Sunday, April 12, 2009

In case you missed it...

There's a big kerfuffle over Amazon and its deranking of certain "adult" books. The kerfuffle being that the only books being deemed "adult" are those that contain GLBT themes and characters, and some erotica. What follows is the (3rd) draft of the e-mail I'll be sending them tomorrow... Any ideas for improvement?

Recently, I have come across numerous blog postings regarding new Amazon policies that either remove certain books from the front page searches or remove the sales rankings from certain books. According to these posts, the sole justification for the changes is the content of these books - specifically that they contain erotica; or are published by a mainly erotica publishing line; or that they contain characters who are homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual. Now, I will not pretend that I understand ranking and what it means to the sale of books, or even exactly how important it is for a book to be reachable from a front page search - I'm not in the publishing industry at all. I am, however, an avid reader, and I know that I often use your front page searches for books I am looking for, and if I don't find them there, I quickly move on to a different book. So I can see that the practice of removing certain books, imprints, and publishing lines from these searches would be detrimental to their sales.

Supposedly, these books are being adjusted based on their inclusion of "adult" material, and - while I do not condone that sort of practice at all - if that is your policy, I expect that it will be a blanket policy and apply equally to ALL books that are posted in your system. Unfortunately I'm seeing case after case where this is not what's occurring. If you were, in fact, to apply this policy to all of your books, then your search feature would become obsolete, your rankings meaningless.

Sure, lots of erotica contains "adult" material: so do lots of OTHER books: Fiction is full of "adult" material - will Lolita be losing it's rank? How about Shakespeare? What about regular romance novels that are published by mainstream publishers, rather than just those that are published under other imprints: I hardly ever notice who's published the book I am reading, but just glancing at my shelves, I know that there's more than one mainstream - bestselling - author whose work contains "adult" material: will their rankings be adjusted as well?

I'm quoting now from a blogger who's listing the books who's standings have been changed, and he writes "the only "sex scene" in The Well of Loneliness consists in its entirety of the words "And that night they were not divided."" The Well of Loneliness had it's sales rank removed, and yet I can think of more explicit sex scenes in almost everyone of my beloved Nora Roberts novels, and after checking three of her books, I see they are all still ranked. As is Playboy Nudes, Spring 2007.

And it's not just fiction - apparently, The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians: How to Stay Sane and Care for Yourself from Pre-conception through Birth, 2nd Edition has lost it's ranking: I fully expect, then, that What to expect when you're expecting will be unranked from now on as well? And that to search for it, you'd have to search from Books rather than All Amazon? And what could possibly be the justification behind labeling Young Adult books as "adult" material and giving them this treatment - unless you're also going to be de-ranking books I loved in my young adulthood, too? Will Are You There God, It's Me Margaret be no longer available from the front page search?

I am shocked and saddened to learn that it is your corporate policy to discriminate. Perhaps this is, as has been suggested in the blogosphere, an extreme programming error on your company's part - a glitch where books are being removed/de-ranked based on arbitrary keyword searches. Even so, the fact that those programs would be searching for terms that include words like 'gay', 'lesbian', 'bisexual', 'transexual', or 'erotica' to the exclusion of words like 'nude' or 'graphic sex' is incredibly discriminatory, and it's not something I can support.

Personally, I don't think you should be excluding any books from the searches, as it is obvious that you can not create a filter that will give the proper "consideration to your customer base." And I think it is very shortsighted that you would even try to - I am your customer base - I'm a reader, a book reviewer, and a friend to untold authors - I was certainly not "considered" when this decision was made. As a customer, I think it's more important for me to know that I will get accurate results from my search, rather than censored results. If I type in the name of a book, and the book doesn't come up until page 5, what's the point of searching? (As an extreme example - what good would it be to me if I searched for Hamlet, and instead got Green Eggs and Ham as the first result? Hamlet, after all contains violence & paranormal elements - perhaps they would be the next keywords to be excluded?) You do a disservice to all of your customers when you pick and choose what to include in the search results.

Judging by the responses I have seen online so far, your policy is going to start costing your company a lot of money, very soon. For my part, unless I see that your policy has been quickly changed, and an apology has been issued, I am one avid reader who will begin searching for my books somewhere else. I will also no longer link to books on through my blog, and will be removing my wish list widget from my sidebar: I cannot knowingly contribute to a site where such policies are considered as sound corporate practice, and I am not alone - I think that you will find that if you'd like to earn the title of "earth's most customer-centric company" you have quite a ways to go

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