(See updates at the end of the post, including link to official response from Amazon.)
Happy Easter (or if it’s Monday morning, happy belated Easter!). It seems the Easter Bunny, while hopping down the bunny trail, left some rotten eggs all over the Amazon site while we were sleeping. Suddenly, many books lost their sales ranking and levels of searchability on the Amazon site.
Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon customer base by restricting access to content that someone (who?) decided was offensive. In your zeal to protect me from myself, of course, you managed to leave content that I find singularly repulsive online (really, exploring the human condition is bad, but Mein Kampf is just fine?).
This loss of ranking, listing, search functionality seems to be largely, but not wholly!, limited to fiction and non-fiction with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. Authors affected range from E.M. Forster to James Baldwin to John Barrowman, our beloved Captain Jack on Dr. Who and Torchwood and others, including a host of female authors who write erotic fiction.
Gee, I can buy a book on training fighting dogs (something so offensive my stomach hurts just looking at the cover image), but specific types of human relationships are suddenly taboo? Gee, that this happened on Easter is the kind of symbolism an editor would find too heavy-handed if an author wrote it (though some say this has been happening for a few days)!
As a heterosexual, happily married adult female, I am deeply offended by this decision. As a customer, I am angered enough to take my business elsewhere, and I’d like a refund on my Kindle since, despite reports that your database sweep was not complete, you have decided to limit my ability to purchase books — from literary classics like Lady Chatterley’s Lover to newesque titles like Tipping The Velvet and Running With Scissors. (Thank you Edward Champion, Sarah Weinman, and Carolyn Kellogg for noting some of these titles!)
And wow, great work on the search butchering. A straight-on search of Bastard Out Of Carolina returns…wait for it…links to five books before the Dorothy Allison version ranks. Pretty Baby, the Brooke Shields movie, ranks higher. Neat. I mean, I’ve never loved your search, but this is really bad. It is amusing to me that The Handmaid’s Tale pops up higher in this search than the actual book I’m seeking.
By the time you get to the corporate offices tomorrow, you will realize that the issue has been all over Twitter and that various news organizations have noted the issue. You’ll see blog posts and many comments. I hope you’ll take them seriously, and I hope you’ll do us — your customers — the courtesy of responding in the most public fashion possible!
Update 12:02 p.m. for contact information: 800-201-7575 (demand to speak to someone who will take complaint). Mail: Amazon, PO Box 81226, Seattle, WA 98108
Update 5:35 p.m.: Apparently this quiet policy change has, as Angela James notes in the comments, been happening for a week. It hit critical mass this morning. So what’s changed in the past few hours? Several thousand (20,000+) additional mentions of #amazonfail on Twitter (and growing). A Facebook group. Increased media scrutiny. And a lot of really angry customers.
The delisting seems to affect a wide swath of books with sexual content, particularly those books with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. These books are not removed from the Amazon database, but the action directly impacts sales ranking (something customers use), bestseller lists, and search (as you can see in the comments, different searches have different results, thanks quirky Amazon search engine).
Bottom line is that most customers don’t know (nor care to know) the nuances of Amazon search. As noted in this comment, authors are invisible to many readers. As I noted earlier, there are quirk in the Amazon database that have lead to uneven results: some books have lost their ranks for print editions, but not Kindle.
Throughout the day, people have been seeking books that have been delisted and the the collection is wide and varied…and there is a common theme. Amazon’s response has been abysmal. Public relations people have been largely silent, leaving the heavy lifting to the customer service people. As Kat Meyer comments below, and I’ll paraphrase, corporate communications fail, since responses from unprepared reps include:
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.
Hours later, several reporters have heard back from Amazon and the company is now stating this is just a “glitch”; granted it’s a glitch that impacts the sales of individuals and companies, but, hey, no harm right (that was sarcasm)? Ron Charles from the Washington Post posted this comment via Twitter:
AMZ spokesman Drew Herdener tells me “We recently discovered glitch to sales rank feature. Working 2 correct problem as quickly as possible”
Update 4/13/2009, 3:10 p.m.: Amazon has issued a response: “This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.” (full release at Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
- Amazon Rank – Dear Author
- Amazon Delisting Books – The Rumpus
- Amazon under fire for perceived anti-gay policy – Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Amazon de-ranks so-called adult books, including National Book Award winner – Los Angeles Times
- An open letter to Jeff Bezos – Publishing Talk
- Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon – Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits
- Amazon Says Glitch to Blame for “New” Adult Policy – Publishers Weekly
- Amazon criticized for de-ranking ‘adult’ books – CNET
- Amazon Rank – Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
- buyingz frum amazinfailzes …be makin kitty MAD! — LOLCats get final word!