edgarallenfrog: various pics of harvey milk (inspiration)
edgarallenfrog ([personal profile] edgarallenfrog) wrote2009-04-13 01:24 pm


Ok, seriously. Amazon.com is making me stabby lately. I've been hearing rumblings on and off for a few days now, but the information is just too prevalent to ignore it anymore. Besides, [livejournal.com profile] thecherrywench posted about this, too, so if the cool people are doing it, I'm jumping on the bandwagon, too. I spend copious amounts of money on Amazon. I've gone without eating for a week so I could purchase books there ("Without You" by Anthony Rapp...and that should be de-ranked, too, because it's got plenty of gay in it). I am not amused by this recent turn of events.

If you're a twitter user, you may have noticed that #amazonfail is the top trending topic for today. Here's the basic gist of it:

Amazon seems to be stripping the sales figures and accompanying rankings from GLBTQ books, erotica, and romance novels, particularly those with what they term “adult content” thus preventing them from showing up in some bestseller lists and searches (and potentially directly damaging their sales), on the grounds that they are "adult" material.

(This is regardless of whether they contain any explicit sex. Meanwhile, books with explicit heterosexual sex scenes retain their sales rank, as long as they're not overtly marketed as "erotica".)

A quick search reveals that books that have had their sales ranks removed include James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story, Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

When pressed for a reason, Amazon.com’s customer service department told YA author (and LJ user [livejournal.com profile] markprobst) Mark Probst:

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

Probst went on to say:

Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be “adult” material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked. Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.

[...] if they are excluding books just on the basis of being “gay” then by all means exclude mine too because I don’t want them just to reinstate just the “nice” gay books, they need to reinstate all the gay books and if they are really going to try and exclude so-called “adult” material, then how come this crap has an Amazon ranking?

Compiled from various sources including here, here, here.

http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11992.html -- a list of books so far that have been removed
http://booksquare.com/open-letter-to-amazon-regarding-recent-policy-changes/ -- an open letter to amazon
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/in-protest-at-amazons-new-adult-policy -- sign the protest
http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23amazonfail -- at least 100 tweets every minute
http://wthashtag.com/wiki/Amazonfail -- keep an eye on this too


Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is running a Google Bomb. They say:

I’ve created a page with the definition for “amazon rank.” LINK TO http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/amazonrank with “Amazon Rank” as the anchor text. The link should look like this:

Amazon Rank


A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality is now the top book for amazon searches on "homosexuality"

....oh. Awesome read, guys. Every parent needs this important pile of shit book in their collection.

I copied all this from here in [livejournal.com profile] ontd_political and [livejournal.com profile] harvey_milk and some other sources, but fuck this. I'm pissed. They also stripped "The Mayor of Castro Street" of its ranking. Oh no you didn't just fuck with my Harvey Milk book. Assholes. As [livejournal.com profile] marauderthesn eloquently put it, "I could see taking, say, Totally Herotica 3 out of the rankings and sales figures, but what the effing eff is the deal with taking out everything gay? Even biographies? Oh, whoever was responsible for this, I hope Harvey haunts you. Obnoxiously. With all his dead boyfriends. Having ghost sex on your dinner table. Loud ghost sex on your dinner table. For hours."


Oh, now you've done it. you've pissed off Christopher Rice. Rice says: "So apparently a "computer glitch" at Amazon has "de-ranked" a large number of LGBT focused books, including my first novel, A DENSITY OF SOULS. There's understandable outrage about this throughout cyberspace. As President of Lambda Literary Foundation, I can tell you we will have a public response very soon. (Other de-ranked titles include ORLANDO by Virgina Woolf and BECOMING A MAN by Paul Monette)."

Way to go, Amazon. Piss off all the authors who write the edgy content that keeps your customers coming back. Piss off all the people with the money; the people who keep your business going. Smooth move there, brain king.

ETA 4.8675309

Oh, sorry, I forgot, Amazon hates disabled people, too.

ETA5 for the 5 that stayed alive

Aaaand the public statement from the Lambda Literary Foundation is up.

"Lambda Literary Foundation applauds the diligent work of writers, bloggers and activists in calling attention to this deeply distressing turn of events. I have seen my first novel stripped of its sale ranking by this apparent computer glitch so I join other writers who are baffled to the point of anger. I take great solace in the quick mobilization of our community in response to this apparent marginalization of LGBT books; the grassroots power of the Internet has been placed on glorious display for all to see. Over the next few days, we at Lambda Literary will be monitoring the situation very closely. Amazon is one our nation's largest general book retailers. In their commitment to creating and sustaining technological advances in the publishing industry, they have laid claim to the future of book distribution. As such, they have a pressing responsibility to create an unfettered exchange of stories and ideas. If a quick and decisive response to this problem is not forthcoming within the next few days, we at Lambda Literary look forward to leading a sustained and impassioned dialogue on this issue, which will seek to harness the energies that have been released by our community's admirable response."

Translation: Amazon u r fukd nao.

[identity profile] boobalah.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 05:53 pm (UTC)(link)
And they're deranking tons of other stuff too. Non-fition books about the military policy toward gays, books about sex and the disabled, Yes Means Yes and Full Frontal Feminism, two important feminist books and, most bafflingly, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, by Foucault. I've had that assigned as a textbook repeatedly and, whatever my feeling on the man, it is a seminal text in the humanities.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 05:58 pm (UTC)(link)
The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, by Foucault

Foucault made me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork, yes, but I had to read him for my Literary Dreary Theory class in college, so yeah...that's an interesting development. I guess Amazon.com wants college students to shop somewhere else for their evil "adult" college textbooks.

If this is really a glitch, Amazon fucked up BIG TIME.

[identity profile] peskipiksi.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Disabled people never have sex! Ever! They especially do not sneak away from their grandmother's house on Easter Sunday to have sex on scaffolding!

WTF. Amazon. W. T. F.

Also, The Parents' Guide to Preventing Homosexuality is only called that because its original title, How To Cost Your Child Thousands in Therapy Bills, didn't go over well with the focus groups. :P
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 11:21 pm (UTC)(link)
Sex on scaffolding is not hot at all, especially not on holy days

Amazon puzzles me. Someone's head is up someone's ass at this point. For sure.

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 11:36 pm (UTC)(link)
So far I'm getting the impression that this was some third party group of idiots exploiting the reporting function to get things delisted; someone at Amazon was being stupid, but I don't see malice on their part, sort of like when Six Apart stopped paying their brain bills and used a search function to suspend LJ accounts awhile back due to threats or whatever.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I was thinking that, too. But Amazon still had to put a system in place that would allow for de-ranking a book due to reports of adult content without having someone check things first. Ignorance is worse than malice in cases like this, as far as I'm concerned. At least people with malice have some balls and some explanation for their behavior. amazon is strolling in like Bill and Ted, "Dude, what happened? Heavy." Now the latest reports are saying it was a hacker responsible for the "glitch." Convenient that we're just hearing this now, if that's true.

My journal was suspended during the Strikethru 2007 Debacle because I had the word "rape" in my user interests, and I still remember the LJ team member making a comment that "if someone has 'molestation' in their user interests, they're interested in molesting children...it's not that hard to figure out." Um...logic fail. I wasn't amused, then or now.

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-13 11:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, yeah. LJ was an idiot about their handling of that, and Amazon is in this one, though they're rapidly improving. (To be fair, though, I'd assume Amazon actually has professionals involved in that sort of thing, while half of the TOS-related responses done by LJ involve volunteers who may or may not know what they're talking about.)

I don't buy the hacker claim here, unless it's the standard, overly-broad redefinition of the word "hacker" that mainstream media likes to use. (Of course, I consider media coverage of tech issues to be inherently worthless anyway.) If some group like the AFA or whatever decided to astroturf the site by abusing report functions and the like, it would possibly have this sort of result, but it wouldn't be hacking. There is a lot of gaming the system going on with Amazon by various political groups, entire countries, and so on; I keep bringing up books discussing the Armenians as an especially obvious example when I mention that to people. People are constantly trying to suppress, delist, condemn or damage the sales of books, authors and entire fields in Amazon, and it looks like someone managed to succeed here, however briefly.

If it is something like that, and I do suspect that, I'd rather know who was responsible for that course of action and turn most of my outrage at them, while mainly giving my Amazon-related ire to the technicians who rolled out something like this without putting a human at the other end to check even the massively-reported books. They're being stupid here, but I have a lot of trouble seeing Bezos as exactly a bastion of rightwing 'family' 'values' on something like this.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 12:31 am (UTC)(link)
That apology email was better than anything we ever got from LJ. To quote the poster, the lack of weasel-words pleases me (compare that to the responses from LJ, which were full of nothing BUT weasel words).

I still fail to see this as simply an error, though. I mean, the email says it's not just GLBTHIJKLMNOP books that were affected, and that's fine, but there were a disproportionate amount of GLWTFBBQ books de-ranked, and the de-ranking of anything that might involve any reference to sex is disturbing to me anyway. I mean, "Heather has Two Mommies"? Was there a lot of hot girl-on-girl action in that book? And why was the "error" so random? There's a book with father/son incest that wasn't affected in the de-ranking (and people said other books with incest orgies weren't touched, either) which leaves me scratching my head.

I just don't buy that this was an oops. I think, like you, that something else was behind it. Someone had to decide that those particular titles were "adult" and act acordingly. Warriors for Innocence, anyone?

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 12:54 am (UTC)(link)
I'm not saying it's "simply an error," I'm saying it's "oh sweet merciful shit this is an error!" type thing.

There's some guy claiming responsibility personally for the whole thing by abusing the autoreport function after scraping a large list of books metatagged as GLBTetc, which would explain the things that got through the flagging. The method he describes seems feasible to me, but I'm not convinced he's not just talking out of his ass; if I remember correctly a lot of people "took credit" for the strikethrough debacle before the responsible parties were figured out then too.

I'm open to the idea that it was an oops, albeit a big huge one, on Amazon's part, but I do agree that someone elsewhere certainly seemed to want the rest of this to happen either as a trolling act or because of some braindamaged moral crusade. So far I don't think we've got all the necessary information on hand, and it's hard to figure out what is going on between all the speculation (which I admit I'm guilty of too) on the one hand, and the people who've already decided The Truth(tm) on the other.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:07 am (UTC)(link)
the people who've already decided The Truth(tm) on the other.

We had some guy some into the Christopher Rice fan community on Facebook and essentially tell us we were all stupid because we didn't realize that it's been proven that it was a hacker who did all this. Yep, you have irrefutable proof, I'm sure, and we're all just running around blind here.

I don't mind some speculation. I just mainly want to make people more aware that this is actually going on. A lot of people who hear some blurb about Amazon saying a glitch caused something to happen with the rankings on the books in their database might put it out of their heads and not think about it further, which is what I did until I read the post by Craig Seymour about his book "All I Could Bare" and realized that something bigger might be going on.

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:22 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I think speculation is a good thing, especially when we're talking about things like computer security failures (which, glitch or action, this is). Trying to figure out how a screwup happened can help prevent it from occurring again, and someone unsuccessfully trying to figure it out could well expose a few other holes that need patching anyway.

It's just important to keep the what-might-have-happened discussions and the what-did-happen discussions distinct, since it looks like folks up to the level of Amazon proper didn't have a clue what was going on until recently. (At least that's what I think - well, okay, what I speculate - based on the change in tones of the Amazon responses to this over the last few rounds from "ENGAGING DEFAULT RESPONSE *vreeeee*" to "Well, whoops" to "We are morons of the lowest sort"...)

I'm just seeing a whole lot of "here's what happened, now KILL!" responses elsewhere, and that bothers me, since they (A) don't know for sure what happened most of the time and (B) are getting in the way of themselves and others finding that out.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
Thing is, though, without the "This is what happened, now go KILL" action responses, I don't think a lot of companies take notice. I know the times I've been kind anf polite with customer service, I've been fucked over. The times I've screamed and thrown a fit, I get action. It's not good, but it's what I see happening. I do think people would do well to keep their wangst in check, but I don't see anything wrong with some firey responses, since I think those motivate people to do damage control. At the very least, the "Let's Kill amazon! WE SHALL OVERCOME" language rallies people together and spurs them on to action, which in my experience is what gets results. I don't see people overreacting here yet, not to the extent they did with Strikethru 2007.

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:45 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, though there's a problem where a lot of the TIWHNGK people have locked down their view on what happened and won't accept otherwise. Should we get conclusive bulletproof evidence that alien space bats or whatever were directly responsible, there's going to be a lot of people who will still believe this was Bezos' personal order and will refuse to ever forgive them for it, etc. That's the kind of attitude that bugs me, and it happens a lot whenever We Must Blame Someone Immediately.

It's not the fiery responses; it's the fiery responses that "know" what happened and will refuse to accept any other possibilities that are a problem. I find reactions like this to be far more constructive and potentially useful than any ten conclusion-leaping tantrums about what's already a big enough mess, anyway. (It also contains the word "bansturbation," which amuses me more than is probably appropriate, but it's been a slow day in my neck of the woods..)

I'd assume the Strikethrough mess is moderating things though, given how ballistic the blamestorm was there for awhile. A lot of people reacting - at least on LJ - were probably around for that, so I imagine some of the dumber hyperreactions from back then would be remembered now. There's some awesome crazy from people who weren't around here for that one, and I saw some real gems when I made the mistake of reading comments on mainstream news about the whole thing.

Either way, I'd still like to know precisely who brought the whole thing about. I'll happily blame Amazon for the incompetence side, but I'd love to know who was active on the malice side as well. :P
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:58 am (UTC)(link)
Um...Who/what is Bezos? I read around every link I could find on this issue and your comments are the only ones I see using the name Bezos (though admittedly my eyes are bleary at this point and I could likely be wrong).

And I think people would be less likely to hyperreact if Amazon didn't send out form letters saying "blah blah blah adult content" automatically when people complain about things. That kind of wording just breeds speculation about why certain things are considered "adult content." LJ sent out form letters saying "blah blah blah you expressed interest in illegal activity in your user interests, specifically rape" to people like me, who are rape survivors, and when you wait three days and get no other response and suddenly three years worth of your writing is gone and you don't get an honest answer as to why, even an "I don't know, we're working on it," people are GOING to freak out and overreact. Amazon needed to get on the ball a lot quicker, and it would help if their form letter didn't contain a hot-button term like "adult content" in the first place, because that term is sure to cause such unhelpful reactions as "ZOMG how is my Gay-themed romance 'adult content' but Playboy magazine isn't?" I mean, if people are complaining and they're already upset, a form letter saying "we will look into it" is going to cause a lot less negative feedback than one that says something like "your book has adult content, and we need to protect our younger readers from that."

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 02:22 am (UTC)(link)
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO/chairman/overlord of Amazon.

I think a chunk of the problem here comes from the way support folks are organized and set up.

Amazon definitely screwed up with the initial form letters; those might have been going out before anyone figured out the scope of what was going on. You mentioned customer service; the tier 1 guys usually don't have much information, clues, or both, and some pretty inane things can come out as a result. I've had ISP tech support insist very fervently that a connection problem was on my end when I knew, for a fact confirmed by a friend working there physically, that there was a physical problem with one of their servers that was affecting me. It took two weeks to fix because the people I reached whenever I called support were explicitly forbidden from doing anything but going through the basic default support checklist, even if they knew what the problem was.

I'm less likely to give LJ a pass on that one than Amazon, because they carried it much further; while Amazon's gone from that to admitting something was wrong to kicking themselves in the head, LJ actually escalated things when they took that "interest in X = desire for X" thing and actually changed their TOS to state it explicitly for awhile rather than immediately backing off from it (or recognizing the stupidity of the statement first). Compared to LJ during that fiasco a couple of years ago, or Facebook in some of its recent ones, or my ISP as mentioned above, or (presumably) your CS situations, Amazon's reacting with something close to blinding speed as far as large companies go.

The change in the responses over the last day or so is what's shaping my opinion of the company here. The different responses as things go by look to me like the result of the problem escalating from the front line support drone-units towards people who would actually be able to respond in something other than standardized forms. With most large companies the people getting the initial complaints aren't allowed to respond in any but the dumbest ways, and people get those extra-stupid responses until people who have some initiative see that something's up. I can see it taking a day or so before those guys got so many similar complaints that they either chose or were required to escalate things.
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[identity profile] malakijr.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 01:27 pm (UTC)(link)
With most large companies the people getting the initial complaints aren't allowed to respond in any but the dumbest ways

Yeah, I get that. I work in customer service and people scream at us when they have questions we can't answer, but the thing is, we don't make the decisions, nor do we usually know anything about why the decisions are made. MY point is that the form letters Amazon and other companies send out could contain less drama-inducing language right from the beginning. More general language might stop rumors from forming as quickly. It's the difference between "We will look into your request, in the meantime, here is a link to relevant policy that might answer your questions" vs. "Your book contains adult content, we screen adult content for these reasons, etc." The first response might piss people off because it gives nothing away, but it's far less likely to cause people to go off half cocked and start rumors about witch hunts than the latter response.

Of course, I'm still not entirely sure that "witch hunt" is so far off. I think Amazon likely does have some kind of new policy involving adult content, and they were trying to implement it quietly and organize their catalogue accordingly, and things got fucked up royally so they had to do damage control. This is all just speculation of course, but it's the best explanation for how things have played out and why there were initially so many different answers flying around (and why CSR responses from February hinted at some kind of policy involving "adult content" before the story even hit big this month).

And maybe "witch hunt" isn't the best language to use, but I'm thinking a general move toward using different classifications for material that could be considered offensive is in place here. The problem with standards like that is that no one is ever going to agree on what constitutes "adult content" and different things are going to offend different people, and trying to implement any kind of classification system that sifts things into categories of "adult" is going to wind up pissing people off.

[identity profile] zibblsnrt.livejournal.com 2009-04-14 07:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I think part of the problem is that the language in some of them might not have been drama-inducing in the context for which they were intended ("Why is my new book, The A To Z Encyclopedia Of Unspeakable Pr0nz With 300 New Pop-Ups, not appearing on the best sellers lists?"), but really failed to work in this case.

The first response you mention there is definitely a better one, but I do think it might also involve more initiative than the support folks at the time had the ability to make.

If the adult-content thing was an automated thing as a result of X flags, it was definitely broken in the implementation, and this certainly demonstrated that bigtime, though. It's the dark side of crowdsourcing stuff - it's a cool idea, but easily abused.

Incidentally, I stumbled across this as a possible explanation for the mass delisting the other day, which actually makes a bit more sense to me than the entire GLBTetc category being manually mass-reported. (Of course, the vindictive reports could explain the lesser amounts of things going back to February.)