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Author Mark Probst was told his gay-themed novel lost its Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) sales rank “in consideration of our entire customer base” because it was “adult material” but an Amazon spokesman responding to our query said the de-rankings of an untold number of gay and lesbian titles are due to a “glitch” that’s “being fixed.” In the meantime, Amazon has a mess on its hands — a big one — that is getting messier by the minute. The sales rank, which Amazon tells customers is “a good indicator of how well a product is selling overall,” disappeared from a host of gay, lesbian and erotic titles over the past few days. You can search for the books and they will show up (that was my experience though others have reported titles completely disappearing) but the titles no longer turn up in bestseller lists or in listings by rank.
The result was an online uproar that escalated Sunday afternoon and evening, and will take more than a one-line statement from Amazon to quell. Probst’s blog post about his experience with The Filly, complete with a screen shot of the response, pushed some questions that had been bubbling since late last week straight to the surface. For a sample of how quickly irate people can make themselves heard online try searching Twitter for #amazonfail or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for “amazon rank.” People started collecting titles — James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, biographies, nonfiction, memoirs, even Heather Has Two Mommies. Phone numbers and fax numbers of Amazon execs were posted, petitions were started, logos were created. (The one we have here was posted on LiveJournal) Andrea James has more at seattlepi.com.
One sign that the mass changes could very well be a glitch: the de-rankings made no sense. Literally. Kindle rankings appeared to stay intact but books that were ranked on Amazon’s UK site or Canada sites were de-ranked on Amazon.com. Mary Renalut’s The Charioteer lost its ranking but her Alexander trilogy did not. (My first thought was The Persian Boy got to stay because he was gelded.) “Straight” books that were more explicit but not labeled “erotica” got to stay. At least one book about Harvey Milk was affected but Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street was not.
Even if this is fixed quickly, it doesn’t change Amazon’s ability to de-rank books or remove them. It can make books invisible with a flip of the switch. Something to keep in mind. Craig Seymour blogs about one gay-related example that predates this: “Somehow, for nearly three weeks, Amazon effectively ‘coded’ my book out of circulation, and I had no idea how or why.”