Rebecca Day

Amazon is Made of Fail

Posted by rwday on April 12, 2009

A few days back, some authors began to notice that the Amazon rankings for their books had vanished. These are the numbers you find under the basic bibliographic information on Amazon titles that tell how your book is selling in relation to all titles on Amazon, or other books categorized similarly to yours. Authors can use these rankings to get a general idea of sales figures. Readers can use the category rankings to choose books that may be of interest based on other readers’ purchasing decisions.

All well and good. Unless your book is deemed as ‘adult’ by Amazon, then, no rankings information is now being provided. One author asked Amazon why his rankings disappeared and this is what he got back:

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 

From here

Right. Here’s the kicker – adult, to Amazon, seems to be anything categorized as erotica and anything with gay or lesbian content, or at least anything that has been tagged or marketed as gay/lesbian interest. Only not exactly ‘anything,’ as you will see, based on searches of Amazon and Amazon UK.

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet? Adult. No rankings.

Alan Moore’s Lost Girls? Not adult. Ranking. (This is an adult graphic novel. Trust me on this one.)

Mark Probst’s The Filly, a YA novel dealing with gay themes? Adult. No ranking.

Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love, Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove, Bertrice Small’s Skye O’Malley? Explicit heterosexual romances. Not adult. Ranking.

Alex Beecroft’s False Colours and Erastes’ Transgressions? Explicit gay romances. Adult. No ranking.

Nookii: The Grownup Game for Playful Couples? Not adult. Ranking.

The Dildo Master DVD? Not adult. Ranking.

Realistic White Boy Vibrating Dildo. Not adult. Ranking.

You see what I’m getting at? Tell me why a YA novel about a young man trying to make sense of his sexuality is somehow more offensive than a movie in which the product description finishes with: If you fancy some filthy but fun, top notch German hardcore, you should get your hands on this one.?

Or why Tipping the Velvet, which was Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year for 1999, the New York Times Notable Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award (among other things) is adult and must not show up in searches and rankings, where Lost Girls, in which Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan’s Wendy and Alice from Alice in Wonderland meet up and engage in explicitly drawn lesbian sex is just fine and dandy?

Look, I’m not knocking Lost Girls or any of the rest of these titles that haven’t been affected. My point is that if Amazon’s goal is to protect the kiddies from adult material, they fail. Utterly. Even if you accept that their intentions are good, they’ve set themselves an impossible task. They have thousands of items listed – there is no way they can go through that big a database and evaluate each item for ‘adult’ content. They’re making decisions based on sweeping generalizations and that never, ever ends well.

Amazon might want to take a page from the American Library Association and let parents be the arbiters of what’s appropriate for their children. I’m not big on telling people what to do, but if you buy books from Amazon (or even if you don’t) and feel moved to do so, you can contact them and let them know what you think.

(Note that the information on rankings/lack of rankings is current as of 4/13/2009, and of course may be changed by Amazon without notice. )


7 Responses to “Amazon is Made of Fail”

  1. gynocrat said


    I pay no attention to Amazon sales ranks, because online sales trends are never consistent. You can go there and be #1 for about four hours–until another part of the country [or world] wakes up and buys some books, which sends your ranking into the toilet. It’s a ranking based on user buying–and Amazon’s buyers are too many and too diverse to establish ‘sales trend’ in that books can easily be ranked in categories. I find these rankings to be complete sales tools–and yes, their far too unpredictable to build a ‘promotional’ blurb around.

    Only authors tend to care about Amazon sales ranks because it sounds great to say ‘hey I’m #2 in the Gay Romance Sales at Amazon!’ – but publisher’s would never use this as a promotional tool because they know those lists change for whomever is surfing them. For example, if I bought A Strong and Sudden Thaw, the next time I type in Gay Romance, you’re book likely wouldn’t even crack the top 10–even though before I bought it, and I entered in Gay Romance, your book was at #5. Another quirk about how the Amazon bot collects for listing is down to how it’s put into their catalog; unless your book is labeled to include things like ‘gay adult romance’ then your book won’t make rank in that sales category = even though it’s a ‘gay adult romance’ and your pub has key worded it as such. I discovered that publisher contributing directly to Amazon don’t always have the option of choosing exactly what category their books are sold in. Many Yaoi publishers were forced to enter the word {YAOI} in the title of their books, just to get the books placed properly– that is, until they got a distributor. I suspect that Amazon deals with distributors by allowing them more catagorization choices, because distributors sell to them at one time, a more diverse range of titles. There’s too many elements at play before the dice is tossed – so Amazon sales rank is not a fair crapshoot.

    As for Amazon pulling this – ‘it’s only adult if it’s gay in nature sort of thing…’ I find that sadly typical, especially in graphic novels. I’m so used to that sort of bullshit that it doesn’t even phase me. Two men kiss, or hug? It must be shrinkwrapped and labled for adults. Welcome to gay themed comics…this only matters though, when you put it in the ‘manga section’. Put your yaoi in ‘GLTB Studies’ and no one seems to care. :/

    The truth is though, as long as you have a link and your keywords are correct– the readers will find you. The sales ranks don’t mean squat unless you’re trying to use them to promote your book–in which case, I wouldn’t.

  2. gynocrat said

    forgive my misuse of their, there, they’re – I wont claim it’s too early in the morning because these are mistakes I make constantly. 🙂

  3. Hayden said

    I agree with Tina with regard to rankings. They’re useless and mean absolutely nothing. Amazon’s sales make up only a portion of the overall picture, and majority of an author’s sales are distributed among other sources. It baffles me when authors check their rankings every hour, all day.

    So now Amazon stoops to this, eh? Not surprised at all. They’ve always been utter bastards toward authors.

  4. rwday said

    Tina, Hayden, I agree that Amazon rankings aren’t particularly useful compared to other finding tools, and I rarely check mine. Though I have to admit, it does give a lift to see that somebody, somewhere is buying my book. Especially back in the day when I wasn’t getting any sort of info from my publisher.

    I feel like it’s a matter of principle. Their actions don’t support their stated goals. If they want to be consistent, they ought to just eliminate all rankings across the board.

  5. gynocrat said

    Especially back in the day when I wasn’t getting any sort of info from my publisher.

    I hear ya! I had to literally ask people if they were buying – and thank G*d I knew people who sold books. I like Advantage; I know how much I’m selling and when; as for Amazon treating authors poorly– Hayden, dude…what online store has to treat authors with any sort of respect?

    Barnes and Noble is a HUGE pain in the ass for an author trying to sell their book, they’re also a royal pain when it comes to promoting your book through them–they would rather deal with your rep, publisher, or agent–then you. To be honest, I don’t know why anyone expects Amazon to treat authors differently then any distributor or other bookseller would treat an author. :/ Pleasing Authors and making us happy is not their bottom line. 🙂

    Again, I still feel that’s it’s skeesy to be suddenly selective about what is ‘adult’ material. I can’t imagine that someone sitting at laptop at Amazon Central saw two m/m romances selling the romance category and decided on their own that a distinction needed to be made. I think one should ask–who really benefits from making the distinction? I bet the cause of this policy is due to some publisher wanting this distinction made.

    OT a bit, but it’s been bugging me: m/m romance being the same as Gay romance…the semantics of it all irks me a bit. Why not just call it gay romance? Why put it in the ‘mainstream romance’ category? Are gay men the primary market for romance? No—it seems that women are. Is this why Running Press is calling their titles m/m romance, instead of ‘gay romance’, because the authors are touting their work as gay romance, and want to know why their books aren’t at the top of the ‘gay romance’ rankings?

  6. […] the kiddies, then WTF is up with some of the titles that still have rankings and searchability?  Check this list. Talk about lame. Seriously…if you’re gonna cave to the wing-nuts, at least be […]

  7. […] the kiddies, then WTF is up with some of the titles that still have rankings and searchability?  Check this list. Talk about lame. Seriously…if you’re gonna cave to the wing-nuts, at least be […]

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