Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) will likely take some heat today as it has become known that they apparently have been systematically "hiding" books deemed to be about non-heterosexual topics by changing classifications and making them ineligible for their ranking systems.
A reasonably-thorough article is available here, but expect more news on this tomorrow as the mainstream media picks up this story.
I know of this now because of the already-huge backlash on Twitter. I recently signed up for a Twitter account (to promote my ski wax company, Whacks Wax, which is coincidentally sold on Amazon.com) and the website's millions of microbloggers are tweeting furiously about this topic. (On a related note, I think Twitter is pretty pointless and unmonitizable, though that doesn't mean some bigger company won't buy it [after all, Google bought YouTube and eBay overpaid for Skype].)
Though some people are already tweeting for a total boycott of Amazon.com, that's obviously ridiculous. There will likely be some protests and LGBT spokespeople complaining through various news mediums, but this drama should blow over shortly. The only people that I feel are very wronged are the authors and publishers of the blacklisted books, so I do hope that the problems will be fixed and that their personal wrongs will be righted.
I think that Amazon's results may be materially affected by this in one of two ways.
On one hand, the calls for boycott may keep some people from making purchases. It is possible to still buy books from physical bookstores or other websites, so Amazon may give up a couple of percentage points of market share in the very immediate future (the next few days or weeks). But I expect that Amazon will quickly apologize and hope that this is all forgotten, and I don't expect any huge long-term effects. The simple truth is that Amazon is too big, popular, and powerful to get hurt by such a minor slip-up.
On the other hand, Amazon might actually benefit from this negative publicity. An unintended positive consequence may actually be additional traffic and sales on Amazon.com within the next few days. Amazon is obviously already a household name, but the attention Amazon may receive will likely drive MORE people to the site, as people read the site's name in their newspapers and hear it on the evening news. Amazon sells anything and everything - from books to bandages - so visitors may just curiously type in a desired item and end up buying it.
The bottom line is that huge companies like Amazon shouldn't bother to try to sneak things like this past the watchdog that is the internet community. It would have been better for them simply to have stated upfront that "due to new company policy, books with strong homosexual material will be ineligable for popularity rankings" rather than try to cover it up. In the age of Googling, Twitter, and blogging, someone is bound to stumble upon these types of things, and the discovery of secrecy causes a stronger backlash than what would have been initially suffered.
Amazon.com may be a little embarrassed that they got caught enacting this shameful policy, but they will continue to perform strongly as a company nonetheless.