13 April 2009

Amazon's Epic Fail

Has anyone else been following Amazon.com's Epic Fail? While not a strictly youth media-related topic, I feel it's definitely worth a post here. For those who haven't read anything about it yet, the buzz began when Mark R. Probst, author of YA novel The Filly, noticed that a couple of gay romances had suddenly disappeared from Amazon’s best seller list. When Probst wrote to an Amazon representative and asked what happened, he received the following response:

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.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

Urgh. Not only does removing a title's sales ranking effectively make it drop from any best seller lists of which it may have been part, it also prevents titles from appearing in suggestion lists and the results of searches performed from Amazon's main page. Such a move is akin to making titles "disappear" in the system -- and we know as future librarians that if a person can't find a book, that book isn't going to circulate.

Last night, Publisher’s Weekly reported that an Amazon spokeperson commented that there is no such 'adult material' policy in place and that the weirdness is due to a 'glitch' that is currently being worked out. I'm usually not one to play the conspiracy theorist, but something's not quite adding up here. If there was no policy, why would a customer service rep initially say there was? If there was some kind of 'adult material' policy, why were only some items affected while pages upon pages of items from Playboy and the like were still ranked and searchable from the main page? Perhaps there was some kind of filtration policy in the process of being implemented. Now that there's been a Web 2.0 explosion of thousands of angry customers blogging, tweeting, and tagging books with "amazonfail" as a means of protest and improving visibility, maybe Amazon's doing the best backpedal they can in an effort to save face?

Read more:

- CNET News: Amazon criticized for de-ranking 'adult' books
- Guardian: 'Gay Writing' Falls Foul of Amazon Sales Ranking System
- Jezebel: Why is Amazon Removing the Sales Rankings from Gay, Lesbian Books?
- L.A. Times Blog: Amazon De-Ranks So-Called Adult Books

EDITED TO ADD: A new article from the Seattle Times includes a statement from an Amazon representative regarding this weekend's debacle. A portion of the article reads:

"This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection," said Drew Herdener, the Seattle company's communications director. "It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles — in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing books from Amazon's main product search."

Innnteresting. I wonder if we'll hear more about said cataloging error.


  1. I just heard about this, too. It makes me cringe...

  2. I noticed that they (Amazon) backed off it very quickly, with limited explanation...

  3. This is a rather late response, I know, but the American Association of Publishers and the Association of American University Presses have followed this like a hawk--as have their authors. Reports flowed in over the course of a couple of days from authors whose ratings had been removed and from publishers tallying how many of their books were now hidden. And--of course--how it went from being a policy change to a cataloging error in the course of 48 hours. When in doubt, blame the cataloger!