4 Responses to “Clay Shirky on The Failure of #amazonfail”

  1. 1 Surajit April 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Earlier responses from Amazon reps to concerned authors suggested that the company had decided to classify any book with positive, or even neutral, LGBT content as “adult.” Following the furor, Amazon claimed “glitch,” without explaining what exactly caused the alleged glitch, or why authors were initially told the loss of their sales rank was a conscious policy decision on its part.

    I don’t see how a”glitch” could selectively affect only those works–fiction, popular non-fiction, and scientific–that portrayed homosexuality in a neutral or favorable light; how it could leave unaffected the memoirs of straight female porn stars, but delist those of gay male porn stars; how it would allow books portraying homosexuality as something to be “cured” to remain top-ranked, but render “The Picture of Dorian Gray” invisible. The company has not come clean about what really happened.

    Comments on Shirky’s blog have made these same points more eloquently than I. I believe Shirky (and you, Chris) are letting Amazon off the hook too readily.

    Typing this was painful and slow–I’m housebound, recovering from an accident–but I felt compelled to respond. Thanks.


    • 2 Chris April 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      Surajit — you may well be right that Shirky & I are letting Amazon off the hook too easily. It is starting to occur to me that I may be guilty of jumping too quickly on the “let Amazon off the hook” bandwagon; just as Shirky claims we all jumped too quickly on the “Amazon is evil” bandwagon.
      I do think this incident highlights the incredibly political nature of all classification schemes … and I hope that issue doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
      Does a biography of Ellen DeGeneres get a subject heading of “lesbian” when a biography of Oprah certainly doesn’t get assigned a subject heading of “straight” (not sure if such a subject heading exists)?
      The books that were affected shared some kind of common metadata — and decisions about how metadata get assigned are inherently political. I’m not sure people think about the LC Classification system as an inherently political social construction.

      Anyway — thanks for calling me (and Shirky) out, and I hope your recovery is quick!


  2. 3 Stephanie April 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    i don’t really understand this policy of removing LGBT books, i mean what’s obscene about them??.. sexual orientation is a matter of personal choice, homosexuals don’t choose to become lesbians and gays….just like heterosexual people don’t choose their orientation.


    • 4 Chris April 15, 2009 at 3:17 pm

      Whether you think sexual orientation is a choice or not, it is important to understand that the initial outrage over the Amazon situation was based on faulty information. According to Amazon spokeperson, the flagging of LGBT books was a “glitch”, not a change in policy.


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