Amazon.com de-ranks LGBT books, blames "glitch"
Monday, April 13, 2009
Online bookseller Amazon.com blamed technical problems after lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) themed works disappeared from searches on the site over the weekend. Several authors, however, are skeptical of Amazon's explanation, and outrage over the de-ranking of the works has led to outcry within the online community.
Early this afternoon, Amazon began re-ranking some of the affected works and, shortly thereafter, offered an explanation for the disappearance of the books, telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Among the books that vanished on searches of Amazon's offerings were some editions of John Barrowman's and Stephen Fry's autobiographies, some editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, and Lesléa Newman's children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, as well as works of erotica such as Emmanuelle Arsan's Emmanuelle.
Mark Probst, author of gay-themed romance novel The Filly, said in his blog that problems began on April 10:
Probst then contacted Amazon.com, whose Member Services team replied that
|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.|
Sales rank is an important part of a book's visibility on the website, determining whether it appears in searches, on the website front page, and in recommendations to customers.
Amazon told Publishers Weekly that a "glitch" was to blame for the de-ranking on Sunday evening. The period of the de-ranking covers a holiday weekend in the United States and it is possible that technical staff at the company were unavailable. Amazon director of corporate communications Patty Smith told the Los Angeles Times, that the problem was being resolved, but when asked for further details replied "Unfortunately, I'm not able to comment further. We're working to resolve the issue, but I don't have any further information."
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal: "GLAAD has reached out to Amazon.com and they indicate this was an error, so we expect to start seeing evidence of its correction immediately, and any loss of visibility of gay-themed books as a result of this error will be made right by Amazon."
Author Jules Jones, meanwhile, told Wikinews that the suppression of sales rankings is not solely a gay issue. "[An]other point to make is that a lot of the people affected by this are straight", she says. "the two books that sparked this are published by a mainstream publisher, and intended to be marketed in the romance section in stores, to the same women who read any other romance books."
Authors of the affected works have expressed skepticism of Amazon's explanation, accusing Amazon of homophobia and deliberate censorship. Craig Seymour, author of All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C., recounts an exchange in early February 2009 with Amazon. On February 2, his book lost its sales rank, in the same fashion as the other LGBT-themed works this month. After inquiring about the loss of rank, Seymour received a reply on February 25 saying "the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The ISBN #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product"; Seymour then found through routine searches that the rankings of gay themed works had been dropped but that rankings of books by porn stars like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson had not, in an apparent double standard. Seymour's ranking was restored on February 27 and All I Could Bare is not among those books whose rankings have been dropped this month.
Protesting what they see as censorship, many people in the online community began organizing petitions and boycotts of Amazon. Microblogging site Twitter saw conversations about the de-ranking, tagged with the word "#AmazonFAIL", rise to the most popular subject on the site, and an online petition entitled "In protest at Amazon's new 'adult' policy" garnered 13,000 signatures within 24 hours of its creation.
The online community has also been investigating the de-rankings in order to clarify what works were dropped. Jane of publishing blog DearAuthor.com suggests in an analysis of the known dropped books that the de-ranking was performed automatically by a program examining the metadata of each book and dropping rankings from those tagged "Gay", "Adult", or "LGBT"; not all editions of the same book carry the same tag, which explains why some editions of books were dropped and others not. Meanwhile, Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Making Light suggests that the de-ranking started out as well-intentioned but that important information was lost along the way:
Amazon has yet to put out a general press release on the incident.
- Andrea James. "Amazon calls mistake 'embarrassing and ham-fisted'" — , April 13, 2009
- David Sarno. "Amazon begins to re-rank affected 'adult' books; theories swirl" — , April 13, 2009
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden. "Amazon’s very bad day" — , April 13, 2009
- Brian Heater. "Amazon Eliminates Sales Rankings; Twitter Erupts" — , April 13, 2009
- Bobbie Johnson and Helen Pidd. "'Gay writing' falls foul of Amazon sales ranking system" — , April 13, 2009
- Andrew LaVallee. "Blogs and Twitter Coin “AmazonFail”" — , April 13, 2009
- "In protest at Amazon's new "adult" policy" — , April 12, 2009
- Jane. "Amazon Using Category MetaData to Filter Rankings" — , April 12, 2009
- Mark Probst. "Amazon Follies" — , April 12, 2009
- Rachel Deahl & Jim Milliot. "Amazon Says Glitch to Blame for "New" Adult Policy" — , April 12, 2009
- Carolyn Kellogg. "Amazon responds to queries, blames a 'glitch'" — , April 12, 2009
- Craig Seymour. "Is Amazon.com Homophobic?" — , April 12, 2009
- "Amazon Fail? A Resource Website" — April 13, 2009