Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DAMage Report: Can you smell that smell - The Reek of Amazon Rank

Excuse me, I need to "Ham-fist" you... it'll only hurt for a second.

The world truly is a smaller place and when bad news hits, it travels faster than ever before due to instant cybernet of Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Sunday morning I saw a cry of outrage in the status of one of my favorite authors, Jaci Burton. In addition to being a best-selling mainstream romance author, she also has numerous erotic romances published. Her link led me to Mark Probst online commentary and a letter from Amazon explaining that they had a change in policy and that is why his YA novel with gay characters was no longer being ranked. 

More than 57,000 books were affected, including gay- and lesbian-themed titles. Novels such as Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" and Vidal's "The City and the Pillar" were unranked Tuesday morning. Countless romance and erotica authors saw their best seller ranking disappear and many couldn't find their books any longer using the Amazon search engines. However, Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds" by Chronicle Books, which features pictures of over 600 naked women, remains ranked. Even sexual self-help books were unranked.

Debby Herbenick told me that her book "Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction" was affected too. Her sales data was gone and the search function was messed up. 

Was it a glitch? A Hacker? A change in policy? It has been interesting to watch the evolution of "oh crap" responses from Amazon. From Policy change it became a glitch. From glitch it became an embarrassing ham-fisting. And from ham-fisting it became a cataloging error.

Bill Thompson a journalist with the BBC observed "...some sort of filtering seems to have been going on since at least early February when former gay stripper Craig Seymour saw the sales ranking on his memoir disappear. He complained at the time and the ranking reappeared.  What this seems to show is that Amazon are trying to make search results more 'family-friendly'. There's nothing wrong with this, and Amazon aren't violating the First Amendment or even, I suspect, breaking the terms of their agreement with publishers by doing it. However they have clearly broken the bond of trust with a large number of their readers, and it will take a long time to recover."

The power of the pen (and keyboard) definitely came into play and showed that even a small, well connected group like the erotica and romance authors can call the Giant to task and refuse to quietly accept censorship. 


billy pilgrim said...

with a 33 billion market cap i would think amazon has bigger fish to fry.

i get totally pissed that amazon usually ranks at the top of google searches for books or dvds.

nitebyrd said...

I read that Amazon said it was a "glitch" in their system and that the ratings were back. Is that true?

billy pilgrim said...

GREAT TURTLE RACE!!the turtles need your support!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

I also find it funny how only certain types of books were affected by a 'glitch'. Glitch my ass.

Riff Dog said...


When can I finally live in a prude-free world?