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Ranking Amazon’s Rank

Over the weekend, started “deranking” sexually explicit books, and anything with lesbian/gay content….meaning that it’s become much harder to find those books in Amazon’s catalogs. Included in the purge is Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Jeanette Winterson, and a host of Romance Novels.

Kassia has an open letter, and there is a bit of a twitterstorm going on tagged #amazonfail. Smartbitchestrashybooks has called for a Google bomb of the search term Amazon Rank. You’ll find plenty of other things to read about it, assuming Google isn’t deranking search results, by googling “amazonfail”, and “amazon rank.”

So far the only official response from Amazon that I’ve seen was an email to YA author Mark Probst:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

Aside from the specifics of this particular decision by Amazon, it raises some pretty deep questions we need to ask ourselves:

We now rely on two companies, Amazon & Google to help us find, and then deliver to us a huge amount of our information. These companies have enormous power to make decisions about what society will and will not see.

We’ve had faith in their general decentness about using this power, about not gaming their systems, and generaly working hard to provide us with the “right” search results. Still, I’ve long been annoyed that Google filters search results based on where I am searching, and, I presume, my browsing habits. But when I am searching, I want to find the stuff that is most popular, not “what Google thinks I want to see based on my profile.” And as this story indicates, it ain’t all gravy over at Amazon either.

Is it enough for us to believe that Google will do no evil? Clearly it’s not enough to believe that Amazon will show us the most popular books … for now anyway, they’ll only show us the most popular books they approve of.

One Comment

  1. Daniel Haran Daniel Haran 2009-04-13

    I’ve a write-up on my blog:

    Short story: it’s probably a troll, helped by a security vulnerability, trusting systems and a bumbling PR response. Amazon’s not evil, just incompetent.

    If they would remove the “feature” of excluding “adult” material from searches and best seller lists, this whole problem would be fixed. To not fix it will allow less detectable attacks on specific authors and publishers.

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