Amazon's 'De-ranking' Policy Sparks Online Ire
Amazon.com came under Internet fire Sunday when word began to spread that the company had been "de-ranking" certain titles, especially--though not exclusively--lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender books. The disappearing sales rankings sparked a mass Twitter response, and by early evening Sunday "#amazonfail" was the top-ranked Trending Topic on the social networking site. The matter was a hot topic on Facebook as well.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that on his blog, self-published author Mark Probst had written that "mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: Transgressions by Erastes and False Colors by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book The Filly.'"
The Post-Intelligencer added that Amazon.com Advantage member services responded to Probst's inquiries by stating 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."
On Jacket Copy, the Los Angeles Times's book blog, Carolyn Kellogg wrote, "Amazon's policy of removing 'adult' content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. . . . Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs; Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 by Michel Foucault, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), Little Birds: Erotica by Anais Nin, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), Maurice by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and Becoming a Man by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award."
Kellogg pointed out that among the books still ranked are Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007 Vintage International edition) and Maurice (2005 Penguin Classics edition).
"But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be," Kellogg concluded, "it's a bit beside the point. It's the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can't be a good idea."
Responding to that post, Patty Smith, Amazon's director of corporate communications, told Jacket Copy that there "was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed. We're working to correct the problem as quickly as possible."
"Amazonfail and the politics of anti-corporate cyberactivism" was the headline for a Foreign Policy piece on the issue that noted, "Every time I see a group of bloggers and social media guys take on a company that has made an outright stupid decision, they usually win. Not only because they are right, but because the company usually ends up paying much higher fees in publicity services to deal with a swell of the negative publicity--all embedded in the precious Google juice--than the losses it would incur from dealing with complaints from their conservative customers, who may want to restrict the publication of certain materials."