#AmazonFail : Why Did Amazon.com Delist Gay, Lesbian Books?

I can tell I’ve been out of PR for a while. My spidy sense did not kick in when I made my first #amazonfail tweet about 4 pm Pacific. About an hour later, I realized that #amazonfail had passed a tipping point. A Twitter search on #amazonfail revealed that the 100th page of the search only went back in time for one hour!

This meme is far more viral than Motrin or Skittles for two (probable) reasons: there are more people in the Twitterverse and the topic is far more substantive: mucking around with sales rank lists is not acceptable, given that this data point plays into Amazon’s recommendation engine.

Clearly, whomever authorized this policy clearly did not think it through. Amazon is not a parent or an editor making judgments. This is far worse than complying with German law about Hitler, for example. [Note: I own stock.]

What’s The Story?

The LATimes blog Jacket Copy broke the story for me.

“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.

[...]

Certianly [sic] many of the books that are no longer ranked are no more “adult” than many of those that are — as the list above shows, the same book, by different publishers, might meet either fate. And Kindle editions of some books remain ranked. “Unfriendly Fire,” for example, is #1 in Gay and Lesbian Nonfiction on the Kindle — even as the hardcover of the book, which was released on March 3, does not show up at all when searched for.

Amazon’s statement to Publisher Weekly (which has been slash-dotted):

Amazon Says Glitch to Blame for “New” Adult Policy
By Rachel Deahl & Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 4/12/2009 5:49:00 PM

A groundswell of outrage, concern and confusion sprang up over the weekend, largely via Twitter, in response to what authors and others believed was a decision by Amazon to remove adult titles from its sales ranking. On Sunday evening, however, an Amazon spokesperson said that a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy.

For most of the weekend on Twitter, in conversations with the hash tag “#amazonfail,” users were discussing the fact that the e-tailer was removing the sales rankings for books that it deemed featured “adult content.” Many readers, and writers, decried the fact that Amazon appears to be removing the sales ranking for titles that feature gay and lesbian characters and/or themes.

The director of the Erotic Authors Association, who goes by the pen name Erastes, told PW that many of her members “noticed their titles had been stripped of their sales rankings” on Amazon. One, Mark Probst, contacted a customer service representative at Amazon and wrote about the exchange on his blog. Probst wrote that the Amazon rep responded to his inquiry by saying that “‘adult’ material” is being excluded from appearing in “some searches and best seller lists” as a “consideration of our entire customer base.”

Whether a glitch or new policy, titles like James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain are among the titles who have lost their ranking. (Publishers Weekly, taken in entirety because their site is seriously swamped right now)

This statement does not jibe with the story from Mark Probst, who was delisted in April (see his blog post for the official Amazon response at that time), or from Craig Seymour, who was delisted in February.

What You Can Do

Commentary

Updated several times to fix formatting issues and to add links. Screenshots moved to foot of post.

Screenshots

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By 6.45 pm, Amazon had the top two spots on Yahoo! Sideline:

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