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Amazon blames book-search glitch on 'cataloging error'

The disappearance of certain titles quickly led to public uproar. The online retailer says more than 57,000 books were affected, including gay- and lesbian-themed titles.

April 14, 2009|David Sarno

Amazon.com Inc. on Monday blamed a "cataloging error" for the removal of more than 57,000 titles from its main search function.

The disappearance of books such as "Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography," "Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk" and "Greek Homosexuality" this weekend created an uproar among consumers who wondered why works that dealt with sexual orientation were being marginalized.

"This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error," Drew Herdener, spokesman for the online retailer, wrote in a statement.

"It has been misreported that the issue was limited to gay- and lesbian-themed titles," he said. "In fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as health, mind and body, reproductive and sexual medicine, and erotica."

Herdener did not respond to requests to clarify the cause of the error, nor about why works such as the "Milk" pictorial -- which did not appear to be listed in any of the categories mentioned by Amazon -- may have been removed from the search listings.

The online controversy, sparked Sunday when observers began using the messaging service Twitter to highlight books that had been affected, had by Monday grown into an online grass fire, complete with angry blog posts, boycott petitions and cries of censorship.

In striking contrast to all of the online uproar, Amazon -- a leading Internet company and media pioneer -- remained nearly silent. It issued a brief statement Sunday evening, citing "a glitch," then waited most of Monday before issuing the mea culpa.

The error also had the effect of removing the "sales rank" of affected books, a metric that allows the public to see the relative success of a book and the topic-based bestseller lists on which it might appear.

By Monday evening, some of the books had been restored to their previous status, including the classic "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence, which is cross-listed under "erotica."

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david.sarno@latimes.com

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