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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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pierceheart
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Spread this one far and wide:

Oh, I think there's something even MORE insidious going on here: it looks like it's partly what everyone fears (censorship by a private company) AND Amazon trying to boost Kindle sales:

Why do i believe this:

Running with Scissors: a Memoir in paperback, NO SALES RANK.

Running with Scissors: a Memoir in Kindle, WITH SALES RANK.

hat tip to gina_stormgrant

see which books which don't have sales rankings in their hard copy, still do in their kindle versions.
aimznemesis
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Here via various links on my friends' list - I have linked back to this post. I can't believe Amazon would pull a stunt like this.
thepheenixeyri
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
Holy crap this is insane.

I now wishi I didn't have a giftcard for them that I need to use, and it's too bad that a lot of the books I want are sort of... yeah... it's kinda the only place I can get them.

It looks like I'll have to do some poking around to see if B&N has the same stuff. Amazon=fail.

BTW hi. :)

And good luck.
leewindauthor
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
Looks like Amazon is fixing this...
Mark, I just checked a few books, including yours, and I see the sales rankings now. Has it all gone back to "normal?" or is it just the few that made the most noise?
Thanks for spreading the word!
Namaste,
Lee
markprobst
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Looks like Amazon is fixing this...
Hey Lee, good to see you here. I've had a hell of a time keeping up with the comments (reading them that is, I couldn't possibly respond to each one!)

It appears just the titles mentioned in the petition have been re-instated. Most are still de-ranked. So the "so-called" glitch is not yet fixed.
myths_by_kynx
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
Linking to this post from journal, hope you don't mind.
pierceheart
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
intentionally run script, so some troll claims
fragment3
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Shame on Amazon, thanks for your calm assessment of what is up
Hello, I am also an author, though not of work which anyone can typify as falling into any specific "sexuality" or "sexual content" category (poetry--I think we fail to end up ranked at all, since so few poetry books sell much!), but I was pleased to read your posting regarding this amazon issue, and also your addition about having your ranking reinstated. This practice is quite unnerving by amazon, and I appreciate your calm, fair assessment of their unacceptable behavior. It helps us readers and writers keep our eye on Amazon, and on practices which might go unnoticed but should NOT. I was enraged to hear what they were up to, and hope that everyone will flood them with emails and letters and take a stand to ensure that such a powerful global monopoly does NOT try to silence an enormous number of wonderful authors and books merely on the basis of the “sexual orientation” of their characters in fiction, or their own lives in nonfiction, not to mention the books to help children understand single-gendered parents, etc.

Such a backward practice in this day and age is saddening, and those responsible for it at Amazon should be ashamed.
ixchelmala
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
FYI...
You were linked by The Guardian
elerman
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Amazon
Dear Mark: Over thirty years ago, when The New York Times Book Review suggested my first book of poetry should be rated "Double X," presumably because young girls (I was about 21 at the time) weren't supposed to be writing about being gay, I was astonished that people who supposedly cared about literature would even bring this up as an issue. Today, I am amazed to be revisiting this same type of homophobia via Amazon. Good grief!
Eleanor Lerman
www.eleanorlerman.com
sparkane
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
it's likely a technical problem.
Hi Mark. I don't know how much you work with computers/web applications, or whether someone has already said this in your comments. A friend pointed me to your post, but I can't now read all the comments to see if I'm duplicating. However, if it's a repetition, maybe that's good.

I do web application programming. Consider the following:

a) Amazon's book categorizations likely number in the thousands and are, from a logical/application point of view, completely abritrary. There are millions of books, which means there are tens of thousands of *wrong* categorizations. There are categories we users never see. The management of all this is extremely complex; this is certain.

b) The response you received is from someone who has no knowledge of what is going on technically, with regard to book categorizations; this too is certain.

Occam's Razor suggests that what is really going on here is: the woman who responded to you simply sent you the easiest response based on how you worded your questions and her understanding of what it all meant. That it's *obviously* an inadequate response means either you weren't sufficiently clear, or she's lazy or stupid (can't tell, as you haven't quoted your own email).

The quoted policy, on the surface, makes complete sense - no one mixes adult stuff in their bestseller lists - and for this reason, it simply can't be new; nor does the response state it as such, explicitly. You state it to be new, but really, that can't be right. This as well makes me think there was a misunderstanding.

None of this is to say you shouldn't be pissed off about this fuck-up. I just wanted to give you something like an insider's point of view, in hopes it will reassure you there isn't some kind of discrimination going on.

As you yourself mention, this error has also affected some erotica. This is most likely a mis-categorization mistake. If I'm right, this is going to be a real pain for Amazon to fix, because it will mean re-categorizing each affected book, item by item (probably by removing the erroneous category from the book entry).
gryphonwing
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: it's likely a technical problem.
That would make sense if this was about categorization. It's not; it's about removing the sales rank numbers from some books. No one has brought up the miscategorization of books, have they? The kicker is that they've been stripping sales rankings from GLBT books regardless of their categorization.

"Heather has Two Mommies" is really really really far from erotica.

I think the CS person who sent that message might well have been overworked, badly trained, and grasping at straws. I think it's more likely she answered as best as she could with something rather close to the truth, which Amazon would now like to pretend is not true. I'd hate to be Ashlyn D right now.
Re: it's likely a technical problem. - sparkane - Apr. 13th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: it's likely a technical problem. - sparkane - Apr. 14th, 2009 03:11 am (UTC) - Expand
northerndyke
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
i saw your post on johnathon ross's twitter.
there is a petition in place regarding this matter... Join me in protesting Amazon's censorship of lesbian and all queer writing by signing this petition. Tell Amazon that saying "lesbian" or "gay" is not graphic sex talk: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/in-protest-at-amazons-new-adult-policy

I hope you can sign it and encourage others to do so x
vegand
Apr. 13th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Boycott Amazon
This type of conservative hypocrisy is no surprise, considering that Amazon made most of their political donations to Republicans:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2004/12/22/notes122204.DTL

BuyBlue.org is no longer in operation, but the SF Gate article gives a nice summary.
erastes
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
WE won, people, we won. The Filly's ranking is restored.

Number one in several categories, and unsurprisngly.

*sob*
spiritruth
Apr. 13th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
Some programmer is apparently saying he did it, from the outside
Check out this guy's page:

http://community.livejournal.com/brutal_honesty/3168992.html

If he really did it, I hope they sue him for all he is worth (which probably isn't much) and that they change their programming to plug the huge hole that he apparently found.
flubber2kool
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
I have to say that I have never looked for gay sex stories from Amazon but it is still rank that they would do this.

It does seem that there is one rule for het and one rule for gay. It really is not fair and not good. If they really don't want to sell it it would be better that they just come straight out and say so rather than do it by the back door. At least that would mean people could find new way to sell their books.

Amazon have really gone down in my estimation.
earlybirdbooks
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
A (more decent) Excuse from Amazon ¿no troll?
Hello,

Thank you for contacting Amazon.com.

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles - in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Thanks for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.


Sincerely,

Customer Service Department
Amazon.com
erastes
Apr. 14th, 2009 08:07 am (UTC)
Re: A (more decent) Excuse from Amazon ¿no troll?
Everyone is getting this response. Amusing, though that there is no name on the response, and that there's no "did this answer your query?" button.

me thinks they got swamped.

Good.

Well done Mark, you rock!
sharon_masters
Apr. 14th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
I doubt if i will ever shop at Amazon.com again until they ADMIT to the deliberate decision by whomever did it, and that they have removed the person/person involved.
You don't "glitch' JUST the gay porn while leaving the straight porn.
That's blatant discrimination.
Someone just thought they could get away with it.
Which pisses me off--- more of the "oh, lets mot look back, let's move forward so that the people who did it don't get punished and the people who planned it can come up with something MORE insidious next time".

I dislike hypocrites. i hate it when it's cloaked in bullshit. THIS writer :

http://craigspoplife.blogspot.com/2009/04/is-amazon-homophobic.html

gives a very good account of MONTHS of lost sales and run around-- and the *same* story about categories of 'adult' materials being targeted.
First Comcast internet services do this last year (when Bondage.com, Alt.com, Collarme.com and a whole host of adult sites were banned from connection for Comcast users in California and Oregon-- yet when contacted at first, they claimed that it wasn't them!) and now this.

Nope-- Amazon is gonna have to personally have Jeffy Bezos come on TV and apologize in person for a BAD marketing decision to pander to the religious right that backfired, or i am gonna start shopping at all the OTHER on line site out there now.

shadow
"We do not win rights gently, we win them when we fight back".
sharon_masters
Apr. 14th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
I am appalled at some responses
i tried repeatedly to read all the wonderful comments here, but there is one that just keeps irritating the 'sensible' chip in my brain...

when people who read about this issue and write " it's not like they've removed it all, they've just taken it out of the focus of those who might take offence at it. " i just want to bitch slap them across the planet.

That right there IS censorship. It's putting someone at the back of the bus, it's not being fair and equal.
yes, private businesses can do whatever they want that isn't written as specifically illegal in the USA-- that doesn't mean it's right, fair, or *not* censorship.
But the inflammatory posters that cannot grasp the issue are the reason that this kind of thing keeps happening.
I have to stop reading- it's just become irritating.
slyfoot
Apr. 14th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
kashiichan
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:18 am (UTC)
Except that two days later, the books are still mysteriously absent.
sarahdotcom
Apr. 14th, 2009 08:03 am (UTC)
Apostrophe alert! WHOOP WHOOP! Sorry, on a literature blog I just couldn't let that one go...
markprobst
Apr. 14th, 2009 09:33 am (UTC)
Oh, bless you my dear for pointing that out. Thank goodness hardly anyone reads my blog! I would have been so embarrased if anyone had seen that horrible breach of punctuation!
(no subject) - erastes - Apr. 14th, 2009 09:35 am (UTC) - Expand
lexin
Apr. 14th, 2009 08:35 am (UTC)
You're very good to accept that 'explanation' as it doesn't seem to explain that customer service email you were sent. Still...

I'm keeping my custom with Waterstones.
Re: Waterstones, IS Amazon... - lexin - Apr. 14th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
mrbaze
Apr. 14th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Not Sure This Is Over
First, thanks for your reporting on this.

But I am not sure we have had anything close to an appropriate response or explanation from Amazon yet. A note on Amazon's multiple explanations and this near-total PR failure: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=68350297373&ref=mf
jshillingford
Apr. 14th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
I'm glad Amazon backed off on this, but they still have to answer some questions as raised on the blog you linked to. I don't think this was a glitch, but I do think it was a mistake. I'm not going to boycott, but I will be paying more strict attention. Thanks for bringing this up - and getting places like cnet and Entertainment Weekly to write about it. J
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( 411 comments — Leave a comment )