what the fuck, Amazon?

by Violet Blue on April 12, 2009


Image via phheww.

Everyone and their mom is emailing and DMing me today about Amazon’s move to de-rank so-called “adult” books, including a national award winner. Basically they’re removing books for adult content from their sales ranks — not that they ever included any *actual* adult books in their official sales lists — but it’s a move that’s kicking LGBT books to the curb and removing books like “American Psycho” from the lists. This is a huge, lame WTF? and a slap in the face of readers, publishers, and writers everywhere. And yes, the Google bombing has begun because people are pissed off. Dan Savage, Carol Queen, Kate Bornstein< Susie Bright, Audacia Ray and Tristan Taormino are on the censored list; I'm still looking to see if they hit my titles as well. Here are two good pieces of coverage to get you up to speed:

Amazon.com decided, over the holiday weekend, to strip many titles they considered “adult” of sales rankings, making them impossible to find through Amazon’s search function. This is disproportionately affecting GLBT titles.

Books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Bastard Out Of Carolina have also been tagged as “adult” and removed from search rankings. They told Mark Probst it was to “protect” readers. Writers such as Maya Banks, Larissa Ione, and Jaci Burton have been affected. (Here’s Dear Author with updates. Meta Writer is also updating a list of writers affected.)

This is utter bullshit. In the first place, Amazon doesn’t have the right to try to police what we buy. Amazon seems to forget that we’re the people it’s supposed to be serving–and right now I’m speaking as a consumer, not an author.

As an author, the “this is utter bullshit” just gets more intense. For crying out loud. Brokeback Mountain, unsearchable and hence almost unbuyable through Amazon? The Well Of Loneliness? Come on. And for the sake of sweet Auntie Louise, you don’t need to f!cking protect me or anyone else from GLBT fiction.

Jeez. You can buy freaking sex toys on Amazon (though I prefer Babeland, personally), and they’re trying to dictate what we can buy to read?

I take a very dim view of anyone doing this, and Amazon’s status as the corporation most likely to shortchange small-press authors (oh, don’t even get me started about the POD thing not too long ago) and/or take over the world a la Skynet doesn’t help.

The Smart Bitches are now Googlebombing Amazon. (Entry and explanation here, googlebomb here: Amazon Rank.)(…read more, lilithsaintcrow.com, thanks JT!)

One of these books has been removed from Amazon’s sales rankings because of “adult” content; the other has not.

“American Psycho” is Bret Easton Ellis’ story of a sadistic murderer. “Unfriendly Fire” is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it’s “Unfriendly Fire” that does not have a sales rank — which means it would not show up in Amazon’s bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the Twilight series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon’s search results.

Amazon’s policy of removing “adult” content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon’s customer service explained:

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.

Probst is the author of a novel for young adults with gay characters set in the old West; he was concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted. Amazon has not responded to the LA Times request for clarification.

Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs; “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, “The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1″ by Michel Foucault, “Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), “Little Birds: Erotica” by Anais Nin, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), “Maurice” by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and “Becoming a Man” by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award. (…read more, latimesblogs.latimes.com, thanks VM!)

Update 04.13.09: Dude, where’s my sales rank? God, don’t you hate it when a “glitch” accidentally wipes 57,310 books that just happen to focus on LGBT and sexual health topics from the fucking map of the biggest book retailer in the world? Damn, what a BOO BOO. I want to be compassionate, and I will be when the pieces all add up because I do subscribe to the maxim that one should never assign malfeasance to apparent stupidity until all the facts are in place. However, today this hit AP and NYT, and here’s their take:

Amazon.com apologized Monday for an ”embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” that led to the sales ranking being removed from tens of thousands of books.

The online retailer initially said Sunday that a ”glitch” had caused the problem and promised that the numbers would be restored. But Monday afternoon, sales numbers were still gone for such recent works as Chelsea Handler’s ”My Horizontal Life” and from such classics as Gore Vidal’s ”The City and the Pillar” and James Baldwin’s ”Giovanni’s Room.”

”What kind of a childish game is this?” Vidal said Monday. ”Why don’t they just burn the books? They’d be better off and it’s very visual on television.”

On Monday, Amazon spokesman Andrew Herdener called the deletions an ”embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.” He said that 57,310 books had been affected. (…read more, nytimes.com, via The Sex Carnival)

Update 04.14.09: The comment community here is updating the saga (and its rumors) with links at a fresh clip; I’ll do an official update when I’ve got something solid. Here’s to having a kickass comment community.

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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{ 18 comments }

1 Chris K April 14, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Just FYI’s gizmodo is reporting the same thing as #14′s link above.
http://i.gizmodo.com/5210424/hacker-claims-he-shoved-amazon-into-the-closet-using-inappropriate-flag-exploit

2 Michael57 April 13, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Gee, a soulless multinational corporation, one that is most frequently compared to Wal-Mart, has demonstrated that they really aren’t on your side. What a shock.

I understand that anonymity can be important or at least more comfortable when buying things that are out of the mainstream, but I sure hope this demonstrates the importance of keeping your local retailers around. Buy from them whenever you can. Don’t just point and click online. You don’t know what you’ve lost til it’s gone.

3 casualencounters.com/blog April 13, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I just got around to (finally) reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover last week. Sure, there’s sex in it, but if it’s porn then so is the Bible.

Let’s hope Amazon’s retardathonic hambrain action is just a glitch (or at least that that’s their little euphemism for “Oh shit. ANGRY CONSUMERS. ABORT. REWIND.”) It’s beyond outrageous otherwise.

4 Fiona April 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm

It’s the nature of how they decide what’s locked that bugs me – that “hetero” sex is cool, but anything a little “Deviant” (yes including disability as mentioned in the first comment) is not.

5 Agile Cyborg April 13, 2009 at 10:57 am
6 Sarah April 13, 2009 at 10:51 am

SciFi writers have also been targeted in this stupidity.

http://io9.com/5209403/amazoncom-banishes-queer-sf-writers-to-a-null-dimension

7 Rico April 13, 2009 at 7:33 am

Looks like they are (possibly) eliminating the sale of their (possibly) most adult DVD. Only one for sale. When I bought it last month there were 55 for sale.
Link: http://www.amazon.com/42nd-Street-Forever-XXX-Treme-Special/dp/B000LC3IMO/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1239636448&sr=1-5

8 Jim Pivonka April 13, 2009 at 12:30 am

Betcha 10 2 1 that this “glitch’ was a low level or entirely unauthorized action by Amazon staff.

In which case – appropo Applebee’s comment – a little employee abuse would be amply called for…..

The Amazon user community deserves and should demand full disclosure of how this “glitch” came about and who was at the root of the problem.

The ideological commitments and consequent distortions of judgements of senior Amazon executives and managers should be researched by the community and disclosed an published as widely as the internet can accomplish.

9 J. Applebee April 12, 2009 at 11:47 pm

I stopped using the British Amazon a while ago, and altered my site so the books link to the publishers, after reading how poorly they treat their workers (fined for being ill, made to work in unsafe ways). An article on it is here: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/retailing/article5337770.ece

This removal of sales rankings sounds a bit too Orwellian for my liking. People have tried to make those they think of as ‘undesirable’ disappear before…

In this ropey economic climate, you’d think they would want MORE customers, not piss off the ones they have.

10 John Pettitt April 12, 2009 at 9:25 pm

CarnalNation just got an official reply from amazon corporate – it’s a ‘glitch’ and they are fixing it.

http://tinyurl.com/dewrjs

11 Nathan April 12, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a great book and should be read by anyone who treasures well written books. I am reminded of what Roger Ebert said about the controversy over “The Last Temptation of Christ” :”Self-Appointed censors are only afraid of those films that might make people think.” Tristan Taormino, Dan Savage and Audacia Ray challenge preconceived notions and make people think , and that is why they are considered dangerous.

12 LustyLioness April 12, 2009 at 8:33 pm

If Amazon is oh-so-interested in “protecting” its customers, perhaps it should give them the option of having their own personal searches and content censored, rather than just censoring everyone. This pisses the hell out of me, and I’m not even an author! I can only imagine how you and so many other authors feel about it.

13 Sara April 12, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Got the link on my blog. Wow. WTF. Thanks for the news. Will be boycotting Amazon as well as googlebombing.

14 K.H. April 12, 2009 at 8:21 pm

You can email Amazon or telephone them if you have an Amazon account. (If you need help finding the contact info, I outlined where it is located on my blog: http://thehootersgirl.blogspot.com/2009/04/amazon-deranking.html)

You can also email them at ecr@amazon.com.

You can sign a petition against the new policy here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/in-protest-at-amazons-new-adult-policy

You can follow the debacle on Twitter here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Amazon

And here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Amazonfail

15 lena April 12, 2009 at 8:15 pm

and removing books like “American Psycho” from the lists

Nope – American Psycho is still ranked. The piece you quote was using that as an illustration of how arbitrary Amazon’s definition of “adult” seems (graphically violent serial killer novel = kid friendly; study of homophobia in the military = behind-the-counter material).

Anyway, Amazon is now telling journalists it’s just a “glitch” in their ranking system, not a new policy (despite what their representatives apparently told Probst), and promising to fix it asap. Twitter is not satisfiedwith that explanation, but regardless of why it happened, we do at least have a promise it won’t last.

16 Jocelyn April 12, 2009 at 8:07 pm

After requesting to have my account on Amazon canceled, I received this in my inbox:
“Hello,

Thanks for contacting us. We recently discovered a glitch in our systems and it’s being fixed.

The employees here at Amazon.com truly care about your experience with us and take great pride in the level of service we provide. Your loyalty to our company for the past 6 months is greatly appreciated, and this loyalty is one of the reasons I am attempting to correct an honest misunderstanding.

Although I understand that you requested your account be closed, I sincerely hope that my efforts to correct this misunderstanding have been satisfactory. However, if you still wish to close your account, please visit the following link to submit your request:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/rsvp/rsvp-mi.html

I hope that you will give us another opportunity to prove the quality of our service to you.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
(Link removed)
If not, click here:
(Link removed)

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.

Best regards,

Sreedharan P.
Amazon.com
We’re Building Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company
http://www.amazon.com/your-account

Hmm, what about that policy statement you put out when you made the changes, Amazon? “”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.” Glitch, my lovely ass.
(Long comment is long, but I thought it was important.)

17 Viviane April 12, 2009 at 7:10 pm

The news totally spread like crazy via Twitter!

http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23amazonfail

18 Rachel April 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette also lost it’s ranking and the non-kindle book no longer shows up in search.

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