rape, or feminism; or with gay characters, or by gay authors.

A biography of Ellen Degeneres was deranked; sexually explicit biographies of famous heterosexuals have not been.

The official word from Amazon is that this is a "glitch" and they're working on it. That seems implausible for a couple of reasons: 1) At least one gay author had his memoir deranked back in February, and the explanation wasn't "oh, sorry, our mistake"; rather, he was told his book had been deemed "adult" and that the action was deliberate (it was subsequently reversed, and he dropped the issue). 2) In a response to a concerned author this past weekend, one Amazon representative stated outright that it was a deliberate decision.

There's a ton being written about this, and updates are happening faster than I can read or copy links. Google "amazon rank," or "amazon fail" if you're interested. On Twitter, the hashtags are #amazonfail and #glitchmyass.

I have deleted my wish list at Amazon (fear not, you can buy me Fiestaware at Macy's) and won't be doing business there unless and until this is appropriately resolved. However, even if the whole debacle proves to have been a huge mistake/fuckup/misguided effort by an overambitious homophobe in middle management, and even if a probable explanation and sincere, convincing apology are issued, it's been kind of a wake up call as to how much influence Amazon has; how one corporate entity can effectively block any book, or genre, or type of author it decides it doesn't like.

Unsettling, at best.

Update: a reasoned take on this is presented here. It does seem likelier that this is an artifact of some outdated filter, ineptly effected, than that it is due to institution-wide homophobia on the part of (My favorite quote: "Indeed, I suspect that dozens of Amazon executives and PR professionals will be having hurried meetings in Seattle this Monday morning, and that consumption of antacids at those meetings will be at an all-time high.") Still -- it bothers me a lot. When all of a sudden the top result of an Amazon search for books on homosexuality is some crap book for parents about how to prevent it in children -- something is wrong. Granted, I don't know for sure what that top result would have been on Friday. But color me skeptical.


  1. I'm deleting my wish lists too! I went on an Amazon strike a few years ago when I had it with their crappy customer service. They have improved immensely in that department, but this is worse. I'll buy my books, toys and DVDs elsewhere, thankyouverymuch!

  2. between this and a homosexual being beaten bloody last week in my town (hate crime), I am disgusted

  3. you have me curious seeing as most of my searches on amazon have been for things dealing with gender and sex. If I get a chance to see how the search results have been altered, I'll let you know.