A few weeks ago, I bought a new Kensington Expert Mouse to use at home. A friend helped me out, by having it shipped to her address in Washington to take advantage of a really good deal Amazon.com was offering to US-based customers. I ended up saving something like $60. Sweet. Deal.
So, my first Amazon sale completed, I was feeling pretty positive about them. Until yesterday.
Sunday morning, I was alerted to news of a somewhat poorly-planned decision at Amazon: to better cater to America’s “moral majority”, Amazon decided to excise the popularity rankings of LGBT books, delisting them from search results. Some authors’ books can only be found by searching for an unrelated title and clicking on the author’s name. Other authors’ entire selections have been delisted.
According to a thread on Livejournal’s Meta Writer community, Amazon has de-ranked such titles as Brokeback Mountain, Tipping the Velvet and Stone Butch Blues. This begs the question: what on earth are these sheltered, bigoted Amazon customers searching for that is going to make them get all red-faced and choke down vomit upon discovering those books in their search results?
“Well, I never!” they’ll exclaim, spittle flying forth, “I wanted to read about the non-gay history of Brokeback Mountain! How was I to know it was fictional?”
In his blog post on the subject, Raul (Hummingbird604) compares the move by Amazon to last year’s “Motrin Moms” debacle. He also raises the question, is Easter Sunday a good time to be organizing a protest? Absolutely. Is Easter Sunday an okay time for Amazon PR to take the day off? Obviously not.
Worse, Amazon’s responses have ranged from “yes, we de-rank adult content” to “uh, it’s a glitch?” They haven’t demonstrated any cohesive strategy to managing their response, and continue to look worse and worse, the longer this goes on.
Amidst a flurry of suggestions that they hold a sale on LGBT books, Powells Books’ Twittter account notes that they will definitely not censor the presence of LGBT material on their site.
@zentinal A GLBT sale sounds like a great idea to me. I will check to see if this is something we can get going #amazonfail
By Monday morning, the mainstream media was already reporting on the issue:
- Amazon blames ‘glitch’ for removal of gay titles from sales rankings, CBC
- ‘Gay writing’ falls foul of Amazon sales ranking system, Guardian.co.uk
- Amazon website censorship row, Channel 4
Update, April 13, 2:50pm:
An email from an Amazon.com spokesman, reproduced by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, describes #Amazonfail as “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.”
The email goes on to say that a total of 57,310 books outside of the Gay & Lesbian categories were deranked and that they’re in the process of reinstating them.
So what happened? Did some mid-level manager enact some crazy new policy? Can Amazon’s ranking and reporting mechanisms be gamed?