Tell Amazon they are wrong

12 April 2009

I had a cheerful poem for you today, until I got the email that described’s new policy on removing the sales ranking feature from books with “adult content” — which apparently is code for anything they decide might offend someone. Please go read this thoughtful post from the always-on-target Kassia Krozser for a concise and pointed overview of the situation.

Yes, books with heterosexual content are getting de-ranked: but there are many straight-sexplicit books that aren’t (Laurell Hamilton’s books, with all kinds of body parts coming together every ten pages or so, are still ranked. Or maybe that’s just because Amazon makes so much money selling her books that they can’t afford to piss her off?)

Let’s see Amazon go after Hamilton. Let’s see them remove sales rankings from every single Harlequin romance writer who’s ever been on the best-seller list. Oh, and let’s not forget The Godfather.

Because they’ve already done it to many, many LGBT books, including Nicola’s. Go on, see for yourself — no more sales ranks. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until they reach me. And it’s hugely damaging to any author. It means that the author’s books don’t show up in searches of what’s popular, no matter how many books she’s actually selling. It means that new buyers who are browsing sales-rank-generated lists will never even see her books mentioned.

Happily, authors, editors, publishers, critics and readers aren’t sitting still for this. We’re all over Twitter and the web (check #amazonfail at Twitter).

I’m not currently assuming that Amazon has become the Great Homophobic Bookseller of the World. I am assuming that someone made a hasty, boneheaded policy decision, implemented it clumsily, and then completely failed to anticipate the response. I very much hope, for Amazon’s sake, that someone with brains and authority has left their Easter goose uneaten and is trying to pull Amazon’s goose out of the fire right now. Because the online firestorm is building.

What can we do? Let’s put on our boots and get out there with the crowd. Thanks to Cheryl Morgan for pointing me to this petition, which I hope you will consider signing. If you’re an Amazon customer, please consider sending them an email of protest. If you’re on Twitter, please tweet tweet tweet.

And let’s hope we can do something about this.


16 Responses to “Tell Amazon they are wrong”

  1. Woody Search on April 12th, 2009 11:56 am

    Here is the email I sent to Amazon. They don’t make it easy.

    I am very concerned about the “de ranking” of many of the books by Nicola Griffith. This policy is a bad one, and makes me rethink my loyalty to Amazon. With adult content much, much more graphic and lurid freely available all over the internet, targeting books that are legitimate lesbian/gay literature is very shortsighted, indeed. I hope you reconsider this policy ASAP and get on with more important things. R. Search

  2. Mel Green on April 12th, 2009 12:17 pm

    Kelley, something wrong with your Amazonfail Twitter link above — I get a 404.

    I found it at

    (without the “timeline” in the URL).

    — Mel

  3. Kelley on April 12th, 2009 12:29 pm

    Thanks, Mel — fixed now in post, I think.

    Woody, thanks for persevering. You’re right, they don’t make it easy, which will just make it harder for them over the longer term.

  4. Mel Green on April 12th, 2009 12:59 pm

    Welcome, Kelley!

    And don’t forget to Google bomb ‘em with Amazon Rank, details at at the Smart Bitches/Trashy Books blog.

  5. Anonymous on April 12th, 2009 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve emailed Amazon too. I’m not sure if “adult” is a euphemism for “eeebil gay and lesbian” or “small presses who have refused to use BookSurge”, but either way it sucks.

    I wonder when they’ll decide that Jacqueline Carey’s books are “adult”?

  6. rhbee on April 12th, 2009 3:07 pm

    BTW, don’t forget that great book of masturbation stories, the Bible. They can’t pick and choose, and I hope to hell you have already informed your lawyer to get ready to file a class action seeking loss of income, etc..

    Sorry, I had to post. Now I’ll go back and read all those links you set.

    I, also, got an email from them last week saying that they were going to discontinue paid advertising searches, too. Is this the economy acting out a case of Freakonomics? I wonder.

  7. Kelley on April 12th, 2009 3:22 pm

    Thanks to all for your actions. Nicola and I both really appreciate it.

  8. Ian Welsh on April 12th, 2009 4:44 pm

    According to a friend of mine this is also happening at (the Canadian version).

    Why this matters? Because it’s probably illegal up here.

    List of some effected books:

  9. Adrian on April 12th, 2009 6:19 pm

    Sent ‘em an email.

  10. barbara sanchez on April 12th, 2009 9:16 pm

    Signed the petition on N’s blog. E-mailed all my friends.

  11. Adrian on April 13th, 2009 7:30 am

    “Thanks for contacting us. We recently discovered a glitch in our systems and it’s being fixed. Thanks again for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.”


  12. Jo on April 13th, 2009 2:57 pm

    A queer-specific glitch. Hmm, wonder what the odds of that are.

    Signed the petition, etc. Please keep us posted.

  13. Dave on April 13th, 2009 5:05 pm

    It’s not and never was queer specific. That’s where people were looking and saw delisted books. Books on all kinds of sexuality, sociology et al got the same treatment, they just didn’t have a vocal constituency behind them.

    has some of the story. The whole “Amazon hates gays” framing never made sense to me. My vision of Amazon is a company that wants every dollar in the world. As long as you have dollars they couldn’t care less what you preferences are, as long as you spend money on those preferences with Amazon.

  14. Dave on April 13th, 2009 7:10 pm

    That’s not to minimize the impact to Nicola, who had most of her books delisted for a few days. Of course it was distressing to her. It’s just that the whole “never ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity” seems to have been the case here, as best we know at this point.

    That the Amazon system allows for this is a big pile of fugazi. If some dude in France with unknown fluency in the language of the metadata can screw up the catalog worldwide, that’s a big problem that they need to fix in a big hurry. Nicola’s call for an apology is quite reasonable. However, making the claim that the company has a policy of discrimination is a strong accusation that needs to be underpinned with strong evidence.

    I work on a system a fraction the scale and complexity of Amazon’s, and a large part of my energy goes to dealing with issues where production behaves in unexpected ways that it didn’t in the test lab. Complexity is a bear to deal with.

    I do agree with the quote in the Seattle PI piece saying, effectively, “Why was the PR response such weak tea? What do those folks get paid for, if not to deal with this kind of problem?”

  15. Kelley on April 14th, 2009 7:50 am

    Dave, I don’t think Amazon hates LGBT people either, and I definitely think bad process, not evil intention, is the culprit here.

    Nevertheless, the net effect of this bad process was to disproportionately impact books by LGBT authors or with LGBT content. And what people tend to respond to first is the impact… then in the absence of data (from Amazon, in this case), they make assumptions about how/why such things can happen. When the people in question have previous experience of discrimination, that is generally the “why” they go to first.

    I don’t believe I’ve stated in this post that Amazon has a policy of discrimination. And to be clear, I agree with you — there’s no evidence for that right now. But they sure do have a great big perception problem to manage.

  16. nicola on April 14th, 2009 4:20 pm

    Over the years I’ve been beaten so badly I ended up in the hospital. Men have tried to burn my house down–after failing to break in and show me what I was missing. Someone shotgunned the window of my bedroom. All because I’m a lesbian.

    My books were delisted because I’m a lesbian.

    Stay, for example, is not a book ‘on sexuality’, it has no lesbian sex in it whatsoever–Aud doesn’t even kiss anyone. The only sex is heterosex. But the book was delisted.

    Feel free to offer me an explanation for the delisting that doesn’t, in some way, involve me being a lesbian.

    I don’t see the need to refrain from accusations while they refuse to either explain fully or apologise.