Over on the philosophy page, I said I wouldn't do political stuff here. And this is political -- after a fashion -- for which I apologize. I don't intend to make it a habit. But on sober reflection, I've been doing something wrong, and it's my responsibility to correct it, and to explain the reason for the change.

In brief, I'm removing all links to amazon.com from posts I've written here. Please read on after the jump if you'd care to know why.

In the past, when I'd posted about books or films or music, I'd often link to the product page on Amazon. This seemed like a relatively stable external resource with an image of the item, a summary of the contents, and at least something like open critical review. Plus, it gave people who want to buy what I'm posting about a convenient place to do that.

Recently, online retailer Amazon and publisher Macmillan got into a dispute over pricing of e-books. (The details are a bit inside-baseball and not really relevant. If you're curious, there's a good article on Making Light with plenty of links for further reading.)

What is relevant is that Amazon decided to disable the "buy" option for every item from all 41 Macmillan imprints.

I do in fact have some opinions about who is right and wrong in the dispute (executive summary: both parties are wrong and there's plenty of blame to go around), and I also have some opinions about what outcome would best serve readers and authors.

These opinions are not why I'm removing the Amazon links. I'm doing so because Amazon's behavior is seriously hurting individual authors. I've spent the past couple weekends at conventions, listening in person to actual working authors (who write the sort of books I like to read and want to see more of) telling me things like this [source]:

If my sales numbers dip, then down the road the publisher can and will either not buy a new book from me or offer a much lower advance than before. Doesn't matter that the dip was clearly not my fault, bean counters look at numbers, not the causes behind their drop.

Amazon is hurting people I care about, and sabotaging writing I care about, as "collateral damage" in their negotiations with Macmillan. I've been contributing -- in a tiny way -- to this by giving them free advertising in this forum. That was wrong, and bad, and I'm doing what I can to correct it.

I know full well that the impact is insignificant, but that does not relieve me of the responsibility to at least stop being part of the problem.

Note that I'm posting as me, and not using MY ADMIN VOICE here. This is dhenke, as an individual contributor, making changes to my own posts. This is not site policy. Other contributors are free to link to Amazon and to have (and state on this site) whatever opinion on the matter their own consciences dictate.

[Edited 2010-02-10 by dhenke to add the following:]

Removing links to Amazon from my posts on SGS is a great symbolic gesture, but it isn't likely to have much in the way of direct costs to Amazon. (By that I mean: Take the number of people who'd click on such a link and buy the item. Now subtract the number of such people who, if no such link were present, would seek out and buy the item on Amazon anyway. Did you get "zero"? Because I did.)

It does have a more subtle (but over time and large numbers of users, much more significant) effect: It reduces the Google page rank for Amazon's listing of a product. Two of clubs? I shall explain:

Imagine Norma Peterson (nom de plume "Elektra Ravenfyre") writes a book called Dragons of Wednesday Afternoon. Naturally, it is a staggering work of majestic brilliance, and hordes of people on the 'net write (in various websites) megabytes upon megabytes of gushing reviews and screenplays and repulsive DoWA slash fiction.

Google-bot crawls all these places, and notes where they link. Some link to other fannish stuff, some to the author's home page, and quite a lot link to the page on Amazon where you can buy the book. This is a gross over-simplification, but: If a whole lot of pages all over the place mention Dragons of Wednesday Afternoon and also contains links to Amazon, then a Google search for Dragons of Wednesday Afternoon will likely show Amazon as one of the top search results.

Position within Google search results is important (I'd argue) even if you happen to be Amazon.

Nobody asked, but if you're wondering: SGS isn't making me any money. I'm not getting any referrer credit from Amazon (and wasn't, even before I pulled their links). Nor am I getting any from Google, nor anybody else. I have no plans to change this. Ask me again once I'm getting a million page views a day. While we're at it, I'd like a unicorn.

Out of idle curiosity, I had a quick look. In calendar year 2009, I made 21 orders from Amazon totaling US$1319.45. (This includes items purchased for myself as well as gifts for others. It also includes items ordered through Amazon from their affiliates. The figure includes shipping charges and tax, if any.) I have no good way to quantify the gifts others bought for me through my Amazon wishlist (which I have just removed) -- however, it is certainly non-zero.

I'm not saying I'm boycotting Amazon, or suggesting that you should. I have not deleted my Amazon account. I am saying that for now, they're going to be my online retailer of last, rather than first, resort.

I'm also saying that if some of the things I'm doing on the Internet are driving traffic to Amazon, then the responsible thing for me to do is to stop doing those things.