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An Open AND CONSTRUCTIVE Letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

Dear Mr. Bezos:

Since I coined the term "#amazonfail" and fired the first tweet, I thought you might be interested in what I had to say. I'm never one to criticize without offering up potential solutions.

I don't have any problem with marking some literature "adult", but it can't be implemented with an algorithm. Mathematical formulae have proven themselves to be indiscriminate and homophobic. Who knew?

Here's what I suggest, instead.

1. -- Ask *me*, as an author (or at least my publisher), to flag my book as adult. LiveJournal does. It lets me mark my posts "adult" or not, as appropriate. Most people are responsible adults. Don't let a few spoil it for the many. For example, my book, GYM DANDY, is a humourous gay romance with less sex than Sherrilyn Kenyon's books, and yet you keep sending out emails promoting those. I don't actually consider GYM DANDY as adult. Now my het scifi book, TECHNO THRALL, is erotica. I'd hit the "adult" button for that one. I trust you with my credit card info, trust me to rate my own books. It serves no one if I lie.

2. -- Ask *me* as a customer if I want to opt in or out of seeing adult items. Google has 3 levels of filters. Why can't Amazon?

The advantage to the above, is, that it takes most of the workload off your programmers and all of the responsibility off your shoulders. Authors complain they don't like their status? Send 'em back to their publishers. Not your problem anymore.

Define "adult" somewhere I can find it. It'll help me with the above decisions.

And here's an "out of the box" idea. How 'bout striking an ADVISORY COMMITTEE, comprised of the posse that took our complaints to the streets: Vashtan, Erastes, Alex, Chris, Elisa, Lee, Mark, me. Angela James of Samhain and literary agent Colleen Lindsay might be interested. Even if we don't accept, it wouldn't hurt to ask us.*

You could even invite some of the others whose books you delisted, like, say, Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Fry. Sure you can fly us all to Seattle (or London where the majority seem to live (No, Lee. The other London.) Or we can meet online. After all, that's your sandbox and ours.

You could add a system whereby people could complain if they thought a book was wrongly ranked; and an appeal system for anyone who objected to their changed status. Foist that on us. We'll also work with you to develop the definition of "adult".

Oh, and while we're talking, may I please have a ranking for my 3 Kindle books? I make money for you; please help me to do so.

And also? I want my sales figures for the different versions combined. If you have the little box that says "also available in these other formats", then you are capable of adding up the sales numbers. I do not wish to have my $5 Kindle book competing with my $15 print copy. My sales ranking should represent a true sales figure of how GYM DANDY is selling.

And by the way, Jeff, you still owe me an apology. Something with the word "sorry" would go down well right about now. You cost me days of sales by delisting me, and days of writing by making me take you on. And many people are refusing to use your services now, so my book may well be selling well on other sites, but on Amazon? Not so much.

Thank you for your time.
~ Storm Grant

* No, I didn’t check with any of these people before posting this.




( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
DAMN! You go, girl!
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm not a happy camper... but here are clear instructions how I can be! ;-D

See you next month!
Apr. 17th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
*nod* I like this.
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Would that Jeff Bezos does too.
Apr. 17th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
Haven't read through the day's posts yet, so haven't seen if you've seen this:
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
Yup. Unovis pointed me to it yesterday. Very interesting.

Apr. 17th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
Hi Storm. I knew that you and Vashtan were the ones that were the primary "twitterers" that got this thing rolling, though I didn't know that you were the one who coined the term #amazonfail. My hat's off to you!
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
I started the "twitstorm" that go us all our rankings back. However, I'm sure if I hadn't, someone else would have.

You got it all started with your blog post.

(no subject) - vashtan - Apr. 17th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gina_stormgrant - Apr. 17th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
Well, if Bezos offers, I'm game.

Good going storm.
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Well, we wouldn't be doing on a volunteer basis. I assume there'd be some sort of honorarium. ;-D

(no subject) - vashtan - Apr. 17th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gina_stormgrant - Apr. 17th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 17th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Excellent suggestions ...
I wonder if he'll listen?

And Storm, Mark, and Vashtan, since you're all in the thread: I salute you for calling attention to the situation. There's a disappointing backlash from people who should know better painting this as some kind of mob action. I don't see it that way at all. To the contrary, I think it's a great example of using the power of social network technologies to call attention to the silencing of marginalized voices ... as well as the values embedded in "neutral" algorithms and the threats of market dominance. I've posted in a few places that that I'm proud of my small role in #amazonfail and grateful to those who put in so much more time and energy. That's you. So, thanks!

Apr. 17th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Excellent suggestions ...
I'm not sure how openid works, so I hope this gets to you.

There are so many learnings from #amazonfail, no small one of which is how quickly "Is this affecting anyone else?" becomes "boycott!"

Other good things to come out of #amazonfail, aside from getting our rankings back:

--Alex and Erastes books will sell well and Perseus will continue to publish gay books which will set a fine example for other large publishers.

--I met some terrific new people.

--Media Studies students will have something new to write about.

--Others will follow this example to fight injustice and support worthy causes. (I spent most of the 90s as a fundraiser for a children's charity. If only I'd had social networking then!)

Thanks for posting.

Apr. 18th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Lots of good things came out of this!
For example, when was the last time an article like Mary Hodder's appeared in TechCrunch?

Here's one of my attempts to summarize it:

Marginalized groups including queers, feminists, people with disabilities, erotic fiction authors, independent bookstores — and their allies — banded together using social network technologies to cast the spotlight on bad behavior by a large corporation known for being unresponsive, and much deeper structural issues that are usually swept under the table. This led to a swift (albeit very imperfect) response from Amazon, and already some excellent and relatively-high-profile discussions of these deeper issues. In the process, connections have been made that may well turn into alliances and lessons have been learned.

Sounds like a good thing to me.

Or so I see it. Not everybody agrees, obviously. It's interesting to see how quickly the interpretation of #amazonfail is being contested. There are a bunch of links at the top of My reply to Clay Shirky (http://www.talesfromthe.net/jon/?p=623) (as well as my opinions of course).

Apr. 18th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
Re: Lots of good things came out of this!
Ooops. That was me, accidentally posting anonymously. Sorry for any confusion.
Apr. 18th, 2009 02:47 am (UTC)
Storm, EXCELLENT Letter. You oughta be a writer or something ;)

I tried to raise a little attention to the matter on Goodreads (my book-related hangout). Unfortunately, most of the attention WAS of the pitchfork and torch kind, and dispersed as soon as the fun was over. I've taken this seriously -- it's Friday now, a full 6 days, and not one word have I heard reported from Amazon, which makes me think more and more that "embarrassing catalog error" was "damn, they caught us!" -- which, when I analyze it, just doesn't make much sense. Then again, this is my opportunity to break my Amazon addiction and look to other sources to find what I want.

I'm glad you've listed some. A nice long list of online resources with LGBTQI books (or other "adult" literature) can be purchased would be such a handy resource. I wonder if anyone has created one.

I'm not holding my breath on Amazon, though. They just ain't impressin' me.

Edited at 2009-04-18 02:48 am (UTC)
Apr. 18th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
I still believe this was a well-intentioned, (read: for profit) policy, badly implemented.

Amazon is so big they've gotten cocky. Let's hope this took them down a peg.

I don't think it's over yet.

(no subject) - xmurphyjacobsx - Apr. 18th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2009 03:28 am (UTC)
I thought other folks were using the term 'amazonfail' before you twittered, tho not with the # - I do think you're the first tweeter.

Thanks for the nomination/suggestion as far as a panel goes, but... frankly, paid or unpaid, I would not want to have my name associated with Amazon in any capacity except as an author whose books they sell.

'Advisory panel?' Given Amazon's track record -- particularly the games they've played with e-books and their atempt to coerce all POD publishers to use Booksurge or be banned from the catalog--I suspect they would take anything such a panel said "under advisement" and then do what they damned well pleased... and imply that the panel endorsed it. And I expect any 'honorarium' would come with a gag clause contract, so no one could reveal what had been advised vs. what had been implemented.

No, nope, unh-unh, no frakkin' way.

I want a complete audit of Amazon by an independent firm, at Amazon's expense. I want all products carried by Amazon to be sales-ranked and those rankings available to the author and reflected in the best-selling lists in all categories. I want customer filters, so the customer can set individual choices, not have those choices made either by Amazon or by self-appointed censors.

Do I think we'll see that? Not a chance. But unless Amazon is going to go for transparency--and frankly, why would they? I think we can count on any action they take being whatever will make them look good while allowing them to continue to do whatever they think will make them the most money.

I'm leaving my account open so I can keep reviewing, but I'm not spending another penny on Amazon. AFAIC, this was the third strike.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - lee_rowan - Apr. 18th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gina_stormgrant - Apr. 18th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gina_stormgrant - Apr. 18th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lee_rowan - Apr. 20th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 18th, 2009 11:27 am (UTC)
Thanks. I'll give that some thought.

Apr. 18th, 2009 08:36 am (UTC)
This is way too good. You'll have lost him after the second para. LOL
Apr. 18th, 2009 11:27 am (UTC)
LOL. No doubt, you're right. ;-D
Apr. 18th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for mentioning me as someone who might be useful on a panel like that. I'm flattered!

Also, you should know that I'm at a writer's retreat this weekend and #amazonfail is on the lips of people here, most of whom are not even on Twitter, and including booksellers!

Angela James
Apr. 19th, 2009 11:44 am (UTC)
I'm so glad people where you are are aware of #amazonfail. I had my RWA meeting yesterday and I don't think most people were aware/cared, even those whose titles had been affected. I think living in a terribly liberal country can make one complacent.

I hope you're enjoying your writer's retreat. I have never been to one.

Thank you for commenting.

Apr. 18th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
you are amazing-glad you're on our side *g*
Apr. 19th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)
Wouldn't it be great if someone actually listened to us? I know from working at a large retailer's head office, that we spend a fortune on consumer research. Here's some for free*, Mr. Bezos.

(*Although if you'd like to compensate me, how 'bout putting GYM DANDY in a promotional email.)

Apr. 19th, 2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
I`m late to the party as usual. What a debacle. Terrific letter, g.
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

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