Amazon: “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”

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From the Seattle PI blog, quoting Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener:

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.

You can find the original here

You know, I’m not really happy with Amazon’s response, rather, their lack of response. This should have been put on the front page of the site. Moreover, even though I realize that the magnitude of the error was because of a human making the wrong SQL and metadata choices, I’m not really happy about the initial decision to exclude “adult” books from the Sales Ranks, and thus, from Search. A large number of the books they’ve chosen to hide this way are standard scholarly history texts, novels, and critical theory texts, as well as book that feature queer characters, or are by queer-identified authors, even if the books have no sex, or queer characters. They’ve also “hidden” books about sexuality that are standard college text books—not only Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex, but the text books my father used to use in his classes at Keene State and UNH. My father the tenured faculty member, and ordained minister, by the way. Not porn.

My feeling is, if you don’t want people to find the item in your store, Don’t Carry It In Your Stock.

Richard Nash has written a thoughtful post here that I think makes a very very good point

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.

I’m removing all Amazon affiliate links from my site, starting now. I’ll be keeping the links to Powell’s, and to Books for Scholars.

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