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Amazon Rank/Amazon Fail Part Deux

So... Apparently the latest on the lovely Amazon Rank/Amazon Fail debacle is that this isn't a *new* policy (Amazon removing sales ranks from "adult" material), but simply a particularly ham-fisted implementation of an existing policy. See Meta Writer's latest, this Publishers' Weekly update, and Mark Probst's latest for this explanation.

OK, so if this is the "best case" scenario, Amazon has had a policy at least since 2008 saying no sales ranks on adult material, but they never bothered to define "adult" (at least anywhere in the policy) or implement it (considering that playboy, sex toys, and many other things one usually has to go to an "adult" store to find are still receiving sales ranks just fine—don't get me wrong, I don't think it's bad that these are ranked, just pointing out the seeming inconsistency in the purported policy).  But none the less, they're trying to implement it, and no one noticed that however they were writing their algorithm, it had extraordinarily overbroad and under-inclusive results.

That in and of itself isn't very confidence inspiring.  Amazon is a huge retailer that depends on its databases for its existence.  Am I really supposed to believe that they don't have say, a backup on which their database administrators could test such an algorithm to see what it was sweeping in before implementing it (or at the very least, check it after implementing to make sure the results were what they intended)?  Add to that, that if what author Craig Seymour has said is true, then Amazon was on notice back in February that either or both a) their working definition of "adult" was off or b) their algorithm wasn't woking as intended, they took a month to "fix" that with regard to one author and then proceeded along in the same or very similar course of action so that a lot of similar books/authors got swept in?  All that and their communications are somewhat crappy with the damage control?  If this is the result, I'm really not so sure that a combination of laziness, bad planning, and irresponsibility makes me feel any better than blatant, outright homophobia. 




( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Hey Paley. Yeah, I've been reading all about this. It's bullshit. And those are very good points about those other adult items you mentioned. I'd be much more concerned if my child searched for something and got a sex toy or skin mag than a book that had to do with adult themes (I don't mean outright porn). Amazon had to of known that an outcry would come from the LGBT buyers (as well as those who support them). So I wonder if there's anything we could do to get them to change it back? Though even if they did, I'm sure many would still refuse to buy from them again. Sorry this reply isn't as intelligent as your post. I'm in the "just woke up but haven't had coffee" stage still HAHA.
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Hey Toxic, thanks for the comment. Don't worry you were perfectly coherent. I was posting uncaffinated, so it's good to know I made sense.

The good news is that at least as of late last night (like 3am late) they were supposedly starting to restore rankings to some ofthe books. They also did restore the ranking to the book of the author that complained back in February (although it took them a month to fix.

OK, so maybe there's no outright malicious intent on Amazon's part, but this is just shoddy and super-haphazard planning if that's the case. And that's really *not* the kind of behavior I want to see from a retailer. Especially not one this big that has so many oodles of people's credit card and personal information stored on their site. If they're this sloppy with adult content policies, can we really be sure they're going to not be sloppy about everything else? I'm still a little perplexed as to how their setup could be so lax that simple glitches could have resulted in this mess. I used to work in sales for a much tinier Seattle-based company, and before we did any changes to our databases, website, etc. we worked them out on the backups before going live. As some other posters have pointed out, Amazon is the kind of company that just pull down all or a portion of its site to make changes, but that doesn't mean they don't have mechanisms to test changes they make to their databases, layout, serch functions, etc. before they go "live."

I think it's great that they're apparently starting to fix some of the books that were stripped of rankings, but I want to know what they're doing going forward to stop this kind of fiasco from happening again.
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
Dude, how could they have had a glitch in their ranking system that got GLBT books to disapears; if they were trying to have an adult section/own search engine(or whatever it is they're trying to do), how could ANY of the keywords used to categorise adult books NOT AFFECT PLAYBOY!

The very bright side of this whole debacle, is that looking at the list of books who were removed, a lot of them sounds appealing to me now and I want to buy them. A lot of blogs have also linked to underground gay publisher/library/website where I could get those books, which is what I intend to do.

Apr. 13th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
Well it is possible that they were *just* addressing books and say, Playboy got excluded itself becuase it was a magazine and the Playboy Centerfolds book (and several other nude photography books) got excluded because they were tagged as "photography" (so, what, they were stmart enough to not bring the pissed off photographers down on them, but not smart enough to check and see what their system was actually marking as "adult"??). But that still doesn't answer the question of why they were targeting or focusing on books if that is the case. Especially when "banning" or otherwise excluding books is definitely going to get a lot of people riled up... not necessarily the kind of publicity a retailer wants.

As you mentioned, ironically this may have actually helped a lot of the smaller publishers and lesser known authors because we've all now gotten interested in their books (much like banned book lists tend to spark enthusiasm for the books on them). However, even with this hitting the mainstream media to a certain degree, these books and publishers are likely only popping onto the radar of those most sympathetic to them and comfortable with the internet. The closeted, shy, curious teen in middle america looking for information to help them understand themselves is probably still not going to find these books, at least not until all the rankings are fixed. :(
Apr. 14th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
Nope - they're going to do what they can to save their asses, but I'm sure they really didn't care until the big guns and hoopla targeted them as homophobes. Now they're scrambling with any excuse to save their butts. In this day, age and economy, they really shouldn't be doing such blantantly bigoted things - and they've come to realise this a little to late. Now they have to CTA and hope they come up smelling a little less like dogshit.
Apr. 14th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
Of course, if this really is all the result of one hacker and a bunch of homophobes with too much time on their hands exploiting a feature and a set of policies that are faaar too easy to exploit. Then double shame on Amazon for setting up such a boneheaded (and obviously exploitable) system in the first place!
Apr. 14th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
Too right! Of course, we'll never really know... Big Corp. is bad about Big Honesty...


*hugs you*
Apr. 14th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
Except that Amazon is typically a bit better than most. Being that the economy is so bad, we could probably apply some leverage to encourage Amazon to come clean, and if not; well, they'll just lose a lot of customers.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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