Amazon.com has given few answers as to why or how they ended up removing the sales rankings and search results for over 50,000 books, including gay, lesbian, and transgender- positive titles, biographies of LGBT people, books written by LGBT people, and sex-positive and feminist titles. While admitting to a “cataloging error” is all well and good, the lengthy delay in fixing this “glitch” and the complete lack of transparency and apology has me still waiting on this one.
If you haven’t been following the story, you can find great insights on what happened, and didn’t happen quickly enough here, here, here, here, here, and here, new definitions of Amazon Rank, and calls to arms here, here, here, and here.
You see, to me, it’s not just the offensive idea that whole swaths of books, written about, by, or for people of a minority have gone missing at the stroke of a keyboard. That is detestable. That is revolting. But also that in the United States, in the year 2009, we are still having to have debates about the merits of censoring literature. Censorship = bad for the free flow of ideas = bad for progress of humanity = bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.
Do I believe that a retailer has a choice about what kinds of items they will sell and that a book retailer can make choices about what ideas they choose to make available to their customers? Yes. Do I believe that they also have an obligation to be open about their restrictive policies with their customers so they can make informed decisions to take their business elsewhere? ABSOLUTELY.
And that’s the creepy part about our reliance on online information- if Mr. Google decided to eliminate all searches related to, say, “sushi,” one day, it is a block on information that few people retain the skills to work around anymore. I am a super book nerd, and a research junkie, but I have to admit, I’m lazy in my old age and I google what I’m curious about and look to Amazon for book data. And had this whole story not blown wide open, I wouldn’t have known I was missing something. Eerie.
Even with the “ham-fisted” PR statement, I’m afraid it’s a bit too little too late for me. I’ve had 36 hours to get whipped into an online frenzy, two generic and insulting messages back to online complaints to their customer service, and seen more conspiracies than there are for the grassy knoll. What I’d like is something better from the Amazon.com PR department than a classic “what not to do” straight from PR 101. When will corporations learn that a whopping “I’m sorry” and “I’ll fix it” is all the customer wants? Here, their PR department refuses to say the company’s sorry. And that may be because they just plain don’t care or because they have idiots on their PR staff.
Either way, I’ll be taking my money elsewhere. I hear good things about Powell’s and if I remember correctly, I can order from Politics & Prose, my favorite DC indie bookstore. I’m also rapidly googling for independent bookstores (with online ordering) in the Pittsburgh area to keep it local. Unfortunately, not having much luck in that department- anyone with tips?
Dear Amazon: I’m mad as hell. And I’m not going to take it anymore.