April 14, 2009

Bookish Links 04-14-09

In case you did not subscribe to Shelf Awareness, I wanted to pass along this about the controversial and much talked about #amazonfail mess that has been all over Twitter and, apparently, the NY Times.

Amazon Responds to Critics, but Questions Persist

In response to the negative attention drawn to Amazon's de-ranking of certain titles on its website, company spokesman Drew Herdener issued the following statement Monday, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"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."

The New York Times featured an overview of the incident, including remarks by Daniel Mendelsohn, whose memoir, The Elusive Embrace, lost its sales ranking over the weekend: "There are mistakes and there are mistakes. At some point in this process, which I don't understand because I'm not a computer genius, the words gay and lesbian were clearly flagged, as well as some kind of porno tag. I say, do I want my book in anyone's mind to be equivalent to a porno? And the answer is no."

The Associated Press reported that Gore Vidal, whose classic The City and the Pillar had been unranked by Amazon, said, "What kind of a childish game is this? Why don't they just burn the books? They'd be better off and it's very visual on television."

And on his blog, former Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash wrote that his "personal background likely has more in common with the Amazon employees, however high up, than it does the with authors whose books are affected. As such I'm hereby saying to the ham-fisted error-makers: what happened was really really bad."

Nash argued that "the onus is on us, as Tim Wise has taught so well on the topic of white privilege. We cannot be given the benefit of the doubt, because it is always us who get the benefit of the doubt in our society, and if we are to take the pink and lavender dollars, and if we are to say, you don't need A Different Light, or Oscar Wilde Bookstore, we'll hook you up just fine, then we can never let this happen. I learned this as a straight white male publisher of queer books, it was why I took care to try to find staff who are gay or trans, to catch my complacency, my temptation to think I deserved the benefit of the doubt.

"I didn't, nor does Amazon. The vigilance and outrage demonstrated on Twitter are necessary, not because the folks at Amazon are bad people, but because the books that were de-ranked were de-ranked because it is always the outsider whose books get de-ranked and 'mainstream' society and the capitalist institutions that operate within it, whether my old company or Amazon, must self-police ruthlessly in order to guard against this kind of thing happening."

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  1. I wish they would offer a proper apology, at the very least. Intentionally or not, they really messed up.

  2. They did mess up and should offer a proper apology. I agree with you and Nymeth.
    I love coming here. You're like the one-stop-shopping for all the best book news!
    Thanks for being you :)

  3. What a great summary: thanks for providing it! :)

    Like Nymeth, I think they really need to make a black-and-white apology.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Thanks for keeping us all abreast of the news. I am really disturbed by this and the fact that Amazon seems to have a history of playing around in this manner. They seen to be developing a bad rep.


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