I’m listening to The Bird and the Bee right now. Every single track on the album is labeled as [Explicit] because of the song called “F——ing Boyfriend,” even though that’s the only song that actually has any explicit lyrics.

Both iTunes and Amazon have two versions of the album. One is marked explicit on every single track. The other has edited the one song, and isn’t marked.

I suppose that might have made sense in the old days when an album was only ever sold as a complete unit (with maybe a single or two)…but in today’s digital market, the base unit isn’t the album. It’s the song. If the song itself isn’t explicit, it shouldn’t be labeled as such. That would be like giving Spider-Man an R rating because Sam Raimi also directed Evil Dead.

Some consequences:

  • On my playlist, 9 out of 10 songs from this album are labeled [Explicit], but aren’t. They’re perfectly suitable to play around children and people with sensitive ears, but are labeled as if they’re offensive.
  • Anyone searching iTunes or Apple for an individual song will see at least two versions, one of which says it’s explicit (but isn’t) and one of which doesn’t — even though they’re the exact same recording. Confusing your customer is bad for business.

Kindle DXAmazon has announced the Kindle DX, a new version of their e-book reader with a 9.7-inch screen. Unless I’ve got my numbers wrong, that makes it larger than the standard manga page, though not quite as big as the standard American comic book page. And it’s only 1/3 of an inch thick, comparable to a typical trade paperback.

This could be the first e-reader device suitable for simply taking comics formatted for the printed page and transferring them to a tablet. No need to break it down and show one panel at a time like most iPhone or Android comics. No need to zoom and pan. Just transfer the whole page.

Sure, it’s only black and white, but there are plenty of comics produced in B&W, or reformatted for printing in cheap collections like Marvel Essentials or DC’s Showcase Presents series.

Imagine 30 years of Justice League of America or Spider-Man in the space of the latest trade.

The only drawback is the steep price tag: at $489, I’m not picking one up anytime soon.

(Reposted from Speed Force)

  • Grr. Amazon wants to stop paying me because they think I’ve been buying search keywords to link to them. No, I haven’t. Update: Two days later, they responded: it’s a bad form letter, and even if I were buying keywords, they’d only stop paying referral fees on those links.
  • More concerned than usual about person sneezing in stairway.
  • Bad idea: leaving your pay stub in the brochure holder by the ATM. WTF? Someone’s asking for identity theft.
  • Good deed for the day: tearing it into tiny pieces and tossing the confetti in the trash.

At this point, the only (useful) official word from Amazon as to why thousands of books with LGBT themes disappeared from search results over the weekend is the “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” statement sent to Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other sources, also mentioning a number of other categories impacted. This article also has the unconfirmed word from former Amazon employee Mike Daisey that it was a matter of user error where someone mixed up some tags while working on the site, and the change just propagated globally.

Before Amazon finally spoke, tehdely posted an interesting theory that it might be might be astroturfing or a Bantown-style troll, deliberately pitting Amazon against the LGBT community to watch them fight each other for the lulz. A writer at Feministing asked her editor to call up Amazon and was told that it was not a glitch, but an automatic policy to hide “offensive” search results. Patrick Neilsen Hayden attributed it to bureaucratic incompetence.*

Now, some thoughts:

1. If this was intentional, on anyone’s part, it was both wrong (as discrimination) and stupid (as bad PR and as throwing away potential sales). If it was unintentional, it was still stupid.

2. Amazon really dropped the ball on PR. They should have responded much sooner (yes, it was a holiday weekend), and with something more detailed than “It was a glitch.” Something like, “We’re sorry, it was an unintentional error and we’re trying to fix it” would have gone a long way toward preventing the outrage from spiraling out of control. And we still don’t have anything more detailed than “ham-fisted cataloging error,” or (as has been pointed out) an apology to the authors and communities affected.

2a. And seriously, you’re an internet pioneer: use the Internet. You have email, you have official Twitter accounts, you have a space to put messages on your home page. Use them.

3. Twitter demonstrates that the internet is now fast enough and ubiquitous enough that people can develop a mob mentality without actually being in close proximity to one another. This includes not just people whipping each other into a frenzy, but people taking more permanent actions (deleting accounts) based on incomplete information.

4. No matter how many times something has been debunked (i.e. the “hacker” who claimed to have hacked the site), someone will see it who hasn’t seen the response and repost it as true. (You’d think I would have learned this from comics discussion forums by now.)

5. Canned responses from customer service are not authoritative statements of company policy. Half the time they’re not even answering the question you asked.

6. There are really two issues: (A) Adults-only books are being hidden from search results. (B) LGBT books were being misclassified as adults-only.

7. Combining #5 and #6, when a CSR monkey answers A, that’s not an official statement of policy on B.

8. Removing adults-only books from sales rankings is a dumb way to hide them from search results. Add a flag and let the user choose whether or not to include them like Google, Flickr, etc.

*The second-paragraph links were originally in a separate post, in the form of a collection of tweets. I’ve since combined the two into a single post.

On my way to a doctor’s appointment before lunch, I heard a song on the radio that I liked and wanted to find out more about. I never assume that the DJ will actually identify the song, but I remembered I had Shazam on my G1, and for once it actually managed to identify the song! (Usually I’m trying to ID background music in a restaurant or shopping mall or someplace where half the time I can’t even recognize the song if I do know it). Thankfully for my dignity, it wasn’t Paris Hilton, but rather “What’s In The Middle” by The Bird and the Bee, from their new album Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future. (As it turns out, since it was Morning Becomes Eclectic, the DJ did name the song afterward. But still.)

Now, Shazam is very smart in that it offers a link directly to the song on the Amazon MP3 Store. So I could easily have just bought the song for 99ยข when I parked the car, except…

With unfamiliar artists, I like to at least check out the rest of the album and see whether I want just the one song, or more. And whether it’s a failing in Shazam’s app or the Amazon MP3 app, I could not find a way to go from the song to the album. So I shelved it until later.

Afterward, I opened the Amazon MP3 app by itself, searched for the group, and opened up the album. Another smart thing: If you preview a song on an album, it will go down the whole list playing a clip from each song. I turned up the volume, started the car, and listened to a summary of the whole album on my way to lunch. I decided I liked enough of it to hand over $9 for the lot and see if the remaining songs grew on me, so after I parked the car, I tried to buy the album.

Then I was told that MP3 purchases had to be downloaded over WiFi. WTF? I had a strong 3G signal, and I’ve downloaded large apps (iVerse’s comics and some games are on the order of 5 MB, comparable to a song in MP3 format) over 3G before. Sure, it takes a while, but it’s on the order of minutes, not hours. Naturally the place I’d gone to didn’t have WiFi, and I’m not at the point where I trust it to hold the downloads until the next time I connect to a wifi network. Which will probably be when I get home.

The end result was that I had an entire afternoon to second-guess my decision to purchase the album.

In summary:

  • Good: Shazam makes it easy to buy the song you’re hearing right now from Amazon.
  • Bad: Shazam doesn’t make it easy to buy the album on which that song appears.
  • Good: Amazon makes it easy to listen to samples of an entire album.
  • Bad: Amazon won’t let you download an album unless you’re at a WiFi hotspot.