#Amazonfail and the dangers of information monopoly

Easter weekend, a firestorm broke out on the social site, Twitter . It was discovered that thousands of books on Amazon.com had lost their sales ranking and were being labeled as 'adult.' The majority of the excised books had Gay or Lesbian themes or characters. Non-explicit books were deranked while heterosexual, explicit books remained accessible with rankings intact. Twitter users used the hashtag of #amazonfail to spread the word, and spread it did. Within hours, it was the #1 search on the site.

Why is this a big deal? Amazon sales rankings are a major factor is exposure for books on the site. They feature in recommendation areas, bestseller lists by category etc. Without a sales ranking, some books are virtually invisible on the site--and hidden in the main search. If people cannot find a book, they cannot buy it. They may not even know that the book exists. And to have that access arbitrarily messed with by a flick of the switch is scary.

Twitter was ablaze with accusations of censorship on Amazon's behalf. While it is still officially being called a glitch, this episode resulted in a HUGE backlash against the Amazon brand as well as an even larger concern for intellectual freedom advocates: what to do when the world's largest bookstore restricts, hides or otherwise impedes our access to books and information. And it also exposes the dangers of allowing one media source grow so big that a book's publishing success is wholly dependent upon it.

Here's hoping that many of the Twitter users so outraged by this glitch take the opportunity to support their local, independent bookstores. Allowing a monopoly for any type of merchandise is unwise--allowing it to happen to books is unthinkable.

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