The Trail of the #AmazonFail

April 17, 2009 | 1 2 min read

I learned about the Amazon de-ranking debacle on Twitter (follow me @EdanL, y’all). People love to argue that Twitter is a time-wasting site for people to announce what they’re doing: They’re doing their taxes, or they’re drinking the best beer ever, man, or they’re on the toilet. And it’s that, certainly, but it’s also an incredible way to spread information and start a dialogue. Most of the people I know on Twitter are other writers, or editors, critics, or publishers. I’ve learned a lot about the book world since signing up.

But I digress.

I was by turns upset and confused by the Amazon story (known on Twitter as #amazonfail) and I still am. What am I to believe, and what will it mean, in the long run, even after the “glitch” has been fixed? Am I simply being paranoid? Is mine simply the blanket distate-for-Amazon of an independent bookseller? Maybe. I don’t know. I do know there’s been a lot of valuable dialogue on this “ham-fisted cataloging error,” and I thought I’d highlight some of it here.

Mark Probst’s Live Journal post started it all, and Carolyn Kellogg’s reporting at the Los Angeles Times book blog Jacket Copy helped me track the story as it evolved.

There’s this thought-provoking post from Richard Nash, who argues that we can’t give Amazon the benefit of the doubt because,

…in a world where whiteness and straightness are ‘norms’ and males benefit from our patriarchal history, it is always the GLBTQ books, the queer books, the non-normative books that get caught in the glitches, the ham-fisted errors.

As a contrast, here is Sara Nelson’s (of The Daily Beast) interpretation of the reaction on Twitter and the blogosphere:

That book lovers seized on this recent de-listing scandal as a vehicle through which to vent their frustration and rage at big bad Amazon makes perfect sense; to have a politically correct hook on which to hang one’s argument makes whatever revenge one might wreak all the sweeter.

Meanwhile, Clay Shirky had another angle about the Amazon fury:

Whatever stupidities Amazon is guilty of, none of them are hanging offenses. The problems they have with labeling and handling contested categories is a problem with all categorization systems since the world began.

At the Vromans Bookstore Blog Patrick used #amazonfail to talk about the danger of putting our faith (and dollars) into one company, and drew a connection to our shift to monoculture farming:

It’s taken us some thirty years (since the passage of Earl Butz’s “Get Big or Get Out” Farm Bill in the 1970s) to realize that having a few corporations control our food supply was a really bad idea.

(This post, actually, reminded me of these posts Patrick penned for the Millions almost two years ago.)

There are many other posts and reports on #amazonfail, including this one from the New York Times. And there is a petition to boycott Amazon, which, at the time of this writing, has collected over 26,000 signatures.

It feels funny reporting all this on The Millions, which links to Amazon. This is not my choice, but one I understand and accept. We also have our Collaborative Atlas of Bookstores and Literary Places, and an upcoming walking tour of indie bookstores in NYC (Can we do one for LA next year? Maybe by bus/metro?). It’s this diversity, and our excellent content, that I admire, and why I’m proud to write for this blog, links or not.

And, before I go… In the spirit of Twitter/Blog culture, I would love to hear your responses to #amazonfail in the comments.

is a staff writer and contributing editor for The Millions. She is the author of the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me, the New York Times bestselling novel, California, and Woman No. 17. She is the editor of Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them.

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