Scott K

Scott K
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
October 09
Scott K is a gay man living in sin with his partner of over twelve years whom he still cannot legally marry. Scott says he's politically active not because he wants to be, but rather feels he has to be. He takes very seriously Thomas Jefferson's famous quote "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" which, strangely enough, he thinks he first heard on an episode of The Simpsons. Scott has one cat, two dogs, and a lot of opinions.

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APRIL 13, 2009 2:57AM

Hold Your Horses: Don't Boycott Amazon Yet

Rate: 16 Flag

[UPDATED YET AGAIN - see below] Ok, the Twitterverse and LGBT blogosphere are in an absolute snit over a recent change at classifying most LGBT fiction as "adult content" thereby excluding the material from sales rankings, etc.

Worst yet, when author Mark Probst wrote Amazon about the policy change, he supposedly received the following response from Ashlyn D in Advantage Member Services: "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."

This is a pretty major transgression against the LGBT community. I have an author friend who just released a work of gay fiction earlier this month, and this new policy could seriously jeopardize the sales and success of his book. The LGBT community should immediately band together and boycott Amazon. Take action! Spread the word!

Hold. Your. Horses.

As of 10:30pm PST as I write this on Sunday evening, Amazon has issued a statement to Publishers Weekly claiming that this so-called policy change is a glitch and will be corrected. News may change by the time you read this, but that's where it stands tonight. Keep in mind that it is a Sunday night after 10pm on a holiday weekend. I doubt very few-high level Amazon officials are working this evening, so it is a tad unrealistic to expect more of a response from Amazon until tomorrow (believe it or not, this can wait until Monday- the world won't end in the meantime).

Now up until now Amazon has been a LGBT-friendly company. They have a non-discrimination clause that includes sexual orientation. They have carried LGBT-material since as long as I can remember, and I've been visiting for a long time (I can remember when they only sold books and had quite a different logo than today). They've even had Gay Pride Month features (at least I've seen them on my "customized for me" Amazon page).

So was the policy change a glitch? Oh, I doubt that, but that's typical corporate-speak. Most likely some lesser-VP or mid-level director made a bad decision that wasn't in line with the company's policy of non-discrimination. The Member Services representative was just regurgitating what she had been told. Will Amazon fess up to that? Most likely not. Corporations (both gay-friendly and not) don't like to admit stuff like that publicly as it might shake investor confidence. They'll continue to call it a glitch.

The more important thing is to watch and see how Amazon does correct things. Do they follow through and treat LGBT literature and products the same as any other product? If so, then it most likely was a change made against the larger company's wishes (regardless of how exactly it happened). It would be wrong to crucify Amazon over it.

HOWEVER, if Amazon does not change course and correct things promptly, then we do have a problem. In that case I will be the loudest advocate for boycotting Amazon until their policies change. A company that invokes such a anti-gay policy must be prepared to pay the price.

The thing about this that bothers me the most is how many people seemed to fly off the handle about this. Instead of taking a calm, measured approach, we as a community instantly played victim. People all across the Internet were treating Amazon as if they just signed Anita Bryant as spokesperson and appointed Dr. James Dobson to their Board of Directors. I really don't think that helps the LGBT community any. When we turn so quickly on a former friend before giving them a reasonable chance to respond, we look like a bunch of whiny hotheads. I think we teach people to avoid us altogether rather than risk our wrath should they make any misstep at all. Shouldn't we be willing to work with our friends and allies to help them see when a mistake is made and give them a chance to correct it rather than instantly damning them for it?

Just my 2¢, I know not everyone will agree, and I'm sure that they'll be plenty of people ready to boycott me over this.

(And no, I don't work for Amazon nor do I know anyone who does. I don't own Amazon stock. I have no interest in the company other than being an occasional customer.)

UPDATE: Amazon issued the following statement today:

"This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles - in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

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."

As you can see, they are outlining that yes, the "glitch" was in fact human error. 

UPDATE 2: A blogger is claiming responsibility for getting the LGBT books flagged as inappropriate on Amazon. Read the story on CNET here.

UPDATE 3: An Amazon employee is giving a behind-the-scenes account of what happened. It doesn't necessarily coincide with the blogger's claim, but it also makes the case for what happened being unintentional.

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I spend too much on Amazon.

I was about to be very disappointed in them. Thanks for the update.

I dislike discrimination and rights should be available to all.

This is not a right, but for the love of Spam (the meat, well, sort of meat), let's even the playing field.

I respect your desire to keep a cool head and avoid knee jerk responses, but don't agree with your conclusions. Here's why.

Boycotting Amazon for some period of time is an appropriate response regardless of the intent behind their actions or the course of their future behavior. Consider that it's unlikely any automobile company has ever intended to produce cars that kill people. We nonetheless try to hold them responsible for their destructive products, and to see that companies which behave irresponsibly don't profit from doing so. One need not prove intent to show culpability, and they are responsible for what they've done regardless of past or future intentions.

With the exception of Kindle, I can't think of a single product Amazon offers other than its website. If its virtual environment damages LGBTQ people in any way, we're justified in boycotting it. Corporations are the dominant institution of our time, and the only control we as individuals can exert over them is taking our money elsewhere. Given that citizens have no access to internal corporate machinations and that we therefore have no way of ever actually determining their intent, it's entirely reasonable that we judge them teleologically and act accordingly.

The problem has been experienced by several authors, has been ongoing for months, and Amazon has repeatedly attempted to justify their actions by classing LGBTQ lit as an "adult product." That alone is sufficient justification for seeing that they lose a few million in sales.

To paraphrase Voltaire, from time to time it's necessary to hang a few admirals, to encourage the others. Fortunately, Amazon can be left to swing for awhile with no actual loss of life.
Being a word person, I am totally stuck on the word, "glitch." For me, using that word, side steps taking direct responsibility. That being said, I applaud your voice of reason. I am always thrilled to see someone not take an immediate, knee jerk reaction and instead, be thoughtful before sensationalism escalates and blurs any semblance of all factual information of a situation. Still, I can't help being mighty skeptical here and wonder why Amazon would purposely, at this point in its career, have a "glitch" like this go public appearing to be any kind of policy whatsoever - like a botched corporate suicide. "OOPS! oh well, just a glitch in the system." I do buy from Amazon sometimes and I'm on hold until further notice. I also believe in supporting independent bookstores.
Scott, this is an excellent and more importantly, objective piece. You identify the crux of the issue and that is the importance to not have knee jerk reactions, but rather respond in ways that work towards change. When people chose to react as victims, they lose power. You point out that historically Amazon has been a LGBT company. Perhaps this is a glitz. Perhaps not. But as you said, working with them as opposed to against them is the way to get the "glitz" fixed. Please keep us updated.
Since I don't spend ny money there, I guess I am unaffected by this.
I am boycotting them because they are plain dumb.
yes, fair enough, wait and watch is an intelligent thing to do, but with this kind of thing it pays to raise the heat as soon as it happens otherwise it is difficult to do away with it later. but somebody had to take a gracious stand, and that you have is good thing (I know am acting bitch, but when there is something like that in the US, it must be shouted down immediately before harm is done by domino effect - you get the drift, right?)
I appreciate your stand, also think that other group has acted pragmatically (kneejerkism makes sense when there is fire, you cant have dialogue then)
But would Amazon have even come up with this "glitch" nonsense if some of us (like me!) weren't responding furiously? That is, without the shitstorm, what incentive would Amazon have had to review this policy?
I agree. Rated :) I didn't even know about it until I vistied salon anyway. I hope Amazon makes some changes.
I've been boycotting Amazon since I checked and saw how much money they donated to Republicans. Here's my money, Barnes and Noble!
Great post!

There are certainly times for protest and action, but the knee-jerk phenomena affects many interest groups and really them in the long run, because if you go off on the relatively small stuff, when something big happens, political enemies can dismiss it with a "there you go again," and everyone gets bogged down in an argument about process and tactics rather than the real issues at hand.

In this instance, if Amazon is addressing the "glitch," what, exactly, is the point of boycotting? They screw up, they were called on it, and they are resolving. To carry it further would be a waste of energy at a time where there are real battles to be fought.
I'm not ready to boycott yet, but I think the attention that this got over the weekend was a good thing, because it showed Amazon that their customers care about these issues. I don't believe it was a "glitch", at least not entirely. They may have overreached in how many books they removed from their system, but there was an intent behind it. Now that Amazon sees the response, they are backpedaling and calling it a glitch. So the protest worked. If Amazon corrects the problem, then I'll gladly go back to buying from them. Their competitors have issues as well - B&N isn't always reader-friendly either.

By the way, romance readers have been a big part of the protest against Amazon as well, although they haven't been mentioned in most articles about the issue. A lot of romance sites have asked their readers to email Amazon about it, whether they read LGBT books or not. It affects all kinds of books.
@Heather M-

You get it exactly. We need to save our arsenal for the big issues for fear of diminishing our firepower when we truly need it.
My thoughts:

1. "Glitch" could mean "we don't know what the fuck happened yet and we're trying to figure it out"
2. Could be a general database change that caused this unforseseen consequence
3. Could be fundies gaming/hacking the system
4. Seriously doubt Amazon did this deliberately as it makes no business sense

Either way, they need to issue a public statement that they value their LGBT customers, or something more than just "oops, it's a glitch" because that sounds like bullshit and no one is buying it. If it really was a glitch they need to release more details about what happened and how they plan to fix it.

And they need to get a new PR person, because while everyone is freaking out about this and turning away from them because they didn't issue a better statement to the public, even if it's only short-lived, they are losing sales.
@Karen W & others-

I'm not saying the Twitterstorm didn't work; it did. I just don't think calling for a boycott at that point was necessary yet. As Heather M pointed out above, we can't cry "boycott" at every single infraction or we risk marginalizing ourselves.

I didn't know about the romance writers issue. I think Amazon has to tread a thin line. Since unlike a physical bookstore they can't try to keep children out of the more mature areas, how do they run a site that is safe for kids (not that non-erotic gay novels should be considered unsafe) while maintaining open access for adults? It's something they need to figure out, but there will be missteps along the way.
Nicely put.
I've run a (not-very-profitable) Amazon affiliate store for years, and (as I tweeted last night) I will shut it down if Amazon doesn't shape up.
But I worry about the power of Twitter (etc.) to facilitate mob mentality in a case like this. I *suspect* the "mob" (which includes me!) is right this time, but it won't always be.
I'm willing to give Amazon a few days to prove itself.
Yes, discrimination is ugly no matter what form it takes or who it targets. Personally, I've been boycotting Amazon for six months now because of the anti-Catholicism and bigotry displayed on their Reviewers Discussion Board. Shameful.
They have other "glitches" they need to fix before I will shop with them, but I do appreciate your even-handed approach to wait and see.
Thanks for clarifying - I use them quite a bit, but that would have changed quickly if this wasn't remedied.