14 April, 2009

Twitter et al. v. Amazon

Finally I have started following Twitter. I'm not sure this will last but the current Amazon debacle has had me hooked over the last few hours. In case you're unaware of the story so far, Amazon delisted from its sales rankings over 50,000 titles with a heavy slant to those featuring gay and lesbian subject matter or indeed just written by gay authors. Initially and as a result of Amazon's own lamentable PR it seemed this was as a result of a policy to remove books with "adult" content from sales rankings (which influence their lists, recommendations etc.). This I found hard to believe since the almost entirely inoffensive Radclyffe Hall novel The Well of Loneliness was removed but Playboy centrefold calendars and heterosexual graphic novels were left. Now it is being blamed on an operator "flipping" a switch which automatically changed the tags on the books. Who knows what the cause was - a hacker has also claimed responsibility. What is clear is that Amazon have handled this very poorly. I know it was a holiday but their PR response was incoherent and largely uninformative, also fairly unapologetic and really really really slow. It is one of the hottest topics on Twitter (tag Amazonfail), there's a group or more on Facebook, an online petition heading towards 20,000 and the blogosphere is alive with it all. And of course Amazon is now restoring the listings (leading I assume to the slightly skewed movers and shakers on their site).

I think this was most likely a glitch. I don't see Amazon actively seeking to prevent people from reading the wholly innocuous Maurice by EM Forster or Stephen Fry's autobiography. But it's interesting to see the online seller par excellence so comprehensively screw up its PR in the face of an online onslaught of complaints. An internet company that this time round, just didn't get the internet.

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