Additional Reasons To Not Forget #amazonfail

April 16, 2009

Click on logo for Part 1

Yet more evidence has emerged that #amazonfail was not a glitch, nor was it an incident that began or ended on the weekend of April 12. Rather it apparently is part of an ongoing attempt by Amazon to exploit authors, discriminate against LGBTQ and erotic material, and control the book selling business.

Francine Saint Marie, author of the LAMBDA Notable Book, The Secret Keeping, as well as The Secret Trilogy and Girl Trouble, among others, has battled Amazon to get her rankings restored and Kindle royalty payments made by Amazon since January of 2008 (yes, 2008, that is NOT a typo).

She and her team started documenting Amazon’s anti-LGBTQ bias in the last quarter of 2008. At least some of the discussions about this subject on Amazon forums were deleted by Amazon.

“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.”

On April 5, John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books reported in his Free Book Marketing Tip of the Week post that Amazon has deleted any reviews by authors who had the impudence to mention their own titles in posting their reviews.

I can’t speak for all authors, but I believe a review posted by another published author carries more weight. I’m proud to count some well known authors among those willing to praise my novels. As Kremer stated: “legitimate reviews that reveal that the reviewer is an expert (a book author) should be allowed, indeed should be highlighted.”

Amazon deleted reviews with no notice and only after much difficulty could anyone even obtain a reason why. As is typical with Amazon (along with the lack of communications) no change to this policy seems to be forthcoming.

Recently, Amazon instituted a policy of only allowing anyone “who has purchased items from Amazon and is in good standing in the Amazon community” to write reviews. As far as I know, Amazon is the only bookseller restricting online reviews to those who have given it money. This policy prevents anyone who has read and enjoyed my books, but chosen to purchase them from another vendor, from posting their opinions on Amazon. It has prevented me from posting a review of a book I enjoyed that was given to me by that book’s author.

I am not the only one (although we apparently are in the minority) still outraged by what has happened and what it means. A small sampling:

Dear Author: “Amazon offers up some plausible excuse – oh my it was an overzealous cataloguing error – and everyone assumes that this issue is over. But it’s not over, or at least it shouldn’t be, because the #AmazonFail episode is an example of how easily one company can make content essentially disappear from consumers.”

Richard Eoin Nash: “in a world where whiteness and straightness are “norms” and males benefit from our patriarchal history, it is always the GLBTQ books, the queer books, the non-normative books that get caught in the glitches, the ham-fisted errors.”

Patrick of Vroman’s Bookstore: “now is the perfect time to think about whether you want to trust one company to dominate the book market, or any market, for that matter. … It’s actually your freedom that’s at stake here, and putting things back the way they were, fixing the notorious “glitch,” won’t change that. Because your freedom was at stake long before this recent de-listing experiment.”

Lilith Saintcrow: “Talking points in place for a specific complaint is not a glitch. It is a marker of a policy. Just look at the initial responses Seymour got when he complained of deranking in February. ”

Nadia Cooke “The indies are failing because we, the consumers, turned to Amazon and the chains. No-one thought that their own actions carried any weight, forgetting that the power of capitalism comes from the aggregated effects of thousands—millions—of individuals.”

You can use this link to find the closest independent bookstores. The staff there should be able to order any book for you as long as it has an ISBN number.

If you don’t have access to a local independent or it censors what is available, two online independent options are Relatively Wilde and Powell’s of Portland, Oregon.

And, just for fun: #amazonfail The Music Video

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Why We Should Not Forget #amazonfail

April 14, 2009

Click on logo for Part 2

Now, that Amazon has reinstated most of the 57,000 plus books that lost their rankings, their visibility, and their sales over the weekend, many people are letting #amazonfail die down. The twitter- verse has a very short attention span.

The backlash against the LGBTQ community and the “angry left” for making an “issue” out of a “technical glitch” has already begun.

However, this is not exclusively an LGBTQ issue. Many of the books that lost their ranking were heterosexual romances and non-fiction books on important issues such as surviving rape and preventing teen suicide. It’s not even an issue of what is and is not “adult” material. And, it doesn’t really matter if it was a “glitch” or a deliberate attempt by anyone inside or outside of Amazon to censor LGBTQ and adult material.

I have always maintained, while often taken to task for it by other authors, that Amazon is inherently evil for many reasons. Sunday, many of those authors and I joined forces to rally against a corporate behemoth that has, in my opinion, entirely too much power to decide what we can and cannot read and who profits from an author’s work.

But despite the fact that Amazon has not offered a consistent explanation or apologized for the negative impact this event had on many authors’ sales, most today return to business as usual, accepting the Amazon paradigm and its impact on what is available to read.

Other authors will argue that Amazon offers opportunities to small press and self-published authors that they wouldn’t otherwise have to reach readers. But those “opportunities” come at a very high price when you look at:

  1. the discounts Amazon demands (some of Amazon’s ability to offer reduced prices on books comes out of the pockets of authors and publishers);
  2. Amazon’s recent attempt to restrict access to its website by any POD publishers other than its own (See “Amazon Throws its Weight Around, Book Publishers Push Back” and, class action antitrust lawsuit agasint Amazon) ;
  3. and the number of small independent bookstores for whom Amazon was the tipping stone that pushed them over the edge and out of business.

Like everyone else, I was angry Sunday. It was a righteous anger, one that for me doesn’t dissipate with Amazon’s lame and inconsistent excuses about glitches and a French employee not knowing the difference between “adult,””erotic,” and “sexuality.”

These arguments are particularly specious in light of Amazon reps telling Brooke Warner, Jessica Valenti’s editor at Seal Press, that Amazon “has been experimenting with the way they dole out content” and Mark R. Probst “In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude ‘adult’ material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists.”

In addition, Associate Professor of Journalism at Northern Illinois University Craig Seymour had his memoir removed from Amazon’s search results as early as February 2. (It was “mysteriously” restored after numerous complaints and endless correspondence on his part 25 days later.)

Personally, I was not adversely affected by the fiasco (well, except for the two days of productivity I lost to the battle). Rain and wind offered absolutely no temptation to venture outside my door. With one cat or the other curled up on my lap (and for a couple of hours both) I spent a good chunk of Sunday helping get the word out.

Although my books were also de-listed, they’re so far down in the Amazon stratosphere that I doubt if the few days of not being searchable noticeably impacted my sales. I encourage my readers to buy the books from other sources anyway and have removed links to Amazon from my website.

But, as stated in UK’s The Guardian: The move “highlights the extent to which Amazon has become one of the most powerful forces in the publishing industry – with the power to make or break a book.”

Buying books from Amazon gives the company that power. Saving a couple of dollars here and there has a VERY high long-term cost. Yes, the Twitter-verse, bloggers, and other authors united and perhaps forced Amazon to back pedal and/or fix the glitch — depending on who you believe — this time.

Keep in mind that Jeff Bezos is a large investor in Twitter. If you don’t want to see a repeat of this week’s ham-fisted (to use Amazon’s own word) attempt to control your world DO NOT BUY BOOKS from its websites.

Shop at your local independent bookstores (assuming they are not censoring erotic and LGBTQ material). If you are lucky enough to still have an independently owned brick & mortar bookstore in your town/city go spend your book money there. The staff should be able to order any book for you as long as it has an ISBN number.

If you don’t have access to a local independent or it censors what is available, I recommend Relatively Wilde and Powell’s of Portland, Oregon as online alternatives to shopping at Amazon.

I have no affiliation with either except as a book lover who appreciates a bookseller who truly cares about books and doesn’t view them as commodities. (Disclosure: I do know the owner of Relatively Wilde and he has been very supportive of my books.)

Some additional coverage if you’re interested:

Blogs and Twitter Coin “AmazonFail” (Wall Street Journal)

“Amazon Says Error Removed Listings” (New York Times)

“#Amazonfail and the politics of anti-corporate cyberactivism” (net.effect)

Amazon’s Conflicting Censorship Stories Show Problems

Lilith Saintcrow: “The biggest online retailer has been caught trying to tweak algorithms to place content it desires at the top of the lists. Not content the customers have desired, content Amazon desired.”

“Dear Jeff Bezos: Let’s be Adults, Shall We?” (Susie Bright)

Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes (Kassia Crosser)

“Amazonfail: A Call to Boycott Amazon” (Edward Champion).

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