Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Amazon back-tracks on 'adult' books

In the face of widespread protests, online retailer Amazon has re-instated a number of 'adult' titles from its sales rankings that had been removed last week, reports Publisher's Weekly. Books affected apparently included numerous 'gay' titles such as James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

American writers and publisher Mark R. Probst reports that Amazon told him:
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.
However, they now claim that it was all a terrible mistake and have offered an apology:
This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.
Update (16 April 09): More on this from blogger Meg Pickard, including the role of Twitter in the controversy.
In classic internet style, the voices of the Twittering community - so keen to call Amazon homophobic or start an immediate boycott or googlebomb just 36 hours ago - aren’t apologising for misunderstanding, or admitting they were wrong to lump a fairly liberal internet bookseller (which, let’s remember, still stocks all sorts of literature to cater for every persuasion) in with the Nazis.

Instead, they’re pouring suspicion and scorn on the explanation, criticising Amazon for not fixing the problem, or allowing it to happen, or speaking up earlier - essentially, blaming Amazon for all their hysteria.
Link courtesy of The Guardian Technology blog.

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