Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day(s)

image credit to some other blogger

It exploded in the Twitterverse on Sunday--Easter, ironically--but had apparently been brewing for months. Amazon stripped the sales ranking of all books tagged with "adult" content, claiming (per email replies to customer service inquiries) to be doing so to protect the delicate sensibilities of its entire client base, who just might be offended by an unexpectedly sexual search result.


The hashtags #amazonfail and #glitchmyass quickly rose to the top of the trending topics on the microblogging site.

At the risk of potentially offending the proverbial everyman, Amazon compromised the livelihoods of literally hundreds of authors, dozens of publishers. It also seriously "offended" the entire GLBT community, because any books dealing with gay or lesbian topics--whether erotic or not--were tagged as having "adult" content. Seriously. Even non-fiction self-help titles were *poof* transported to book search purgatory.

One Tweeter made the wise observation that there is no such thing as "adult" content; only its obverse "child safe" designation. I agree.

It wasn't long before a counter-conspiracy theory arose, blaming the fiasco on a troll who purportedly hacked Amazon's metadata, exploiting an opportunity to have the behemoth's algorithm favor one demographic's agenda. Of course, some asshat took "credit." The theory, however, didn't hold water, since there were numerous accounts of email and voice replies from Amazon customer service reps demonstrating that the changes were the result of "policy" designed to avoid aforementioned offense to the client base.

Just the use of the word "base" in conjunction with this matter brings to mind W & Co's coddling of the fundamentalist Christian base. *shudder* Makes me feel dirty--and not in an "adult" way.

It was difficult to get any work done while this was going down. (Oops, I said "going down.") I wanted to watch the real-time feed like I was rubbernecking at a digital train wreck. I even wasted time creating very basic #glitchmyass and Glitch, please! products for Coming Together's Cafe Press store. (And they're selling! Hey, some good may come of this.)

Amazon's delayed response was just as disturbing as the initial erotic witch hunt. I went to taekwondo class hoping that by the time I got home, there would be some sort of official response. And there was. The "glitch defense" had been replaced with the "ham-fisted cataloging error" excuse. (It seems as if Amazon wants us to forget about the policy explanations that were emailed in response to early queries: 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. Or, perhaps, this is what ham-fisted refers to.) Further, Amazon acknowledges that its scope goes way beyond GLBT titles. Well, we already knew that.

I'm not sure what the long-term impact of this SNAFU will be, but I hope the repercussions provide some sort of silver lining for all those who were adversely effected.

peace & passion,

~ Alessia

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Sherri said...

I'm not satisfied with Amazon's slow response or their semi-apology. I'm not swearing them off completely, but I'm moving my book buying to other sources for a while.

Alessia Brio said...

Great recap: