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April 12, 2009

Amazon Rank/AmazonFail - Censorship Of Erotica/GLBT Books At Amazon



Update 12: It was neither a glitch nor a troll. Amazon calls the mistake "embarrassing and ham-fisted".

Update 11: ROFLMAO!! This made me laugh and snort iced tea up my nose. The domain Amazonfail.com is for sale on eBay. I wonder how long before Golden Palace buys it?

Update 10 IMPORTANT: It's likely not a glitch or a hacker, according to Jessica at Feministing (in the words of her editor):
Basically he said that amazon has been experimenting with the way they dole out content specifically so that people who are searching Harry Potter or whatever won't run into links to products that might be offensive.

...It's super fucked up, but apparently he's saying that Amazon is a bully when it comes to stuff like this and it's all about sales for them and it's not about censorship. [He said t]hat they love you, love Seal, but that this is mandated from their bosses, who essentially want to be Walmart.

...He also said no human is responsible for the decisions per se, and that it's all about tagging and feeds which are constantly being tweaked. He does think that amazon will retweak the tags based on the uproar that happened over the weekend.
Update 9 IMPORTANT: This seems to be the ultimate explanation - it was a meta-trolling or bantown. Basically, some yahoo or yahoos decided to have some jolly fun this weekend by pseudo-hacking into Amazon's database and fucking with the rankings. The timing was perfect. It's the Easter weekend, so most employees except for a very few who would not be equipped to handle the crisis would be on duty. GLBT books and some other books (mostly erotic romance, feminist, women's health, and other books) were targeted. Wait for the outcry from the GLBT community. In this case, Twitter went wild. We will have to wait and see how Amazon handles this mess once its offices open this week. I should have gone with my initial reaction when I heard the news, which was that I hadn't heard anything anywhere about Amazon targeting books. There was nothing on any evangelical or conservative web sites or blogs taking credit for the mess. Amazon had not posted a press release about a new policy. It just came up out of nowhere. So, for the time being, things are up in the air. I still have questions, such as how do you explain the initial e-mail one writer received explaining that Amazon sought fit to protect its entire customer base from "adult" material, and Craig Seymour's story which dates back to February, 2009. At this point, I'll wait until I get a direct update from Amazon.

Update 8: Amazon says it was a glitch. Awaiting updates.

Update 7: Craig Seymour has been warning about Amazon and delisted sales ranking since February, 2009. He's a gay writer, former journalist, and college professor. His book " All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C." was delisted from both sales ranking and search for three weeks with little if any explanation, other than being told it was "adult". He searched for other similar books, and noticed for example that bios of gay porn stars were censored, but bios of straight porn stars were listed. Read the blog post for more detail. So Amazon has a problem with GLBT books anyway.

Update 6: #amazonfail and #amazonfail as a top trend on Twitter.

Update 5: From a group:

The way the rankings effect the search engines in paramount in this issue. Search for "homosexuality" on Amazon and you now get:

A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality
You Don't Have to Be Gay
For The Bible Tells Me So
Can Homosexuality Be Healed?
Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality

as the top ranked titles.

Update 4: From Daily Kos: Hit investors where it hurts.
Amazon Investor Relationships Contact
If you own or if your 401K has amazon stocks there, please please consider contacting Investor Relations:

Investor Relations
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226
Phone: (206) 266-2171
Fax: (206) 266-1355
E-mail: ir@amazon.com

They may pay more attention if a good number of investors start paying attention instead of just pesky bloggers. Hit them where it hurts.

Update 3: Daily Kos is covering the Amazon censorship story.

Update 2: Facebook - Boycott Amazon

Update: I am affected. "Ultimate Burlesque" had its sales deranked, and it's a charity book whose sales go towards breast cancer research. How backwards is that?

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It's a good thing I'm not particularly religious, otherwise I would have been honoring Zombie Jesus today rather than noticing that Amazon tried to sneak its censorship of GLBT and erotica titles over Easter weekend. What, did Amazon think most writers wouldn't notice because they'd have slept in after Midnight mass and spent all day at Mom's and Pop's eating Easter dinner? We do spend time with our families, but we keep track of things, too. Sorry, Amazon, but you didn't get away with this.

I first read about the censorship on Twitter, and then read more on Booksquare and Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books.

In short, Amazon decided to protect the "entire" Amazon customer base (exactly who complained resulting in this act I do not know) by delisting the sales rankings of GLBT books and erotic titles. Amazon has also made it much more difficult to locate these books on a search. Not all books affected are erotic in nature. Some are books about sexuality and the human body. Others are political in nature. All of these titles are not created equal, eitehr. So, while you have to look hard for Dorothy Allison's "Bastard Out Of Carolina", "Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds" still has its sales rankings.

I would love to know what brought this on.

I'm personally affected by this because the two anthologies I appear in are for sale on Amazon, but they are hard to find with a basic search. You have to look under "books" for the two books ("Like A Myth" and "Monster Mash"), and even then it's hard to find them. My first novel comes out in June and it's a paranormal erotic romance. If Amazon's new censorship policy remains in place, it will affect my sales. So Amazon is happy to make money from me, but it will make it difficult for me to sell my book with this outrageous policy.

SmartBitches has proposed a Google Bomb of the term Amazon Rank. I say go for it. There is also a petition to sign. I have already signed it. As of this writing, the petition has 1,602 signatures. Here's the link:

Petition Against Amazon Censorship

Here is a link to a partial list of books affected:

Livejournal Community List Of Amazon Censored Books

I would love to know who complained and why Amazon felt it necessary to bend to outside pressure to the point that books were sale deranked without telling the authors of the books or the Amazon community. Authors noticed when they checked their books and saw that their listed rankings had disappeared. What a sneaky thing to do.

Posted on April 12, 2009 at 05:58 PM | Permalink

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Comments

All right, everybody, it's time for a massive chill-out and calmdown, and I'm going to provide it with this commentary by a worker at Amazon:

I worked at Amazon for many years, and I can guarantee you, absolutely and unconditionally, that Amazon did not intend to de-list all GLBT material. The entire company is filled with liberals such as myself, and the checks-and-balances system would make it impossible for a "rogue" manager or executive to do this secretly (plus it would be a guaranteed career ender for that individual.)

I have personally worked on the problem of adult material showing up in inappropriate places (like when searching for "bambi" or "rabbit"), and the problem is more complex than anyone could possibly realize without having inside information about Amazon's systems. Amazon stocks tens of millions of books, and it would be impossible to manage all of those manually, so they write software to do it. But it's impossible to write software which flawlessly manages tens of millions of books with human-level comprehension and attention given to each one.

Every time Amazon makes a high-profile mistake, it seems like it launches a hundred conspiracy theories. All these conspiracy theories are wrong, because they all start with the assumption of a deliberate act. I personally have made an innocent mistake which adversely affected a certain class of books (I won't tell you which), and it sparked accusations of prejudice and censorship from that community. The accusations were of course wrong; it's just that the particular programming error I made happened to adversely affect their books far more than any others, and non-programmers have trouble understanding how this could be anything other than a deliberate act (especially when Amazon refuses to explain what really happened).

I really, really wish I could tell everyone why adult content has to be singled out and suppressed. It's not for the reason anyone would think; it's really more of a technical issue. But I signed an NDA. So it will have to suffice for me to say that, without manual suppression, the adult content would slowly but inexorably take over, sort of like a virus. Eventually it would reach the point where you could do a search for "violin", and the first ten pages of results would be adult content. Every adult book or video in the world with "violin" in its title or description would appear at the top of the results list (and not because they sell well).

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