Amazon Rank, #AmazonFail

Amazon Rank = #amazonfail
Amazon Rank = #amazonfail

I’m probably one of Amazon.com’s favorite types of customers, living and working in spitting distance of a Barnes & Noble, Borders and several good independent booksellers, browsing their shelves but doing most of my book buying via Amazon. Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars with them, on books (and other products) for myself and others, including the Kindle I bought for my wife last Fall as a birthday gift.

I’ve contributed 113 reviews to their database to-date, and currently have a reviewer rank of 3,064 on the basis of 864 helpful votes. I was a charter reviewer in their Amazon Vine initiative, and have used their Amazon Associates program for years on this blog and with Spindle.

I think they have helped level the playing field in the publishing world and opened the door for savvy independent authors and publishers to distribute their work without going through the traditional gatekeepers.

Suffice to say, I’m a big fan, so it pisses me off to be writing a post like this in response to their screwing up royally with their Amazon Rank fiasco that’s burning up Twitter at the moment and is spilling over into the longer-lasting blogiverse/Google memory bank.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books has an explanation of what happened, and is behind the Google Bomb effort that spawned my rant:

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.”

Authors such as Jaci Burton, Maya Banks, Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler have reported that since being stripped of their sales rankings, their titles are no longer found in searches on Amazon.com. MetaWriter is also compiling a list of titles that have been stripped of their sales rank.

When pressed for a reason, Amazon.com’s customer service department told YA author 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.

Mark Probst speaks for himself at his LiveJournal, noting that it’s not just a personal issue:

Now I could probably convince the automatons at Amazon that The Filly is YA and therefore not “adult” in the least, and I could probably even convince them to reinstate my ranking.  But 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 has an Amazon ranking?

ETA: Writer/photographer Craig Seymour, author of All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C., noticed this issue back in February when the same thing happened to his book and after many attempts to get an explanation was told, “the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The ISBN #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product.”

As a former journalist, I contacted many major news organizations, but no one picked up on the story. Then, on February 28th, without any explanation, the sales ranking returned for my book and I was back in the search results.

I was happy, of course. But I was still freaked out by the whole situation and worried about how it would affect other authors, especially those who aren’t on mainstream publishers. Somehow, for nearly three weeks, Amazon effectively “coded” my book out of circulation, and I had no idea how or why.

MetaWriter is keeping a list of the other books that have been affected.

Interestingly, I reviewed the graphic novel Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda back in May, 2006, and noted that it was a pretty harrowing read and it’s being listed as a Children’s book was a mistake:

Presumably because Deogratias‘ publisher, First Second, is an imprint of Henry Holt’s Roaring Brook Press children’s division, Amazon has it improperly categorized, IMO, in two different sub-sections of their Children’s Books section. This is heavy material for anyone under the age of 13.

It’s worth nothing that three years later Deogratias is still listed as a Children’s Book and currently ranks #13 in “Books > Children’s Books > History & Historical Fiction > Fiction > Africa”. Of course, there’s no LGBTQ content in it — only violence, rape and genocide — so it probably never hit their radar.

AmazonFail, indeed.

There’s an online petition being hosted by Care2 that’s currently up to 1,267 signatures, including mine.

Since it’s Sunday, I’m going to wait until tomorrow to see if there’s a response from Amazon before deactivating my AmazonFeed that features books relevant to each post’s tags, and I really hope that it doesn’t come to that.

If it does, though, Montclair Book Center is going to get a new regular customer, and hopefully IndieBound is paying attention and figuring out a way to capitalize on this and become more relevant and user-friendly.

NOTE: AmazonFail image via Kotaku.

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Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, one-time poet, still opinionated. Reading, writing, running, gaming, soccer, beer.

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