Over the last weekend, a controversy has blown up around the online retailer Amazon’s apparent “restriction” of large numbers of books across its international sites, heavily weighted towards adult and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) content. We’re not sure exactly what’s going on – there are some suggestions that it could be a malicious action by third parties taking advantage of Amazon’s user-flagging systems – but you can get a good idea of the scope from this listing at LJ, this call by Ed Champion for a boycott, and Kassia Krozser’s excellent open letter to Amazon at Booksquare. The twittersphere has reacted with predictable and massive uproar.
For the record, Bookkake seems very much affected by what’s happening. We got a message last week from a friend pointing out that a simple Amazon.co.uk search for “bookkake”, which we linked to from our books page no longer returned any results, and we changed this to an advanced search for all books “published by Bookkake“, which did return our books.
On Sunday—yesterday—we performed a number of trial searches, and found that it was almost impossible to find any of our books through basic searches, with many totally unrelated items ranking higher in searches than the books we were quite obviously looking for, in much the way Kassia notes in her post.
Today—Monday—this seems to have changed. Our books are once again appearing as would be expected in normal searches, although they still don’t have any sales rank data attached, which they had previously. We’re not sure what’s going on, and it appears to still be in flux, but we don’t have much confidence in Amazon’s statement that it was all a “glitch”, and we’ll keep monitoring the situation for now.
What this highlights is the growing power of the new generation of massively pervasive retailers such as Amazon—and the search engines that support them—as well as the damage they can do if they choose to censor or de-list literature. On the flip side, the controversy it raised shows the power consumers have to fight back: if nothing else, we can be sure that corporations are more interested in making money than making policy, and the loudest political voice among their consumers will trump any moral outrage on the other side.
Image of a Yagua tribesman demonstrating the use of the blowgun, on one of the Amazonian islands near Iquito, Peru. Used under GNU license from Wikimedia Commons.