Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon

It’s been called #amazonfail on Twitter, but it represents the greatest insult to consumers and the most severe commercial threat to free expression that we’re likely to see in some time. Amazon has decided to remove certain books that they deem “adult” from their ranking system. But the “adult” definitions include such books as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Amazon link) (screenshot), Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina (Amazon link) (screenshot), Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain (Amazon link) (screenshot), John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (Amazon link) (screenshot), and numerous other titles. [NOTE: These titles have now been ranked again. But please see UPDATE 11 at the bottom of this post, which contains additional links and screenshots. Amazon is still deranking many titles, but only seems to be restoring the ones directly called out by multiple sources.] Books that, in some cases, have fought decades to gain literary respectability have become second-class overnight because of Amazon’s draconian deranking policy.

To add insult to injury, such anti-Semitic texts as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Amazon link) and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Amazon link) remain within the ranking system while the less offensive books named above are considered too “adult.” In other words, if you’re a writer who has written openly about sex, Amazon considers you worse than an anti-Semitic writer who helped initiate pogroms and concentration camps.

As Kassia Kroszer noted, this is an offensive and unacceptable gesture from Amazon to the many readers and writers who make the publishing industry what it is. This is retail maneuvering of the most spineless and despotic form. It amounts to a store treating adults, who are informed individuals who can make up their own minds about how “adult” something is, as if they are incapable of independent decision making. It is a betrayal of the community that keeps Amazon thriving with the customer reviews. It is an insult to any author or reader who has dared to take a chance.

This decision must be responded to by a complete and total boycott of Amazon’s services. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM AMAZON unless they restore the ranking system. Boycott Amazon and let them feel the sharp pincers of your wallet going somewhere else. Instead of supporting a corporate behemoth who wants to put up the equivalent of a beady curtain at a video store for many titles that don’t deserve it (including numerous GLBT and sex-positive books), go to an independent bookstore who will treat you with inclusive respect. Remove all links to Amazon from your websites. Let Amazon know precisely how you feel in these economically uncertain times, and then maybe they’ll think twice about treating you as if you are unthinking cattle.

We can make a difference in this. We made a difference back in February with the Facebook TOS snafu. We can make a difference with this needless and demeaning ranking system. Boycott Amazon. Because a retailer should never be in the position of determining what is “adult” or salable. As the old maxim says, the customer is always right.

UPDATE: See also thoughts from Mark Probst, a petition to protest the policy, and Google bomb efforts from Smart Bitches. Also, as many helpful people on Twitter have noted, the Amazon customer service line is 800-201-7575. Although we may want to see if we can track down the executives who enacted this ridiculous policy and hold them accountable instead.

UPDATE 2: Goddammit, that’s the last straw. Nobody deranks Jonathan Ames and gets away with it. Here are the numbers for the Amazon Board of Directors. Flood all these people with your complaints on Monday morning.

Thomas O. Ryder (914) 244-5782
William Gordon (650) 233-2750
Myrtle Potter (650) 225-1000
Alain Monie (206) 266-1000
L. John Doerr (650) 233-2750
Tom Alberg (206) 674-3000
Patricia Stonesifer (206) 709-3140

UPDATE 3: On Twitter, the Washington Post‘s Ron Charles reports that Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener has told him that there was recently a glitch in the sales rank feature and that he is working to correct the problem. I am likewise pursuing investigations to get Amazon’s side of the story.

UPDATE 4: Of course, if the glitch was only just “recently” discovered, the big question here is why Amazon told Mark Probst two days ago that the company was now in the practice of excluding “adult” material in some searches. For that matter, why did Amazon offer the same answer to author Craig Seymour? Something is fishy. I have left voicemails and emails for Amazon spokespersons. What they do not realize is that I am a rather tenacious fellow. If they do not answer me tonight, starting tomorrow, I will be contacting them once every hour until they offer a reasonable answer to these many questions.

UPDATE 5: An Amazon search for homosexuality revealing anti-homosexual books in the top results is more than a “glitch.” In the comments, it has been reported that if you search for Olympia Press and Cleis Press through Amazon, the results have been diminished with this “glitch.” Meanwhile, here is coverage from Foreign Policy, The National Post, and The Associated Press. Tiara Shafiq has called for Amazon alternatives. There will doubtless be more news as Amazon tries to mop up this morass on Monday. And it would very much be in Amazon’s interests to “comment further” on the “glitch” that has been in effect since February.

UPDATE 6: Dear Author has dug up metadata that would suggest not so much a “glitch,” but a conscious effort on Amazon’s part to exclude books.

UPDATE 7: As of Monday afternoon, I have left eight voicemails for various contacts at Amazon and they will not return my calls. Also, the main Amazon corporate number — 206-622-2325 — appears to have been disconnected. We still have nothing from Amazon elaborating on the “glitch” that they are working on.

UPDATE 8: I have sent numerous emails and left repeated voicemails to Patty Smith (Director of Corporate Communications), Drew Herdener (Senior Public Relations Manager), and Dean Falvy (Amazon’s legal representative). These are all people who should really be going on the record and answering very specific questions about the “glitch.” But these spokespersons have refused to return my calls. And I have learned that they are not returning calls from other journalists.

UPDATE 9: Still no response from Amazon in my ongoing voicemail efforts. Some speculation that this was a hack has been debunked. Meanwhile, Mike Daisey claims inside info to The Stranger.

UPDATE 10: The metadata theory promulgated by Dear Author seems to me the most reasonable explanation (and Jane now has spreadsheets up of the books with metadata categories). See also Scrivener’s Error and this theory from an inside coder.

UPDATE 11: Amazon is now pretending as if the “glitch” appears has been rectified as of 5:30 PM EST. But here’s what’s interesting. The specific titles that I linked to offered direct links to have been ranked again. But many other books are still deranked, including such as Andrew Sean Greer’s The Story of a Marriage (Amazon link) (screenshot), James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (Amazon link) (screenshot), and Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger (Amazon link) (screenshot). So is Amazon only ranking those titles that people are singling out? In other words, if the “glitch” is being fixed, then why does it only apply to the titles specifically linked to on other sites, rather than an across-the-board metadata value?

UPDATE 12: Patty Smith responds to some of my inquiries.

UPDATE 13: Andrew Sean Greer writes in the comments: “Well all I know is the paperback of The Story of a Marriage came out last week but you can only see it by searching directly, not by looking at sales lists of literary fiction, etc. The equivalent of having it for sale only by asking the bookseller for something behind the counter. *sigh* Glitch, hacker, cataloging error, it still hits a writer where it hurts. Nobody likes their new book to be invisible except if you know where to look. Isn’t book buying all about browsing for unexpected treasures?”

UPDATE 14: James Marcus, author of Amazonia, offers a lengthy response at Propeller. Meanwhile, Sara Nelson offers a contrarian take, suggesting that Amazon has every right to determine what it wants to sell.

UPDATE 15: The New York Times‘s Motoko Rich investigates. Shockingly, I actually agree with the smug Daniel Mendelsohn for once. But more interesting than this is that all the publishers who Rich contacted failed to comment on the record. In other words, we should be reminded by this setback that Amazon holds a needless vise-like grip on the publishing industry. But are we willing to accept such a hold when Amazon’s data can be so easily manipulated or modified?

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127 Comments

  1. Dear Running Dog of Lit Crit,

    Glad I got a rise out of you. That’s more than you’ve been able to do.

    And speaking of self-promotion, I’ll let you know when Shields tats are available.

  2. […] there is an online petition you can sign, a call to boycott Amazon, fill out their customer complaint form, ring them or you could email them – here’s an […]

  3. […] “Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon” (Edward Champion). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)AmazonFail round up. What to do if you’re still delisted.Amazon Fails with Gay “Book Burning” B.S.[books] #amazonfailAmazon “glitch” removes sales ranks of hundreds of LGBT books […]

  4. I’m calling this one.

    I was the first to say it on this blog post; The guy’s an imbecile and this whole charade was just a bunch of BS.

    The reason this happened is now public knowledge. A well known troll used iFrame entries to list a bunch of books as offensive and get them de-ranked. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than Amazon doing it, and it explains things perfectly. I’m sure a bunch of people are going to say that Amazon was behind it anyway, and that’s fine. At least now, the general public knows how ludicrous your theories are.

    You could have just waited to see what happened and made a decision based on evidence like a decent human being, but instead you chose to scream and whine like children. I hope you got it all out of you. I’m sure you’ll sleep well tonight.

    Case closed. Now can we let this idiot go back into obscurity where he belongs?

  5. #EDFAIL

    This could have happened to most any online retailer… your misinformation is more problematic to me than an Amazon guy in France translating wrong.

    Try not to jump to conclusions for your own personal gain so fast anymore eh…

  6. I say kudos to Amazon!!! Amazon is one company in America that is actually making a stand for something they believe in compared to most that idly stand by and do nothing. If you don’t like what they are doing don’t support them. It’s easy as that.

  7. […] I’m alone in feeling blindsided and betrayed by this. On Sunday, when I first heard about the deranking, I was initially angry, but wanted to find out what had actually happened, instead of forming […]

  8. I thought it was funny that my book “And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street” was de-listed with sales rank removed, while they left on my books “The Silicon Valley” (entirely gay content, unlike the other book) and my “Who Will Kiss the Pig? Sex Stories for Teens”!

  9. I miss the days when men were men and women were women and faggots were perverts. Please don’t censor me you sick bastard.

  10. Forgive me, maybe I was to harsh, homosexuals have feelings and need love too, I guess I just resent it being shoved down my throat as something perfectly normal nowadays. I will never buy into that alternate lifestyle crap, however all human beings deserve to be cared about and not to be ridiculed.

  11. Yeah, like I am stupid for thinking some sick bastard sticking his penis up into another mans feces is sick. How about a nice hot plate of steaming feces now that you are so enlightened? Nothing in the world wrong with it if it suits your tastes. Who is anyone to say that eating crap is wrong if you were born with that predisposition. It is all in your mind, no absolutes, just personal tastes you silly bastard.

  12. […] And if you think that Amazon is going to play nice, consider my investigations from November 2007, which demonstrated that Amazon was placing blogs onto its Kindle Store without their permission. Consider also Techcrunch’s recent investigation, in which Amazon can steal any blog without the blogger’s consent. Yet many people continue to place their faith in Amazon. Even after Amazon’s poor response in last month’s Amazonfail scandal. […]

  13. Boris from russia June 16, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I stopped shop at amazon.com after they deleted my movie review for no reason.

  14. […] April when BookTour received a $350,000 cash injection from Amazon.com. While the news was eclipsed by the Amazonfail contretemps at the time, the big financial push certainly suggested that BookTour.com wasn’t about to set […]

  15. […] Amazon is no stranger to censorship, as we have all seen during the Amazon Rank debacle that happened not too long ago. This was enough to make me start changing all of the links on my website from Amazon Associates links to IndieBound affiliate links. I mean, it makes sense, the more business we keep in the community and we give to our Indie bookstores, the more money stays in our community. Plus, I like actually receiving a book the same day I pay for it and putting bills with the “In God We Trust” crossed out into the cash registers of local businesses. And there is also the feel good part of not having done business with a company that so obviously does not work in the best interest in the community. Where they would allow books that contain the truth about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and transsexuality would be filtered while the bullshit reamed out by the conservative talking heads and religious reich is given status? Amazon is in favour of misinformation and lying to the people and we cannot continue to purchase from them, lest we encourage their bad behaviour. I for one, will never purchase anything from Amazon again. […]

  16. Amazon.com seller policy sucks. I first opened a seller account on Amazon.com for about a month. I finally made a sell which I accordingly fulfilled. Amazon.com figured out the shipping amount but in reality when I brought it to UPS…it charged me more than what the Amazon credited me for shipping (so I take my lost #1). When I entered my bank account after a sell for later disbursement of what I sold, Amazon.com suspended my account indicating I violated its policy without telling me what I actually violated so, as a result, I closed my store and no further selling (so I take my lost #2) but the stink of it was (after it got its cut on the sell & everything) Amazon.com held my money hostage for months (so I take my lost #3) even though they got my credit card and bank information when I signed up for the seller account. My question is, “Why are they still holding my money hostage?” Are they keeping these funds from sellers so they can meet their bottom line when it comes to their financial reports??? The last stock quote I got for Amazon.com is about $84. Are trying to play this tactic to boost their stock price??? It really stinks!!! Take it from me, if you have a choice, don’t do any business on Amazon.com.

  17. Richard McDonough October 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    The reason to boycott Amazon is because they do not collect taxes to run our states/schools/municipalities. Not this bullshit. There are other sources for books.

  18. […] Edward Champion: Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon […]

  19. I’ll definitely never be buying from Amazon again. I don’t understand why more people don’t buy from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/ – especially people from outside the United States. Free postage anywhere in the world, and pretty cheap prices to begin with as well.

    It’s incredibly annoying when people use huge corporations to promote their own personal agenda. I can guarantee that’s what’s going on here – someone’s a conservative nut, and they’re on the payroll in a big way.

    Also, what does America have against sex? It’s much more natural an occurrence than extreme violence and gunplay, yet it seems to be the greater evil to the majority of consumers in the US.

  20. Oh thank god. It took about 50 posts but someone finally hit some sort of nail or some sort of head. Did no-one, in the entire blogosphere, think that this was a set up? That amazon did this whilst there is ALL THIS PUBLICITY about SAME-SEX MARRIGES to drum up traffic? “hey, whilst your angry about the whole book de-ranking thing, why don’t you just buy this book?”

  21. Since you guys are defendor of free speech, I wonder if you’d mind telling me what is exactly “racist” in my review below. It was labeled “racist” by the Amazon Nazi Thought Police–although it was in their web site for over one year before I removed it to make some grammar corrections…

    “The first time I watched Gone with the Wind was with my mother, who had watched it while still very young too. So I was eager to finally read the book. Alas: it is full of political propaganda! The book is a repetition (ad nauseam!) of attacks to Republicans.

    This book remains safely protected under the cover of a Pulitzer Prize, otherwise its raving racism would have been denounced. Any conservative who had dared to write a book referring to blacks as Mrs. Mitchell did, would have been torn to shreds by the Politically Correct crowd. Throughout the book Scarlet laments that her “too dear a homeland” was being “turned over to ignorant Negroes drunk with whisky and freedom.” The Yankees are just plain mean, because they were “talking about letting the darkies vote.” The Confederates couldn’t conceive the possibility of “having nigger judges, nigger legislators–black apes out of the jungle”! And–crime of crimes!–the Yankees also believed “niggers had a right to…to…white women”! In her book the only good blacks were the ones who stayed with their white Southern owners–you know, the ones who knew their place! Scarlet feels toward blacks the same way modern Democrats do: they are minors, ignoramuses who can’t possibly survive without help by the white man! I hoped she would change her mindset and see the light; but Mitchell never takes the time to enlighten her character: Scarlet goes on with the same condescending attitude. If Mitchell wanted to impart the view that whites and blacks are equal—which was supposedly the view she espoused—she failed monstrously through the book! If her book gets readings at the Margaret Mitchell’s Museum in Atlanta, I am sure only very well selected parts are read out loud!

    Pages and more pages drip with paradoxical rant. The Klan, obviously, was only created out of the concern of the good Southern whites, to deal with “insolent negroes” who were turning fond eyes on white women; the same negroes Mitchell also describes as trusted, faithful, and loyal… Well, except for the farm hands, of course, who were actually lazy ignorant children–you know, the ones who abandoned the plantations in a quest for the Liberty the nasty Yanks bestowed upon them! Interestingly, in the book, blacks would get highly offended if called “nigger” by whites; and unlike nowadays, when a black called another black a “nigger,” it was also meant as an insult!

    Yankees are shown as dreading blacks and regarding them as mere brutes. Yet, History tells us of slaves been snatched through the North from the Southern plantations and sent to Canada by these same unfeeling, heartless Yankees… Where I live (near Lake Erie) you can still visit the houses that served as safe havens for slaves running away from their loving owners in the South—it is called the “Underground Railroad.” I’m sure these running blacks just misunderstood the good intentions of their owners down in the South…

    If published today, I have no doubt this book would have caused riots bigger than the LA ones.”

  22. Speaking with some authority and personal knowledge, I would assert that Amazon is quickly approaching it’s zenith. It has gotten lost in Harvard MBA hell, and is nearing the top of the summit ready to begin that rapid decline that so many companies face when they forget their roots, and how to treat people. They are now a rabid dog hungry for the next dollar. This will ultimately create competition where they have worked so hard in the past to obtain hegemony. Once that happens it is only a matter of time till their own disaffected population of developers brings them down with new offerings outside of Amazon which gradually eat away at their bottom line like thousands of little piranha.

  23. […] first read about this via DogPoet’s feed, which led me to this blog post, which is full of unfounded hysteria about Amazon killing literature. Oh, the conspiracy theories! […]

  24. […] like Ron Jeremy’s autobiography are still easily found and purchased. For more on this, see Ed Champion’s site, which includes telephone numbers for Amazon’s board of directors (and while you’re […]

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