Amazon Claims 'Ham-Fisted' Cataloging Error
The cataloging error set off a firestorm of controversy late last week and over the weekend after initial reports said only books with erotica and gay and lesbian themes had been affected, with Amazon accused of deliberately taking those titles off its sales rankings entirely.
Amazon later confirmed the error but said it wasn't limited to those titles, adding that books on health and reproduction and other categories were also affected.
"This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection," said an Amazon spokesperson, Drew Herdener, in an Amazon statement. "Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future."
But that didn't stop various bloggers, including author Mark Probst, from questioning Amazon's cataloging policies—especially after reports surfaced late last week that various authors who write books with gay and lesbian themes had asked Amazon about lost rankings for their books going back a few weeks and months.
In one instance reported on multiple news sites, author Craig Seymour said his book, a memoir about gay strip clubs in Washington, D.C., had disappeared from the rankings while other sex- and strip club-themed books, such as memoirs by screenwriter Diablo Cody and porn star Ron Jeremy, had remained.
Probst, the author of a cowboy love story, The Filly, wrote on his blog that he had asked Amazon over the weekend about the disappearing books and that Amazon had replied that it excludes certain adult material from appearing in some best-seller and search lists.
There's another twist, too. Over the weekend, a hacker known as Weev claimed credit for the titles disappearing from best-seller and search pages, writing on his blog, weev.livejournal.com, that through clicking the "report as inappropriate" button at the bottom of each product page he was able to get the rankings removed.
Weev wrote that he had written a short code that would find any books the site had tagged "gay" or "lesbian" and from there asked "a lot of people to vote for the books," he said. Weev also claimed in his posting that a friend had created an "invisible frame" to enable users to inadvertently flag Amazon books when they were visiting unrelated Web sites and Weev had also "hired third-worlders to register accounts for me en masse."
Amazon has not confirmed whether Amazon was hacked, let alone whether Weev or any other hackers were involved.