[ Possibly resolved - see updates ]
I've seen the problem on photograph-hosting sites, where the "most popular" have inevitably been the ones verging on pornographic or well into the zone, until the hosting site has de-ranked those while also removing them from search processes. It's the latter action that I find ultra questionable, especially when it comes to books.
The L. A. Times points out that a book about a sadistic murderer remains available to find but a well-reviewed book on military policy (you guessed it: having to do with sex) has lost its sales ranking and won't be seen in the best sellers. They go on with many other examples - see details at the linked LA Times article. The problem for many, including me, is that these books are also taken off the list for searchable books, so a person looking for "Unfriendly Fire" will not be able to find it.
IRONICALLY, the Kindle version of "Unfriendly Fire" keeps its ranking. All the more reason to have a Kindle :-) The article cites book critic Bethanne Patrick who, when she came across the news, posted it on Twitter, "where it circulated rapidly. Sunday afternoon it took just an hour for the hashtag #amazonfail to become the top trending topic on the site. An online petition was created." They report that a site run by romance writers is hoping to redefine the phrase "Amazon rank" as "To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies)."
As LA Times writer Carolyn Kellog points out:
"But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, 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."To say the least.
UPDATE 4:55 pm. I just went over to Kindleboards to see what was being said and saw a link from MichelleR to a Live Journal's Meta Writer, a community maintained by Chris Smith. They're requesting help on identifying books that have been de-ranked and among them are Brokeback Mountain; Well of Loneliness; Giovanni's Room, non-fiction books having anything to do with LGBT topics; a Travel guide: Damron Womens Traveller (expressly, it's said, written for Lesbians); a behind-the scenes book for the tv show QAF by Paul Ruditlis; Neil McKenna's The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde; self-help books coping with issues relating to LGBT concerns; and Randy Shifts' The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk among many, many others. I suppose they'll take the film/DVD Milk off the sales rankings as well?
This is beyond the pale. What goofball would have decided on this and how could they even think to carry it out this way, if the reports are accurate?
But re the Best Sellers page that I link to, there are categories on the left side that will hold/display the categories of books found to be not searchable and which have been noted as removed from the general bestseller listings. I maintain that the books should be generally searchable.
UPDATES through 4/13/09 at 10:10 am. PublishersWeekly posted that an Amazon spokesperson said they were fixing a "glitch" that had occurred and said it was not a result of any new policy. The Director ("Erastes") of the Erotic Authors Association said that many of her members had noticed their books were missing from the sales 'rankings' on Amazon.
Publishers Weekly writes that one of them (Mark Probst) reported on his blog that Amazon customer service representative Ashlyn D, from Member Services,Amazon.com Advantage, had written him that "'adult' material" was being excluded from "appearing in 'some searches and best seller lists' 'in consideration of our entire customer base.' "
Now that's a glitch that also included a written explanation from a customer service rep, apparently. Commenters to the story are saying that authors received emails from Amazon responding that their books were removed due to "content" and some of the authors are said to have posted copies of Amazon emails to that effect. Craig Seymour gives his own experience, with the same reason given him, though his situation has been corrected.
tehdaly theorizes that this was a troll-group using the flagging feature, for 'adult' content, against any books it deemed unworthy of visibility, with the goal of pitting one community aganst another and having, as an added bonus, a bad effect on Amazon. Interesting theory, though most readers seem dubious. Caution: some there say to avoid clicking on the early link to Warriors for Innocence which may have, at one time, had malware on it. Here's the follow-up Twitter 'Glitch' response-thread; a Kindleboards thread that monitors the placing of books back into the search database. MichelleR adds a link to a blog with updated info at the bottom. LeslieN adds Erastes' listing of news articles and updates.
UPDATE: 4/13/09 at 10:23 am. 'Weev' AKA 'veew' has claimed responsibility for the fiasco and explained how he did it (if he did), the methods and motivives matching closely the theory that tehdely (paragraph above) had last night. He claims he did it out of hatred of "reputation systems based on user input" and his disgust with the gay community, taking advantage of a milder policy in place and system programming with not enough security against malicious use of it. He now has his admirers, of course.
As I said in the comments section here last night -- that it was possibly a mischievous person who was primarily responsible helps, but the milder version of the Amazon 'adult' content policies already in place, as we've seen in emails from Amazon to authors recently, and the lack of sufficient care against system gaming, just made this possible.
Some of the books have been slowly showing up in searches again although their ranking #'s (which bring exposure to reader$) have remained removed as of today. This would take longer though. Let's hope that books like Brokeback Mountain (which was okay in a collection because it wasn't 'tagged'), Well of Loneliness, and Unfriendly Fire are not seen as books that should be hidden from families. Amazon has a diverse crowd in today's world, which was confirmed this weekend.
MichelleR, put a copy of an Amazon statement about this, in this entry's Comments area. Books affected in the Health books area that they mention had been included in the long lists circulated last night.
UPDATE: 4/15/09 at 05:15 am. The Saga Continues. Amazon calls mistake 'embarrassing and hamfisted' saying that categories of Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica were involved, not just LGBT (but lists showed those were primarily LGBT unless a book was outright raunchy.
Mike Daisey, a former employee who has a book out about working at Amazon until 2001 (8 years ago) quoted the words of a friend who works at Amazon, saying that
"Well, this is the real story: a guy from Amazon France got confused on how he was editing the site, and mixed up “adult”, which is the term they use for porn, with stuff like “erotic” and “sexuality”. That browse node editor is universal, so by doing that there he affected ALL of Amazon. The CS rep thought the porn question as a standard porn question about how searches work."and Brandt then opined that Weev was "full of" it.
One problem with the story is that people searching on the weekend could not find books in Amazon U.S. but did find them in the UK and in Canada, so it doesn't seem to entirely have been worldwide. Daisey says further that it was editing that is shared, not data -- so how are the attributes (tags) of a book changed without that being 'data'? even if it's through editing that these are changed? And assigned a negative meaning.
Daisey could see no connection, moreover, between the quiet de-ranking of authors and removal from topic searches since February (with emails confirming that Amazon was methodically doing this) and the current imbroglio. No? Wouldn't the most innocent explanation consist of a mildly executed policy suddenly going off the charts due to error on a holiday weekend?
In the meantime, Bryant Durrell, who has an impressive technical resume, opined strongly that Weev could not have done what he bragged he did, based on trying to run Weev's forum-posted coding examples on Amazon pages not there but being reminded later that Amazon had said they'd taken pages down and plugged up some problem areas by Sunday afternoon. Weev/Bryant: yet another mystery, and Bryant may well be right (and I had said, "IF he did" it, as he seemed too eager to claim credit for upsetting Amazon and gays). It's no more decided than anything else here. We are all relying on people who have areas to defend. Both Weev and Bryant Durrell warn about believing the online word of strangers too easily.
Gizmodo, on Monday, headlined: "Amazon Unconvincingly Explains Its Bout of Homophobia Was Just a Glitch" and it gets harsher from there. Other news sites are a bit more politic.
And Wired gives a fairly balanced summary of it all.
For me, the most well thought-out, generous and eloquent piece about this debacle (and there have been many fascinating blog pieces) is the article by "Making Light" site (very apt name) - specifically by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. He imagines that Amazon's policies of removing rankings and participation in search-databases due to 'adult' content -- and they seem to have started in February -- were intially meant to cover what Amazon considered more raunchy material. Somewhere in the last 3 months, someone or a few decided to include more types of writing and subject matter in that category, and human decisions made (by Amazon France's employee's "misunderstanding" of English sex-tinged terminology (a loose mgmt style?) or by a Weev/Veew just caused the total confusion and explosion we saw.
The listed books are showing up in search results now, and people are watching to see if authors also get their earned rankings back, depending on google caches to know what the numbers were before the disappearances :-).
UPDATE 4/17/09 at 1:05 pm. Two articles that aren't just repeats of other ones: "Why Amazon Didn't Just Have A Glitch" - Washington Post Tech Crunch; "Amazon’s "Glitch" Myth Debunked" - afterellen.com Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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