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Amazon Follies Part 2 - Glitch or a lie?

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I’ve been contemplating how to respond to the statement from the Amazon representative as reported by Publisher’s Weekly. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction was – They're lying. After some careful thought, I realized, no I don’t think they were. Amazon is undoubtedly embarrassed, and they are trying to set things right.

I quote Publisher’s Weekly, “There is no new adult policy.” A lie? The key word there is “new.” Not providing a sales ranking for adult material, a policy explained to me by the customer service rep, is actually an old policy. Evidence: Here’s a report from April 2008 that hints at the policy www.businessinsider.com

“A glitch had occurred in its sales ranking system” Is that the truth? Oh, you betcha. Though the glitch was most likely human error in that while attempting to find a lazy way to conform to the “old” policy of not ranking adult material, a horrible miscalculation was made and many not-so-adult books fell into the trap.

So my guess is, yes Amazon has a policy in place not to display the sales rankings of adult material, but no, they never intended for gay and lesbian material, per se, to be classified as “adult.” It’s a major faux-pas which I’m sure they mean to correct.

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( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
lee_rowan
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
The problem is -- how can they expect anyone to believe that when so much het romance is pretty damned 'adult?' How do they define it?

Going on the comments in the glbt threads over the last few weeks, I think this was a concerted effort by christianist pressure groups. They are mounting an offensive to the recent gains in marriage equality, and since they consider glbt folk to be incapable of genuine relationships, gay romance seems the obvious target.

I think Amazon is trying to have it both ways... I don't think they realized how many glbt people buy online for reasons of privacy and personal safety.
markprobst
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:12 am (UTC)
Lee, you could be right. And if you are Amazon will never admit they did this intentionally.
lexin
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm with you.

How are they going to determine what's 'adult' or not without a staff of people reading the books - and I bet they couldn't afford that.

I'm very wary of their policy, whether it's new, old, or somewhere in between.

earlybirdbooks
Apr. 13th, 2009 09:44 am (UTC)
Amazon Board of Directors:
Thomas O. Ryder (914) 244-5782... Read more
William Gordon (650) 233-2750
Myrtle Potter (650) 225-1000
Alain Monie (206) 266-1000
L. John Doerr (650) 233-2750
Tom Alberg (206) 674-3000
Patricia Stonesifer (206) 709-3140
brotherflounder
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)
Even if this was somehow a truly bizzare accident, Amazon could at least put out a press release of some sort or even comment on their blog saying it was "very unfortunate" and promising to fix it instead of commenting to one single source that it was a "glitch".
winstonthriller
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:57 am (UTC)
Valleywag has some more on when this may have started and why this may not be a glitch.
mroctober
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
The real problem is this: for many people in the nation, Amazon is perceived as the only means for buying queer books. There are just too few gay booksellers around. And many people are closeted or too uncomofortable to venture into a gay bookstore. Or believe themselves too busy.

And while there are many online booksellers that can offer as wide a selection of gay books as Amazon (Queerbooks.com, TLABooks.com), they lack all of the many bells and whistles that Amazon has - reviews, tags, blurbs, ranking, Look Inside, etc. And, too often, a person is not just buying gay books.

larkin7
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC)
Amazon Follies
What's the most effective way to respond? I've signed a petition. But I'd like to send a letter to Amazon, not just privately boycott the company, but to let them know I've stopped buying. Until now, I've been reading on an Amazon Kindle, and Amazon is where most of my recent book-buying has taken place. I'm giving up spending on Amazon until they amend the situation. But how to advise them of this protest? I can't find any way for a customer to communicate.
lee_rowan
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Amazon Follies
Read earlybirdbooks' post. It's, um, earlier in this thread. Board of Directors' phone #s.
Re: Amazon Follies - larkin7 - Apr. 14th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Amazon Follies - lee_rowan - Apr. 14th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
ginmar
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
You're far less cynical than I would be. How come GLBT stuff is defined as 'adult' yet, say, Playboy crap is not? How come stuff about homosexuality that is educational is 'adult' but homophobic Xtian screeds are not?
badjahsensei
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
So my guess is, yes Amazon has a policy in place not to display the sales rankings of adult material, but no, they never intended for gay and lesbian material, per se, to be classified as “adult.” It’s a major faux-pas which I’m sure they mean to correct.

Yes, but when has that ever stopped an Internet-butthurt mob from raging a tantrum anyhow? It's the classic Internet-David-Goliath wish fulfillment fantasy: large corporation makes honest mistake, anti-corporate "little guys" rail against it from their living rooms and parents' basements using social networking, large corporation concedes error, and little guys engage in ample backpatting, thinking they've stuck it to the man.

If anything, it makes for great human drama and all purpose lulz. It's almost time to pull out the animated gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn, from the "Thriller" video. ;)
tammy212
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
large corporation makes honest mistake,

Honest mistake? A real glitch, being about as specific as a heat-seeking missle, would have wiped out the rankings of all books in the group with target words "GLBT/homosexual/sex", say, at its most general, or simply "homosexual/lesbian/bisexual/transgender adult". It wouldn't take the sales rankings of two books and miss the next two beside them. An honest mistake would have taken every adult book and left the teen books alone, since teen books have no explicit sex. Instead this honest mistake computer glitch took Alex Sanchez's teen Rainbow trilogy, and the AM I BLUE? short story anthology edited by Marion Dane Bauer, but skipped the teen classics ANNIE ON MY MIND, KEEPING YOU A SECRET, LUNA, and THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. The glitch took Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market's" sales rating as well as those of GLBT college guides and a book explaining gay kids' rights under the law, while letting the rank of Sheridan le Fanu's CARMILLA stand.

I've got a bi niece who's afraid to come out to her dad. She's the one who brought this to my attention yesterday. She wasn't laughing or breaking out the popcorn, and she sure doesn't think it's a glitch. Nor do I.
(no subject) - badjahsensei - Apr. 13th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jadedissola
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
I'm too cynical and do not buy the glitch argument at all.

I would love to see this guy's questions answered as well: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/bookselling/amazonfail_a_personal_perspective_113835.asp?c=rss
xmurphyjacobsx
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
I'm still wondering about the tehdaily theory that Amazon was trolled/their automation software was exploited by a hate group. IF that were the case (big if) and they have no human oversight (perhaps because of the holiday) then it changes the complexion of things. The early incidents might have been tests to see if it worked.

Hey, hate groups are known to be short sighted and to not consider unintentional consequences. Someone with an anti-queer agenda may well have targeted like this (especially the YA and biography books).

Wow, a whole new branch of conspiracy theories with Amazon as a co-victim...this continues to fascinate me.

lee_rowan
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
When something this massive happens--to quote Amazon's letter, 57K+ titles in glbt, mind-body, sexual & reproductive health, and erotica--it is not difficult to perceive that these are all areas that christianist extremists would like to see subsumed into the category of "the devil's handwork."

Whatever happened -- and how, and why it happened--is something Amazon may not choose to share with the world. But "conspiracy" is simply a group of people working together to do something, and it's very obvious that THIS DID HAPPEN.

And we stopped it.

Why are people complaining about this?
xmurphyjacobsx
Apr. 14th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
wait, what? Who complained?
(no subject) - lee_rowan - Apr. 14th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - xmurphyjacobsx - Apr. 14th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
charliecochrane
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
Glitch, concerted campaign, someone taking the law into their own hands (I have a hunch, based on no evidence at all that this was a bunch of folk acting off their own bats) - whatever caused this, you my dearest Mark have been a star, throughout the response. Great dignity, courage and good sense.

*mwah*

Charlie (who despairs of her fellow Christians at times. Often. Nearly always...)
tamara_allen
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
If this was deliberate (and it appears it was), I am not convinced that the people involved are quite worthy of the label "Christian"--as convinced as they themselves may be that they are. It strikes me that this is not really WJWD.
I do, however, agree with you a hundred percent that Mark has been a figure to admire and cheer throughout the whole bru-ha. You've been wonderful, Mark. Thank you.
(no subject) - charliecochrane - Apr. 14th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
lee_rowan
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
Hon, those rabid were-rats are not recognizably Christian.
ocotillo_dawn
Apr. 13th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
Mark, agreed that am glad for your part in this. Been watching closely, if not commenting.
stewardess
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Whether or not a "glitch" happened, Amazon definitely put in place a mechanism to reduce visibility of certain books by removing the sales rank. I haven't seen any indication that Amazon intends to cease that practice. If there was an error, it happened only because they built a censoring tool in the first place.

I demand an end to de-ranking books, period. If you can't trust search results at Amazon to be accurate, then what CAN you trust about them?

I'm extremely appreciative of your role in bringing this to light.
timeliebe
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
I am 100% with you on this, stewardess! There wouldn't be anything to exploit or "glitch" if Amazon hadn't built in a "sales rank filter" that couldn't be opted out of (or in to) in the first place.

I can understand why Middle America might not want their kids exposed to Teh Gay - I don't agree with it or condone it, but I understand it since it sums up most of my relatives. I even understand that most of these people are Tech Illiterates, so offering them an "opt-in" filter might be as beyond their abilities as voluntary parental controls - since I am some of those same relatives' "Free IT Guy". But would building an "opt-out" filter for those of us who don't give a rap about "adult content" could get unfiltered sales rankings be all that hard, really? It's hardly a perfect solution - but it's a lot more equitable one than what Amazon has now.

Oh, yes - and second Charlie Cochrane's comments to Mark. Nicely done all around, Mark - and thank you.... :)
(no subject) - lee_rowan - Apr. 14th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
lee_rowan
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
I think Amazon should rank everything it sells and let customers opt out. Some folks don't want to see glbt, okay by me. I don't want to see Flush Dimbulb.

It's folks deciding that I shouldn't see what they don't want me to see that goes over the line.
garan_du
Apr. 14th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
WireServiceUnintentional, April 13, 2009 - Francophiles around the globe were in an uproar this past Easter weekend over the actions of the internet media vendor Amazon.com, which removed the entire country of France from its product search and rankings on its website. According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his office first heard of the problem when he began receiving emails from constituents complaining of the move early Sunday morning. "Eet ees an outRAGE," Monsieur Sarkozy fulminated when questioned by the press to comment on the matter, promising to bring the matter up the next time he met to belittle the US President.

Internet bloggers and other people with too much time on their hands began noticing on Saturday afternoon that references to French geography, history, culture, and food were disappearing from the website. Gay activists had already noted that specific authors had vanished, such as French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. However, it was unclear if this was due to the anti-French action or a simultaneous one targeting homosexuals over the weekend. "The Rimbaud/Verlaine phenom could just be a lucky two-fer from Amazon's perspective," noted a representative of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

It is unclear what the long-term effects of Amazon's actions will be, although unintended consequences from this policy shift were already propagating throughout the website's database. By Monday morning, searches for french fryers, french kissing, and Monty Python's Holy Grail (containing several French knights) were drawing a blank. Oddly enough, one could still readily locate and purchase french ticklers on the site.

When a French author demanded an explanation from Amazon, a member services representative responded: In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists, such as that associated with unwashed, ill-tempered peoples whose women-folk don't shave their pits.

Amazon informed stockholders on Monday that this was the first part of a planned business alliance with internet search giant Google.com. "Our joint venture, Ministry of Information, will be the one-stop shop for those looking to clarify history," said a statement released to the press.
lee_rowan
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Speaking of people with too much time on their hands...
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