Amazon.com claims a “glitch” in its system stripped the sales rank from several gay- and lesbian-themed books over the weekend of April 11, including tomes by James Baldwin and Gore Vidal.
Books affected included Vidal’s “The City and the Pillar” and Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” according to the Associated Press. Another report stated that “Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography” was also unranked.
“There was a glitch in our systems and it’s being fixed,” Patty Smith, director of corporate communications for Amazon, said in an e-mail on April 13, as reported by the Associated Press.
Many users on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, however, seemed to remain unconvinced.
“I smell backtracking,” one user wrote on Twitter.
“Glitch or not, I’m done buying from Amazon until there is some kind of apology,” said another.
Writer and publisher Mark Probst posted in his blog on April 12 that he had written to Amazon, asking about the disappeared sales rankings, and received a response back from one “Ashlyn D, Member Services, Amazon.com Advantage.”
According to Probst, “Ashlyn D” wrote in an e-mail:
“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.”
Probst’s blog posting soon led to angry eruptions on Facebook and Twitter, as users accused Amazon of bias. Amazon responded quickly that the whole “incident” had its root in a glitch.
As of noon on April 13, rankings for Vidal’s book and a few others had been restored.
Amazon has been generating large amounts of news over the past few months.
On Feb. 9, Amazon launched its Kindle 2 electronic reader, designed to give the company a major share of the rapidly growing electronic book market, in a highly publicized event that featured a product rollout by Jeff Bezos and a reading by Stephen King.
Nearly a month later, on March 4, Amazon attempted to expand the market for its proprietary e-books with a Kindle App for the iPhone.
In the days following the launch, however, Amazon also attracted some controversy over the device, starting with the Author’s Guild complaining that the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech reader could potentially harm writers’ royalties of audiobooks. Amazon responded by disabling the feature.
To counter Amazon’s growing electronic-reader influence, Google and Sony announced a partnership where Google would make its free public-domain e-books available through the Sony Reader. That move increased Sony’s eLibrary to 600,000 volumes versus Amazon’s Kindle e-book library of 245,000 volumes.