Sunday, April 12, 2009

My AmazonFail Timeline

Related to my earlier post, I wanted to give this specific timeline so that people know exactly how long Amazon has been de-ranking GLBT titles and removing them from searches. This is only a fraction of my communication with Amazon, because I was also calling them constantly throughout this period. (I have edited some of the emails down, because Amazon pastes a lot of generic info into their responses; but I have included everything relevant to the issue.)

February 2, 2009: It was within days of the 2nd when I first noticed that my sales ranking first disappeared for my memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C.. I also noticed that it had been removed from the search results. I know this because I pre-ordered the forthcoming paperback version of my book on this day, and I wondered if placing this order somehow cancelled out the hardcover version. I know this doesn't make much sense but I didn't know how else to explain the fact that my book suddenly disappeared.

February 9, 2009: After contacting Amazon about the situation, I got the following response.

Thank you for writing to Amazon.com.

I am sorry to learn that the hardcover version in the title search and the sales numbers have not been updated for the item title to "All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Hardcover)."

As you may know that we build our web site information from many sources, and we really appreciate knowing about any errors which find their way into it.

Please note that we have separate department for authors, I kindly request you to contact the author department using the given link at the bottom of this e-mail.

Our "Catalog Guide" outlines ways authors and publishers can contact us about images and content, including listing new items, submitting corrections, enhancing the product detail page, and adding to the variety of information customers use to make a purchasing decision.

Best regards,

S.Y. Khalid
Amazon.com
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company


February 13, 2009: A few days later, I complained again about the lack of a sales ranking and I got this response, suggesting they thought I was complaining about my rank rather than the fact that the sales rank had disappeared altogether:

Hello from Amazon.com.

While we do display a sales rank for each item on its detail page, Amazon does not disclose the actual quantity of items that have sold. The sales rank is a relative measure that tells you how each item is selling in comparison to other items.

Please contact your publisher for specific details regarding the sales of your book.

Thanks for contacting us at Amazon.com.

Best regards,

Gajalakshmi S.
Amazon.com
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company


At this point, I was pissed, so I wrote back:

I just got a VERY unhelpful response to my email question (see below). I'm not asking about sales. THERE IS NO AMAZON SALES RANK ON THE DETAIL PAGE FOR THIS LISTING: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416542051?ie=UTF8&tag=crspoli-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1416542051

Please take the time to understand the issue before responding. Thank you.


They responded:

Thank you for writing to us at Amazon.com.

I see that we've had a great deal of correspondence on this issue already and I'd like to apologize for the time and energy you have expended in an attempt at resolution. I want to assure you that I recognize your frustration and am committed to helping you resolve this matter.

I have contacted appropriate department regarding the sales rank and if there is any error it will be corrected as soon as possible.

Best regards,

Sathya S.
Amazon.com
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company


February 14, 2009: The next day, I received this email:

Thank you for writing back to us at Amazon.com.

I have reviewed our previous correspondence with you, and I offer my sincere apologies for any misunderstanding thus far.

From your e-mail, I understand that there is no sales rank listed for these three items "All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Hardcover)", "My Life in Porn: The Bobby Blake Story (Paperback)" and "Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star (Paperback)."

We build our website information from many sources, and we really appreciate knowing about any errors which find their way into it.

Hence, I have forwarded your message to the concerned department, stating that there is no sales rank listed with these items. So, they may work towards resolving this matter at the earliest.

I will personally follow up with them in this regard and will write back to you in another 5 business with a resolution in this regard.

Rest assured that this matter will be resolved to your satisfaction at the earliest possible.

Your patience and cooperation are greatly appreciated in this regard.

Thanks for giving me time to find the best solution.

Best regards,

Swathi
Amazon.com
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company


February 19, 2009: I give a reading at the University of Maryland at College Park. The moderator introduces me as the author of a forthcoming memoir, even though my book has been out since June 2008; apparently he couldn't locate the book on Amazon.

February 22, 2009: WAY beyond the five days when they were supposed to get back to me, I receive this email:

Greetings,

I am sorry to learn that the Sales Rank for the ISBN #1416542051 is not appearing on the detail page.

We have engaged our technical staff to research the issue further. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide an estimated time of resolution. We appreciate your patience while we research and resolve this problem.

Best regards,

Krishna K.
Amazon.com Seller Support


At this point, I'm totally thinking WTF and wondering if Amazon customers will ever be able to buy my book again.

February 25, 2009: I get the first email telling me that my book has been branded as an "adult product," as if it's a sex toy or something.

Greetings,

Upon following up the issue with our Technical staff, the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons :

* The ISBN #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product and

* For new ASINs that are selling at low rates (i.e. shouldn't be in the top 100) it takes time for them to begin registering a sales rank. This is because it takes that long for us to propagate the new catalog and browse data. This depends upon the the sales made through Amazon.com.

Note: We will not be able to provide you with the sales number or the calculations due to the proprietary nature of the data.

At this point, I'm thoroughly frustrated. I reach out to my editor, who tells me that they'll get their Amazon representative to look into it. I also contact several media outlets to let them know what's going on. My concern is that, if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. Unfortunately, I can't seem to drum up any interest. Honestly, I feel like it's because my book is about my time working as a stripper, and no one really cares about someone trying to "code" a stripper book out of existence. But I have strong feeling that it's about a bigger issue. I knew that if Amazon could decide they didn't like the content of one gay book, they could soon do it to others. But I felt like my hands were tied.

February 27, 2009: As mysteriously as they disappeared, the sales ranking and search results for my book reappeared. I never got any explanation, and, frankly, I was scared of asking because I didn't want to tempt fate. A couple of days later, I got an inquiry from a reporter, but, since my listing had returned to normal, there didn’t seem to be much of a story.

April 12, 2009: ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!!!!

2 comments:

rand said...

Craig - This information is quite valuable. I'm seeing some debate around the Web about whether this classifications of Gay works is the result of a policy decision by someone at Amazon or, in fact, may be an effort by hackers or "trolls" to "game" the system that Amazon has in place.

The central question is what triggers a) an adult classification and b) a de-listing. If some combination of tagging and clicking by users can classify titles as "adult" and remove them from rankings, it actually may be an effort by outsiders to muck up Amazon's listings. If rankings can only be removed from titles by Amazon on their internal database, then there's a concern about the company.

Alex said...

I've followed this with interest. Their conduct and explanations are far from satisfactory.

Have written my onw take on the Amazon shenanigans on my blog www.alexhopkins.wordpress

Have mentione dyour experiences, Craig and linked to your blog. Really like it.

Keep up the good work

Alex