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Amazon Follies

On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system? Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening. As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

 

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

 

Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be “adult” material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked – Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.

Now in fairness I should point out that Amazon has also stopped ranking many books in the "erotica" categories as well which includes straight erotica. But that's a whole other battle that I'll leave to the erotica writers to take on.

 

Now I could probably convince the automatons at Amazon that The Filly is YA and therefore not “adult” in the least, and I could probably even convince them to reinstate my ranking.  But if they are excluding books just on the basis of being “gay” then by all means exclude mine too because I don’t want them just to reinstate the “nice” gay books, they need to reinstate all the gay books and if they are really going to try and exclude so-called “adult” material, then how come this has an Amazon ranking?

 

Here is a screencap of the case log from Amazon. Keep clicking on the image to make it bigger

************For everyone who has commented on my blog - Thank you very much. and everyone who has asked if they can use my name and link back to me. YES please do. Spread the word. Amazon will be beside itself in the face of all this fury!

*******UPDATE**************
Publisher's Weekly now has a story here, that an Amazon spokesperson claims this is all a glitch and they have no such new policy.  My caselog is still active in my Advantage account with the response from customer service rep Ashlyn D. Also I'd like to point you to this blog of an author who received this same response from Amazon back in February. Amazon has some 'splainin' to do!

***********UPDATE #2******************
As of 8 AM this morning (April 13th) The Filly has had its ranking reinstated by Amazon.  I also noticed Alex Beecroft's False Colors was reinstated as well.  Many others are not, so they haven't fixed the "so-called" glitch as of yet.

*******FINAL UPDATE******************
Amazon has released a statement of apology stating that it was  an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that pertained to 57,310 listings.  They also say that It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles.  So it's over.  Amazon admits they goofed, and I, for one, shall give them the benefit of the doubt and say I do not believe that there was any malicious intent. Case closed.

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Comments

( 411 comments — Leave a comment )
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bookshop
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
NOT A GLITCH

Hi, Mark!

Since word is going around that Amazon is calling this "a glitch," I wonder if you might update your post to include a link to this writer's post, because it emphatically makes it clear that this did NOT just start happening; it has in fact been happening since at least February.

I think that it's very important that as many people know that as possible, so that they know that this has actually been a prolonged and ongoing decision made by Amazon, even after they first got word *months* ago that there were potential problems.
markprobst
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:37 am (UTC)
Re: NOT A GLITCH
Thanks, Bookshop. I will do that right away.
Re: NOT A GLITCH - bookshop - Apr. 13th, 2009 02:40 am (UTC) - Expand
savior_falling
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
What is happening here is absolutely disgusting. It is verging on total censorship, and I will not stand for it.

I'm spreading the word as best I can. This is definitely coming up at my GSA meeting.
twistedhilarity
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:51 am (UTC)
Letting you know you've got another link to here to spread the word.

out_0f_habit
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
I'm confused-- when I search for books like Giovanni's Room and Brokeback and Bastard out of Carolina they show up. Isn't that not supposed to be happening?
ealgylden
Apr. 13th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
If you do a targeted search under "Books" and search for Bastard out of Carolina (or Giovanni's Room, or the uncollected Brokeback Mountain), the book is the first result, which is as it should be. If you do a general search under "All Departments," you get other Dorothy Allison books, related authors, audiobooks, out-of-print editions, the movie... everything but the paperback that's first under a "Books" search. And part of the problem is that the default search box on the main page is "All Departments," so a lot of people just do their searches through that, and, well, you can see what happens. No results. Not to mention all of the other ways rankings can be and are used...
earthbound01
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC)
I'm not doing business with Amazon until they make it clear that this policy is reversed.
jersey_blogger
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:16 am (UTC)
this is what you get for it being legal to marry in Iowa and VT. Ur getin' too uppity! know your place gay homo!

//sacrasm

seriosuly, this is truly fucked up. If there is no such policy, why did the fucktard who responed to your queery say there was? why did someone else get told there is a policy two months ago. yeah, somebodies got some s'plain to do all right.
heterodoxus
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:16 am (UTC)
?
hey so, howcome you never show what you actually asked to get such a response that doesn't say anything about sexual orientation?

i'm not concluding anything. i just want the whole story.
markprobst
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
Re: ?
I apologize, heterodoxus. I didn't intentionally exclude that information. Here is the question I submitted to Amazon Advantage (the typos are intact!)

The sales ranking has disappeared from my book's description. My title is not the only only one affected. Many other publishers who are friends of mine have also reported this occurance. If this was done intentionally be Amazon. May I know the reason why?

Thank you,
Mark R. Probst
Re: ? - atara - Apr. 13th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: ? - heterodoxus - Apr. 13th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
cherylktardif
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
Amazon is having a LOT of problems lately
The problem you are experiencing comes on the tail of another pile of Amazon issues--reviews disappearing without warning.

85 reviews of books I'd read were deleted by Amazon. When I inquired why, I was first told they were all "inappropriate". This led to a 5-day battle with Amazon to find out why exactly they were removed.

This created a huge wave of frustration in the literary world when I was told it was because I'd done what most authors do and signed my reviews with my own book title-- ie. "Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song". I was told by a couple of Amazon reps that all authors who signed this way were going to have their reviews deleted.

After many emails, Amazon finally apologized and said my reviews were "accidentally" removed. They reinstated them in full, with my regular sig line.

I believe that since Amazon started overhauling their AmazonConnect system, things HAVE gotten glitchy.

A couple of months ago, some authors noticed that reviews on their own books were missing. They reappeared a couple of days later. Then many authors' blogs went down, but Amazon put them back up within a week, I believe. Then there was my issue--I think a few reps misunderstood the rules. And now your issue, and I know you're not the only author with this new problem.

My best advice: stay cool, keep emailing Amazon, keep asking for an explanation, try to contact someone higher up in Amazon (it's hard though), and present your case. I found Amazon to be frustrating at first to deal with, but eventually I found someone who could help. And they did.

I wish you the best.

You can read about my story and battle with Amazon at:
http://writetype.blogspot.com/2009/04/amazon-reinstates-authors-reviews-after.html

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song
http://www.cherylktardif.com
damsel_ophelia
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
Linked, and likewise linked on #amazon fail. For now, I am keeping my Amazon account to tag books, but will be a cold day in hell before I make any purchases from them.
a_phoenixdragon
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
This is utter, utter crap. Hope Amazon can handle losing all the money they've been making steadily in the face of this recession... Too bad for them if they don't survive over a case of Stupid.
mandy_croyance
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
This is ridiculous but I'm glad you posted about it. The entire internet (especially Twitter) seems to have taken on your cause and now that the news media is catching on there is no way Amazon will be able to get out of fixing the problem. I'm also hoping for an apology but with their (obviously false) claims of "glitch", that's likely doubtful.
camui_alexa
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
Maybe we should ALL complain and stop buying from them. Let's see how their business goes without we thousands of gay literature.
djrizzo
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:38 am (UTC)
Threatened to terminate my Amazon Prime account.
Here's what I just sent them:

I am dismayed to read that your methods for filtering "adult" content from book sales rankings is showing bias against books containing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgendered content. I'm sure you are receiving a great deal of feedback on this from your LGBT customers and their community. Being a "minority" I worry that those voices may not be heard as loud as they should be. So I think you should be aware that this is also of great concern to customers like myself: those who value fairness and free-speech and who pay an annual fee to you to be a "Prime" customer.

I do not protest the filtering of adult content (though I do believe those with paid accounts should be allowed to remove such filters if we so choose). I protest the unfairness that is patently obvious when you rank a book of Playboy centerfolds but delist books of non-fiction studies on homophobia.

I look forward to your public response on this issue. If it is conciliatory and provides a FAIR solution to the issue of "adult" content, then I will look forward to continuing as a happy Amazon Prime customer. However, if this issue is not addressed or such bias continues I will be discontinuing my Amazon Prime account.

ambeaux
Apr. 13th, 2009 06:30 am (UTC)
It's *possible* that amazon was a victim of an organized attack
One thing that's seemed weird about all this is that the books that get 'de-ranked' are so inconsistent. Almost like someone got them off of a 'classic offensive LGBT' booklist.

I noticed that amazon allows users who are logged in to check "tags customers associated with this book" and then provides you with about 27 premade tags and allows you the option of making your own. So in theory, amazon may have a policy to automatically de-rank a book that gets too many adult flags (without already being specified as adult content) or a certain number of flags in a specific period of time) until a person can review it (as may have happened with your book and the author who has been dealing with his book being de-ranked since February). Seems to me that if you gave a list of specific books to...500 people or 800 people or w/e you could probably get those books de-ranked automatically en mass.

It's a testable theory and if you pick a book at random ( say http://www.amazon.com/Nicomachean-Ethics-Aristotle/dp/0872204642/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239591514&sr=8-2 ) and encouraged everyone you knew with an amazon account to go check the tag 'adult' then you'd see at what point they gank the book to give it a trial.

It's not too difficult to imagine a few super churches worth of people being willing to spend their easter weekend doing just that. Maybe?
steepholm
Apr. 13th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
Re: It's *possible* that amazon was a victim of an organized attack
That's a nice idea, but - for example, I just checked on Heather Has Two Mommies, and no one has tagged it as "adult", but it's still been deranked. Here are the tags that are there (I've a feeling the first one may be new!):

amazonfail (241)
childrens books (7)
families (6)
gay inclusive (6)
lesbian parenting (5)
parenting (5)
children (4)
lesbian (4)
moms (4)
amazoncensored (1)
book (1)
controversial (1)
lesbian moms (1)
lesbian parents (1)
mommies (1)

If this is the work of an outside party, they're using a different modus operandi.
aussiescribbler
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
Doesn't seem to have been extended to DVDs
There really is a bit of an inconsistency when you consider that a hardcore rape porn DVD still has a ranking :

http://tinyurl.com/cjycwp

I'm sure there isn't a deliberate attempt to discriminate against gay literature in general but the policy doesn't seem to have been well thought out or applied consistently.
kiimp
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
Came here via Jezebel, I don't know how much good it'll do but I'm going to send in a complaint to Amazon.
sloopy312
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:35 am (UTC)
Our Youth Lose Again
I work with suicidal and depressed gay youth. Often they "experiment" to try to understand their sexual orientation. Many are Christians and so they don't feel safe talking to their family, church or pastor who is more likely to condemn their desires as Satan given. These youth already don't have a chance to develop social adapting in their confusing years called adolescence. But there are well written books that gives these kids good information at no risk to themselves. They begin to understand their dignity and worth.
Now Amazon makes this process more difficult and adds a sense of shame to these seeking kids.
Nelson blaine
_jenjen_
Apr. 13th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. I'm boycotting Amazon, and am writing a whole heap of emails to friends and family telling them the story, as well as writing a big note on Facebook and emailing Amazon directly. Hopefully the story will keep spreading.

I've linked back to your post in doing this, as a great source for highlighting the response from Amazon. A 'glitch' indeed.
john_plum
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
real issue is not gay censorship
"Now in fairness I should point out that Amazon has also stopped ranking many books in the "erotica" categories as well which includes straight erotica. But that's a whole other battle that I'll leave to the erotica writers to take on."

One more gay campaign then, never mind the real issues, no a principle of fairness then?
Its clear that what they mean by 'adult' is erotic stuff that children are thought best off not bothered with, or exposed to, just like we don't perform sex in front of them.

steviesun
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Apparently many books listed as being stripped are now showing up in the search. Has this been fixed?
lexin
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:43 am (UTC)
My random experiment shows Erastes and Beecroft showing up on a search of amazon.co.uk but without sales rankings.

(no subject) - erastes - Apr. 13th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lexin - Apr. 13th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steviesun - Apr. 13th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
catmint_1984
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:47 am (UTC)
Reckon we should organise some kind of boycott of Amazon - so set a date/set dates (not sure if a day will be long enough; maybe a week?), spread the word and get as many people as possible to not even go on the site and to not buy anything from them, whether it's direct from their stocks or through the proxy stuff?
curse_of_avalon
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
I was informed by a friend today of what has been going on and was linked to your journal.

I guess you've heard a 1000 times by now how much this sucks.

As I was just about to write an e-mail to Amazon my news ticker sent me word about this from the Associated press and the interview with the glitch thing. Highly suspicious.

I wish you'd just send the reply you got from amazon to those news stations.


akuma_river
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
FYI.

I find it odd that the novel side of gay and lesbian books are the only ones being effected because they haven't touched any of the graphic novels. Not the hard core violence ones, not the horror ones, hell not even the porny ones including gay and lesbian couples.

Only the books listed in the gay and lesbian category is being effected.
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( 411 comments — Leave a comment )