Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Ranking and Censorship

Itopt is hard to overestimate the importance of rank to an Amazon author or bookseller. It is an objective measure of a book's popularity and salability.  Everyone wants to be #1 (or a least in the top 1000).

Readers use rank as an unofficial  guide reading guide.  Authors and booksellers use it as a quick calculator for sales --  If you rank 1-10 you can expect to sell a book every few minutes.  If you have a high ranking like 50,000 you might sell your books in a year or so.   Booksellers use rank as a buying guide when ordering inventory for their stores.

Rank is everything.

So what happens when Amazon "de-ranks" a title?  Pretty much, the books chances of being sold are 0. 

Last week Mark Probst noticed a curious thing.  His book, a young adult romance title, The Filly, mysteriously lost rank.

So he wrote Amazon and asked them why.  Here is their answer:

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

thefilly Oh, did I mention that The Filly is a Western and that the romance is between two men? That other than being a "gay-themed" story it is strictly G rated?  It seems that all of the sudden Amazon has gotten into the business of censorship! 

With one simple algorithm change they have de-ranked GLBT titles and any of those where the publisher has labeled the books as erotica.  As of today Brokeback Mountain, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Well of Loneliness, some of the teen books by Alex Sanchez, and Heather Has Two Mommies have been de-ranked. 

I find this deeply disturbing and actually offensive.  Even if I personally do not read gay themed erotica, I will fight to the death to preserve your right to read it.

Mostly it has been the government who has indulged in this kind of censorship (aka book banning).  Now a major corporation has entered the culture wars and unilaterally decided what is appropriate.

Maybe you don't care about erotica or GLBT literature.  But if Amazon can abruptly affect the market for these books today; what or who will they decide to target tomorrow?

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