Sunday, April 12, 2009

Has Amazon Looked Up the Word "Amazon" and Thought About It Just a Little

The big digital politics story of the day is without question Amazon's choice to remove the sales rank numbers from scores of well-regarded books with gay and lesbian themes on the grounds that they don't want "adult" content to be searchable and ranked side-by-side with supposedly wholesome (read hetero) offerings.

According to "Why Is Amazon Removing The Sales Rankings From Gay, Lesbian Books?," the titles even include the judiciously inoffensive children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. There's already a petition to sign and a Twitter hashtag, #amazonfail, which is certainly trending up in recent days. Annoyed digerati are also suggesting a Google bomb in response.

Mark R. Probst reports that he initially noted the omission in gay romance novels and reposted the bizarre bureaucratic e-mail that they received in response to his query about the stripping of the rank from his own work. One of the blogs from the Los Angeles Times notes the weird inequity in keeping American Psycho in their electronic ledger for publishing bean-counting.

As a new author ("only 1 left in stock!") warned about the danger of rank-watching obsessions by others less recently in print, I can attest to the importance of this kind of numeracy and the role of database thinking in writerly circles.

(Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan, Ted Striphas, McKenzie Wark, and Ellen Eades -- who points out that if you "type 'homosexuality' into the Amazon search bar, you get 'A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality' and 'You Don't Have To Be Gay' as two of the top three choices" -- for the links.)

Update: Apparently, Amazon is now describing it as a "glitch." Gawker, however, expresses doubt about this explanation.

Big Update: Even better, now the whole snafu appears to be a case of hacking designed to expose security flaws in Amazon's display of ranking algorithm.

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