Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon headhunting in the GLBT community ...!

Hi, guys ... I'm back, and with something significant to say. The "bad news" is breaking across the GLBT writing community right now ...

Amazon under fire for perceived anti-gay policy

Here's an outtake in a thimble, to give you the gist:

The number one word being used over and over on Twitter at this moment is "AmazonFail."


Users are angry about a perceived anti-gay policy that removes lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender books from appearing in sales rankings.

Author Mark Probst writes on his blog that two days ago, "mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: 'Transgressions' by Erastes and 'False Colors' by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book 'The Filly.'"

Probst eventually got a response from Advantage member services, he says.

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 DMember Advantage

In other words, what about the children? Protect the children. Get gay content out of any area of the net that minors could possibly access.

Uh huh. Fair enough. I suppose. But it's going to be a long, slow clean-up for the Big A, because protecting kids also means shielding them from violence, coarse language and heterosexual pornowhatsessz. Massive amounts of Amazon will have to VANISH, pronto, for Amazon to be able to support its claim that glbt writers are not being discriminated against. It ain't just glbt writers who're going to get slapped. Normal Mailer, Harold Robbins, Jilly Cooper, Ann Rice ... all vanishing into the A-search bye and bye...

In fact, the new Amazon censorship is a lot of "same old, same old." Google is very discriminatory too; in fact, discrimination against glbt writers is so common on the web, one learns to live and deal with it. (Example: I've heard of e-zines that sell ad space, and "guarantee" a review of any book for which advertising is bought ... but they don't review glbt titles, even though they'll take the advertising dollar. The scene goes downhill from there,
with glbt-friendly pages and blogs now getting paid out less than a penny for clicks on their Google Ads, though they used to earn up to 75c for a click on the same ad, before company policy changed.)

Amazon's policy shift is subtle ... they seem to be reading tags. If your book is user-tagged "gay," you lose your page rankings ... if your books are not tagged, you keep your rankings.

Say, what?!

My books still have their rankings (!) because I never bothered to go in and tag them for Amazon search ... I know they're called "user tags," but it's the writers and publishers who are far, far more likely to add the tags, not customers. (A customer bookmarks the page where the book lives -- why would they want to run around tagging books, when they've already found the damned book?!) I've been advised (!) to get in there and tag my books for Amazon Search. Uh huh. So, writers and publishers tag their books to make them visible and searchable ... hence, it's dead easy for Amazon to figure out whose page rankings to yank!

They haven't yanked my sales rankings (yet??) because I don't carry the tags. Never bothered to go and do it, because at least 70% of all my sales are driven via my own bookstore, which lives here:

Meanwhile, however ... something else is happening at Amazon, which has nothing to do with tags (I'm untagged) or sales ranking (rankings are still there), and for the life of me I can't figure it out. My Amazon sales are down 80% this month, so far. My sales switched off, as if someone had killed the power, at the end of March. I did great in February and March (actually super-great in March), and then very poorly indeed so far in April ... with the sales rankings still "on" and attached. Go figure

Fortunately Keegan ain't Amazon-centric; they can't hurt me very much. And I know this is going to sound self-centered, so let me hint, here and now before I say it -- behind the scenes, I'm thinking long and hard, and coming up with a way to turn this whole lousy situation not only to my own advantage, but to the advantage of all glbt writers. I think I have a terrific idea, but I need to thrash it out, think it through, research the costs involved, before I share it publicly. However -- hang on, because the light I'm seeing at the end of the tunnel is NOT the train; and it's a nice, bright light ... bear with me a while.

As I said, fortunately (for me; and I'm not being selfish here) Amazon/Kindle only ever accounted for about 30% of my sales overall, so I still have 3 out of 4 of my oars in the water. But I know that other writers absolutely rely on Amazon, and they're in dire straits.

My titles are also retailed via Payloadz, and 70% of all sales are driven via my own bookstore -- so, the violent drop in Amazon sales might smart, but it's not going to kill me stone dead. Other writers are not so lucky -- and I'm not talking, here, about self-publishers!

Most of the writers with whom I'm in touch (about a dozen full-professional) are publishing with
print-media companies in the US; a few are with ebook publishers. Amazon sales are a huge part of the income they get from writing. And this discrimination is going to hurt them badly. As I just said in a comment on the previous post, it's enough to make you weep tears of blood.

Now, as you probably know, my publisher went defunct about eight years ago, leaving me with a big backlist and two thumbs to twiddle! I got busy and have marketed my old stuff while writing new. Amazon was very kind to me, sales-wise, till the end of March '09. I still have no idea of what happened then; however, I'd only gotten around to putting 12 books there, out of 27 on my list -- and as for Kindle, there's only 6 there. So their ability to hurt me is limited.

The number of other venues for selling books online is growing all the time -- Smashwords comes to mind. (Speaking of which, Mark Coker tells me they just went online with a new "meatgrinder," which is their industrial strength, wide-scale document converter. You upload a .doc file or an .rtf, and tell it what formats to spit out. It does the whole thing. Should be easy ... we had problems with it last month, but I'm 95% sure it was all about time-out woes. Will be taking another crack at it shortly, and with luck it'll work just fine.)

Amazon doesn't have a monopoly -- it's important to realize this. I also acknowledge that they're the "1000lb gorilla" in this neck of the woods. For some weird reason, READERS trust Amazon over Lulu or anyone else. This is where Amazon can really hurt writers. Customers trust Amazon, and are more likely to buy a book from them than, for instance, or, or whatever.

The trick will be to find a way to get around the discrimination ... without taking on Amazon in a stand-up fight. Because one does not trade blows with King Kong and expect to come out of it with one's nose in the same place where nature intended. Picture Daffy Duck with his bear on top of his head.

Our mission (and we'd better damned choose to accept it!) is to either persuade readers that it's safe, and good, to buy books elsewhere ... or, to find other ways to bend the existing Amazon model (discriminatory tactics and all) to our advantage.

Stay tuned.


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