Monday, April 13, 2009

What really happened with AmazonFail? Too early to tell.

The Blogosphere, Twitterverse, Facebookistan and, I don't know, the Metaweb are all abuzz since yesterday about "AmazonFail," the deranking of many items with gay and lesbian themes, such that they do not show up in, for instance in the Amazon Top 100 or search results.

From what I can gather, many books tagged in the "gay and lesbian" category, whether sexually explicit or not, were then also tagged with the "adult" category. And "adult" items are automatically excluded from sales rankings and many searches. I suppose that's so there's never a top ten book called Hot Asian Sluts or something. Exactly what criteria was used to exclude such books in unknown, and seems rather arbitrary (see below).

My initial reaction was that this was due to some sort of error, or possibly a single overzealous employee who wanted to get spectacularly fired by pissing off an entire segment of society at Amazon. It does seem like either of those, particularly the latter, are still possible. Amazon's own take, of course, is that this was due to a "glitch," but has declined to comment on the nature of that glitch.

But it looks like the full story is rather more complex than that. Indeed, Amazon sent letters to some authors who's non-sexually-explicit works were affected by this "glitch," noting 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.
It was only after the firestorm of criticism caught on in earnest that Amazon's story changed to a glitch.

As it stands now, many "straight" sexually explicit books, including straight romance novels and Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds, retain their ranks and show up in searches. But many books with gay themes still have their ranking removed, including non-sexually explicit works, plus award-winning material like Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, E.M. Forster, Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet, and more.

Science fiction blog io9 reports on how this has affected gay and lesbian sci-fi writers. Author David Gerrold remarked on how this policy/glitch was applied nonsensically to two of his own works:
It's silly. They've removed The Martian Child from their page rankings which was based on an award-winning novelette about how I adopted my son and was the source for a warm-hearted movie starring John Cusack. Meanwhile, they've left The Man Who Folded Himself ranked, which is a far more explicit novel about a man who explores a number of unique sexual possibilities. Obviously, they didn't think this through.
I'm not satisfied with Amazon's explanation of "glitch," particularly when measured against their previous "in consideration of our entire customer base..." statement. Perhaps it was a glitch, but I think it's too early to tell what happened, and remember that these books are still deranked. I can say that excluding material to appease any group's sensitive "OMG teh gay!" mentality, which Amazon has indeed admitted to doing, i's pretty much enough to make me want to start patronizing other online booksellers. Powell's here I come!

P.S., I can't wait to check out my page rankings and see what searches bring people to this post! Along with my last post at Salt City Skeptics, there's some fun search fodder, what with the "hot asian sluts" and the "pig masturbation." Methinks people won't be finding what they're looking for here.

UPDATE: As Neil Gaiman points out, yesterday WAS Easter Sudnay, so it's reasonable that any sort major of error might take until today to get fixed... And also -- and I can't say this any better than Neil:
I mean, a week ago, a search for "Girl Scout Cookie" on produced sexy costumes, speculums, wolf urine and a Morgan Freeman biography as a result. Now the speculums and Morgan Freeman biography have vanished (although the wolf urine is still there). Obviously, Amazon listings are always in flux.
So, there's THAT. :)

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