April 13th, 2009

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Amazonfail - overnight developments

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New Developments:

Publishers Weekly has the story that this is all due to a "glitch" - the site's having difficulties, apparently, so here's a screencap courtesy of cleolinda: Amazon Says Glitch To Blame For "New" Adult Policy.

LA Times updates with this exchange with Director of Corporate Communications Patty Smith:
"There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed," she wrote. "We're working to correct the problem as quickly as possible."

And I asked Patty Smith this:
From a layperson's perspective, this glitch does seem to have affected certain types of books more heavily than others. In fact, only one of the top 10 books in your Gay & Lesbian section continues to have a sales ranking (the Kindle version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray"). No other section is similarly affected. Can you comment on that?

The reply:
Unfortunately, I'm not able to comment further. We're working to resolve the issue, but I don't have any further information.

Dear Author on why the glitch reasoning doesn't hold water.

Seriously, what kind of glitch is that, a Cylon virus or something?

copperbadge makes a lot of sense.

And then! tehdely has a theory, namely that this happened owing to a third party attack in a very similar way to Strikethrough. What's important to note is that it doesn't get Amazon off the hook. The fail comes in the following flavours, as far as I can see:

One: there exists a system such that adult content is 'blacklisted'. If it's a bestseller, it won't be shown, if browsers are putting in general searches, it probably won't appear. Authors can't track their sales. It's purposely made really difficult to find. Which, uh, kind of defeats the point of a bookshop. It's not equivalent to creating some kind of safe search option, or putting things on the top shelf. To continue the physical shop analogy, this is like having to walk up to counter, knock three times and utter a codeword, then name the precise title you want and get it handed furtively over to you in a paper bag complete with dirty look from your cashier. Which is decidedly not okay.

Two: the system by which things are classed as adult and then treated in this way has something SERIOUSLY FISHY going on. Either outside users have complete control over what gets flagged, which is terrifying, or (more likely) there is someone, somewhere, either pushing the policy through initially or at least approving the requests.

Three: the result is that all sorts of things are being targeted in a very hypocritical and bizarre fashion. Queer lit has obviously been hugely affected, but so have a lot of pro-sexuality books of varying stripes, feminist books, even a book about supporting suicidal teenagers. Meanwhile, a thriving double standard exists as explicit heterosexual romance remains front and centre.

Four: a mere two days ago, before this became the catalyst for the whole storm, this was explicitly confirmed by the site - 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.

That ain't no stinkin' computer glitch. Some real live person or group of people, somewhere, has screwed up enormously to allow for this to happen. As a consequence, we currently have no reason to trust any of the sales or search information Amazon gives out, and unless the site comes out with a much franker explanation and apology, I have no reason to trust them again.

ETA1: Dear Author: Amazon Using Category Metadata To Filter Rankings? It explains a lot, like how Heather Has Two Mommies and John Barrowman's autobiography in hardback got filtered, while The Parent's Guide To Homosexuality and Barrowman's paperback edition did not - the former are categorised as Gay & Lesbian, the latter are not. As the site says: "It appears that all the content that was filtered out had either 'gay', 'lesbian', 'transgender', 'erotic' or 'sex' metadata categories. Playboy Centerfold books were categorized as 'nude' and 'erotic photography', both categories that apparently weren’t included in the filter. According to one source, the category metadata is filled in part by the publisher and in part by Amazon."

ETA2: Now on The Guardian!

ETA3: this guy claims to have done the whole thing, this user says 'not so much' - I'm inclined to believe the latter purely because previous evidence did not at all point to an external troll, but I know nothing about code. furiosity talks about it here. jonquil has a timeline here.

ETA4: Amazon responds! "This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection."

This post on Dreamwidth
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Doctor Who poll!

I think we can sum up my state of mind over the last two days (namely feverish and furious refreshing of flist and Twitter) by saying that I just popped over to who_anon for kicks. Um. Anyway, they were talking about the companion in the latest episode, and blah blah blah -- my favourite was the cries of 'elitism!', what? -- but I got to wondering about the most popular one-off companions (for a generous value of companion that includes Elton and Sally), and companions generally. Thus: poll! I'd imagine we can assume spoilers for 'Planet of the Dead' in the comments.

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This post on Dreamwidth. Fyi: you can vote over there with OpenID if you so wish, and I'll be interested to see how the results turn out!