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AmazonFail redux

I'm still reading and thinking about #AmazonFail. What's striking me is that in the midst of all the confusion, and contradictory stories, and lack of evidence for anything in any way, everyone seems so sure their chosen theory about what happened is right. There are three or four competing theories just now, and the attitude seems to be "pick one, and stick to it, and shout about it as loudly as possible."

1) Amazon are an Evil Corporation who are purposefully censoring GBLT books (either just because they want to, or after pressure from right-wing protest groups) and should be boycotted, or possibly taken out and shot.

2) Amazon can do what they like, and it's a non-issue.

3) Amazon have been trolled by this guy, because he says so.

4) Amazon have had some sort of technical or manual glitch that's caused this, and it'll be fixed.

Me? I don't know. And more than that, I suspect it's a combination of all of them, except maybe 3. There's definitely some sort of policy where adult books can be de-ranked, as explained in the emails to Mark Probst and others. Nobody's really had a problem with this before, because it affected very few books, and they didn't seem to be specifically targeted in the way that the gay and lesbian books have been this weekend. And while it makes me a bit squirmy, I can see why they don't want porn turning up in top level searches.

This weekend is a completely different matter, of course, but I call cock-up rather than conspiracy. I don't believe the trolling theory, really - none of the suggested ways of doing it seem to work, and the post linked to above screams of attention-seeking. It seems more likely that since the de-ranking filter exists, something has happened (either maliciously or lazily or incompetently, but probably from inside Amazon, since I've seen no evidence it can be influenced from outside) to hugely increase the number of books put on that filter. And it's one of those things that's a lot harder to do than to undo.

Meanwhile, Amazon PR are panicking - ignoring the problem, then blaming a "glitch" and giving no other details, then going quiet again - because they don't know what's going on or when it'll be fixed, or they've been told not to give out any information until they can say "yeah, we've sorted it, and done X to stop it happening again". Because they ARE a major company, and covering up their cock-ups until they can lay blame is what major companies do.

The difficulty for me with this sort of issue is getting the balance right. Spreading the word about the problem far and wide, and trying to make sure something gets done about it? Absolutely vital. Ignoring it or saying it's not important, or that you're sure it's just a mistake and it'll be fine, isn't enough - saying it's not a problem at all is abhorrent. But at the same time, I'm uncomfortable with the immediate decision some people have made that Amazon Is Evil, that it should be boycotted long-term, shares should be sold, etc etc, before giving them a reasonable chance to explain what's happened. And it's all complicated, of course, by the people jumping in to claim or deny responsibility.

People want immediate and definite answers, and that's understandable, but it's not entirely compatible with a search for the truth of the matter. I'm happy to wait a few days, and see what the picture looks like then, before I make up my mind.

Comments

pmoodie
Apr. 14th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
Because I live in a cave, I'm only now finding out about the whole thing.

I think (and hope) your instinct is right, that the thing has been an unfortunate cock-up and that Amazon has mishandled the matter, as major companies often will. It seems to me that in life, unfortunate blunders are a lot more common than sinister conspiracies.

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