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Thread: Amazon censors sales ranking of LGBT books

  1. #31
    Elite Member Moongirl's Avatar
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    MSNBC.com


    Shocking truth behind Amazon's 'glitch'
    Hoopla caused by lousy customer service, not sudden-onset prejudice

    By Helen A.S. Popkin
    msnbc.com
    updated 6:02 a.m. PT, Thurs., April 16, 2009

    It took Amazon nearly two days — roughly 80 billion eons in Internet years — to fess up to what it calls “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.”

    For anyone who ever attempted to receive an actual human response from Amazon, it’s hardly surprising the online bookseller took its sweet time letting customers know just what in the Sam Hill was going on. Unfortunately for this Internet pioneer, by the time it was ready to talk about its meat-pawed mishap, a much uglier explanation had taken root — one that Amazon attempted to diffuse in its official statement on the matter:

    "It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles — in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

    Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future."

    Yet the fatal flaw in this public relations debacle wasn’t its "ham-fisted cataloging error" or even the seemingly-infinite time it took Amazon to publicly announce "our bad." This whole mishegas could have been easily avoided but for the one thing Amazon (not to mention a whole lot of other online entities) is notoriously remiss — actual human-on-human customer service.

    As angry netizens know, the missing sales ranks were brought to the world’s attention by Mark Probst, author of "The Filly," a gay-themed romance novel for young adults. He contacted Amazon to inquire about his book's missing sales ranking. This was the response Probst received from an Amazon representative, so befuddling; he posted it on his blog:

    "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."

    The wisdom of the masses quickly ascertained that Probst’s young adult novel was just one of many gay-themed books suddenly de-ranked on Amazon, and an angry #AmazonFAIL soared into Twitter's top trends and stuck. Sudden onset homophobia on Amazon's part was just one of many eventually disproved conspiracy theories, all of which distracted from truly shocking story here: Mark Probst attempted to contact someone at Amazon ... and someone actually contacted him back!

    Seriously. Dude. Is that something you ever expect to accomplish in your life? Doubtful. To be fair, it isn’t often one needs to consult Amazon customer service immediately. The buying process is generally considered quite smooth. But good luck buddy if you need actual human attention, help you just can’t get from an e-mail response form. Want an actual phone number? Have fun on your safari through the Terms of Use legalese to find it.

    Still, given the shameful state of gay rights in the United States, the immediate — albeit incorrect — assumption that gay and lesbian books were targeted out of prejudice is understandable. But capitalism is amoral — it doesn't care who you are or who you do as long as you have a credit card — so other theories were plausible too.

    No wonder we fell for it when a prominent hacker attempted to take credit for a hack designed to show flaws in both Amazon’s infrastructure and our mob mindset. Alas, this too was untrue. The hacker had simply succeeded in achieving a clever meta-hack — making us believe he was responsible for something he didn’t do. Bravo, clever hacker. Bravo.

    In the end, as with most things, the real answer is the most obvious. And yet, to avoid this entire public relations nightmare, the petitions, the boycotting, the stumbling stock prices, all the responding Amazon employee had to do was take a two-second timeout to put on his or her abstract thinkin’ cap and conjugate something along these lines:

    “Using Amazon’s easily navigated Web site, I shall scan the synopsis the novel of which this author speaks and, overriding the societal-ingrained default which tells me all things 'gay' equals ‘adult,’ I see that something is amiss! I shall now inform Mr. Probst that I will get back to him after further investigation, thus gracefully diverting a public relations s**tstorm.”


    Some have posited that the powerful reaction to this Amazon glitch, now commemorated with “#amazonFAIL” T-shirts on Café Press, reveals a lot about America’s unspoken issues with sexuality and blah blah blah … I respectfully disagree. If you’re the one person in these United States shocked and amazed over our inability to deal with sexuality, just wait 'til you check out our issues with race and religion!

    If anybody needs to learn anything here, it's Amazon … and any other company with a gaping disconnect with its customer service department … and by any other company, I mean all of them.

    Helen A.S. Popkin won't axe your sales ranking on Twitter, but she will mildly annoy you after you've friended her on Facebook.

    © 2009 msnbc.com Reprints
    URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30215820/



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    © 2009 MSNBC.com

  2. #32
    Elite Member sparkly's Avatar
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    I'm on the fence, and not sure if I buy the whole "error" or "hacker" thing. It was too narrow in scope.
    Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.

  3. #33
    Elite Member lurkur's Avatar
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    Whether they were censoring gay sex or any "sex" (even science books??), it was censoring just the same. That's why you don't let looneys make decisions for the rest of us on what is "allowed" or not.

  4. #34
    Elite Member Aella's Avatar
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    This article from a writer sheds some further light on the 'glitch' thing:

    Amazon’s "Glitch" Myth Debunked

    Editor's note: this page was accidentally deleted when we tried to move it to the correct forum category (it was originally posted in the wrong place). Thanks to AE Twitter followers @vashtan and @artcon, we recovered the text and have re-posted it here. (I officially love Twitter!)
    AMAZON LIES
    I am the author of the LAMBDA Notable Book, The Secret Keeping, as well as The Secret Trilogy, Girl Trouble, and several other popular LGBT paperbacks sold on Amazon.com.
    All of my novels have been aggressively censored by Amazon since (at least) January of 2008, when they were first released as Kindle editions and promptly rigged in the Kindle store so as not to register any sales ranks and bestselling categories, or to show up properly in Amazon search results. I have also experienced mysterious "sourcing fees" applied by Amazon to the list prices of my LGBT paperbacks, as well as the deletion of five-star customer reviews of them, the removal of their "in stock" status, and a host of other handicapping techniques which are still in effect today.
    Since the first quarter of 2008 to the date hereof, I (and my team) have, in vain, relentlessly pursued Amazon about their insidious censorship of my titles. Through telephone calls, e-mails and forum posts, we have repeatedly demanded that they cease and desist burying my novels in their browse tree and otherwise hindering my sales. We have also urged them to provide all authors with "equal access" to their site features and a "level playing field" upon which to compete. As Amazon can confirm, the cry "missing sales ranks" and "discrimination" was Team Saint Marie’s mantra in 2008, and it was even the title of a widely read "thread" we posted in the Kindle publishers’ forum, which Amazon hastily deleted. Indeed, "missing sales ranks" and "discrimination" was the subject of many circular (and recorded) phone conversations with Amazon’s representatives, not to mention an awesome number of e-mails!
    For example, in April 2008, we sent them this one with the rather bland but direct subject heading, "Standard features missing from our Kindle detail pages." It said simply:
    "Hello. We publish numerous titles for your Kindle wireless. We need:
    1. ‘Sample chapter now’ buttons on all of our titles (and)
    2. their Amazon sales ranks cited on their respective detail pages.
    That will help a lot. Thanks in advance."

    Amazon cryptically replied, "This can’t be done manually by us at this time.".
    Which only made it necessary to write to them again:
    "Most of our Kindle titles have been in the Amazon Kindle store since Jan/Feb and selling, so their ASIN’s are evidently missing from your database since they have no sales rankings listed. Please add these ASIN’s to your sales ranking database so that they can get ranked and listed in their popular categories: B0012J44QY, BOO129IFY6, B0017Q1EKQ, B00169QIQQ (also just listed - B0018JZWYQ). Thanks in advance."
    Amazon restated, "We do not have the ability to manually add content into the Amazon sales ranking system."
    And then again, "Amazon has no means of manually adding sales ranks/categories due to the automated nature of the system."
    And again, "We remain unable to manually add sales ranking information to any product detail pages."
    And again, "This is a fully automated process and we have no way to change this manually."
    In May 2008, our Kindle publishing account started tallying zero royalty percentages for each of our sales and when we complained of this, it suddenly froze up on us completely, with no new sales registering in it at all. Because Amazon refused to respond to our inquiries about it, we had to send them this e-mail:
    "By now you know that my Kindle sales account has been botched and/or sabotaged. Whichever it is, it’s inexcusable and I need it fixed today. I’ve sold dozens and dozens and dozens of Kindle titles for you…plenty of sales since January — many not fulfilled since January — not to mention the absence of sales rankings and no ‘popular’ categories on our detail pages…I’m within my rights to ask, ‘What the heck is going on here?!’ and to receive an honest answer from you and a remedy for this right away."
    Amazon replied, "Send us a list of the ASIN’s you’ve sold a ton of."
    And then, "Read the dtp-help page on when people get paid."
    And then, "We cannot manually add sales ranking info. Thank you. Please let us know if this resolved your question."
    Soon after that, we did get a small wire transfer from Amazon of some of the overdue royalties they owed us. But, naturally, no sales ranks.
    Undaunted, however, we opened a second Kindle account and, subsequently, a third one, publishing my titles thereafter under "FSM" with the thought of modifying this later on, once our sales rankings appeared. But, of course, they never did. Interestingly enough, though, other completely unknown authors we published as a test case immediately got — and kept — their Kindle sales rankings, even after only just one sale!
    Armed with this odd and intriguing piece of information, we renewed our efforts in the summer of 2008, calling and e-mailing Amazon over and over again for an explanation. Our e-mails were ignored. Telephone calls suddenly terminated. Still, we persisted, even threatening to file a consumer complaint with our state’s Attorney General if need be and posting yet another thread in the publishers’ forum, this time titled, "zero royaltie$/zero rank$".
    At last, albeit reluctantly, it was Kindle-Team-Manager-Robert who eventually stepped up to the plate and batted — or battled — for Amazon:
    "Thank you for contacting us about your kindle book sale rankings. I apologize that the call got disconnected. The associate who was transferring the call explained that your book sales are still not ranked. I have re-escalated this issue for you. Unfortunately this will require additional research. I apologize for this inconvenience. I have contacted our technical specialists who should be able to provide guidance on the issue…"
    "Kindle-Boy" (as we secretly called him) was a pretty slick dude at first and I must admit that, with his ever so earnest tone and sincere-sounding proclamations, he really had us all going there for awhile, at least until the end of July when the "relationship" sadly soured. Here’s Kindle-Boy’s signing off statement:
    "Please accept my sincere apologies. After forwarding the issues you presented to me to our developer’s [sic] I have been informed that the issues have been resolved. I do apologize if they have not been resolved successfully and your books are still not being rankled [sic] correctly or your royalty payments are incorrect. Regards, Robert. Please let us know if this resolved your question."
    A messy mea culpa, I’d say! Did we chuckle at it?
    Yes, a little. But then things got even grimmer:
    Keeping in mind now that writers and other creative types can sometimes be tragically conceited and self-fixated, my view of the "big picture" was still clouded by the firm belief that I was, for some reason, being singled out by Amazon. Realize, too, that at no point did they ever fess up to me that they had an anti-queer agenda. Thus, it did not occur to Team Saint Marie to "refine" our routine and random searches of their browse tree until the very last quarter of 2008, at which point we had such an epiphany and began feverishly cross-referencing popular gay and lesbian paperback titles with their alternate Kindle editions, discovering that those, too, had no sales rankings in the Kindle store.
    In the first quarter of 2009, we undertook to publicize these startling findings on Amazon, both in the Kindle publishers’ forum and in various customer discussion threads, such as the one in the gay/lesbian forum titled "lesbian fiction on kindle" and the new discussion we attempted to initiate called "kindle’s queer bias." But, to our amazement, aside from a troll wandering in on that latter thread and obfuscating things quite a bit with weird greetings, overwhelming apathy was the only response that we got. And plenty of it.
    So we shrugged and walked away, and pondered in silence a different strategy.
    In the first week of March 2009, it suddenly all became crystal clear to us. We pulled every single Saint Marie LGBT title from the Kindle store, deleted all gay/lesbian categories and tags from them, republished them as plain, old, ordinary romances, and then sat back to see what would happen. If we were right, if our theory correct, we reasoned, then we should have sales rankings in approximately twenty-four hours…
    Twenty-four little hours later, I couldn’t help but whoop with joy. There were sales rankings on all of my titles in the Kindle store, and some were even on the bestselling lists! A week or two later, we began gingerly adding the gay/lesbian categories once again. This time, however, without the search tags — and without consequence.
    CONCLUSION: Censorship was clearly built into Amazon-Kindle’s digital-text-platform years ago when it was programmed to constantly crawl itself for new content and trip the automatic censors whenever it found certain keywords that Amazon’s leadership had designated as forbidden.: Publishers and customers need to be aware that those dirty words (like "gay" and "lesbian" as well as "erotic" or "sexuality" or "adult") will still cast you into the great Kindle abyss for all eternity and that missing sales rankings are really only the tip of the censor’s iceberg. Moreover, even though sales rankings appear to have been restored throughout its site again, now that Amazon has also introduced this program code into its paperback listings, it’ll take awhile for them to completely clean up their system.. That is, if they really want to.
    BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: This situation has existed in plain view now for more than just one week or even just one year, and I’m sorry to harp on this, but it is apathy that ultimately emboldened Amazon to extend it’s gay and lesbian literary purge to its paperback division last week…
    With well over ten million paperback books available on Amazon’s site, (as opposed to only 245,000 Kindle books), the resulting debacle was, however, utterly predictable, at least to anybody who had a little commonsense and one ounce of foresight. But bigots are blind-fellows and ignoramuses (thank goodness) and I’m sure the ones responsible for this virtual book-burning frenzy still can’t believe that some of the world’s bestselling and most respected authors would be affected in the sweep. You can see them huddling now, still looking puzzled and scratching their dopey heads.
    Well, ha, ha, ha, Amazon — yes, that’s the last laugh — please let us know if we resolved your question!
    Yours truly — Francine Saint Marie
    http://www.afterellen.com/node/48877
    "Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck." - Joss Whedon

    "The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance." -Benjamin Franklin

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