Update on AmazonFail

First off, it has been noted that the de-ranking wasn’t limited to GLBT issues and erotica, but also notably affected books on disability and sexuality as well as feminist books, books on sexuality, and books on topics such as suicide prevention and rape.

In terms of the massive PR fail that has been going on, Amazon went from the vague and not very credible “glitch” explanation to this:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Here are some good posts that point out the flaws with Amazon’s explanation:
This Is Not A Glitch, #amazonfail
Seattle PI has new #amazonfail statement
Amazon’s censorship sparks angry protests
Amazon Rep: This was not a “glitch”
Amazon Is Embarrassed By “Ham-Fisted Cataloging Error”

There’s also the disconcerting parallel between the pattern of the feature/glitch/whatever showing up on books from smaller presses first and only after some time has passed does it start showing up on books where people are likely to notice. As Lilith Saintcrow explains:

Now. Do you remember the Amazon POD fiasco? Cliffs Notes version: Amazon tried to take over a significant chunk of the print-on-demand industry by quietly removing “buy” buttons from small-press POD publishers who didn’t use Amazon’s POD service. The buttons would come back–if you switched to Amazon’s POD service, in essence giving them a bigger cut. It was greed pure and simple, and they started it with smaller presses and only backed off when there was a bit of a hullabaloo and larger presses (who still use POD technology) banded together to tell Amazon where to stick it.

We have the same pattern with AmazonFail. First very small press/authors are targeted, probably to gauge how big of a stink they’ll raise. If Amazon is not convinced the outcry will outweigh the (perhaps perceived) profits, it slowly mounts until Amazon has captured what it wants. The fact that Amazon has shot itself in the foot with this does not mean it wasn’t a deliberate step taken with another end in mind.

We also need to examine the implications behind Amazon having paid someone money to code this feature — regardless of whether this incident was a policy, a “glitch”, a mistake or whatever. Patrick does this in his post Amazonfail & The Cost of Freedom:

Think for a second about what Amazon did here. In the world of ecommerce, the search is king. Almost everybody who shops online visits a site to find a specific product. By intentionally obscuring and manipulating the search results of your site, you are making a clear statement: We don’t want you to read these books. I can tell you from experience that if something is difficult to find through a search, it will not sell. Not only was this a suspicious action on Amazon’s part, it had the potential to be very “successful” (ie, it would’ve greatly decreased the sales of those titles).

After quoting the above, Lilith Saintcrow responds with:

Exactly. This powerful weapon was created FOR A REASON. No company spends money on a tool that powerful that they don’t intend on using. A huge squawk over it being used improperly one time will not stop it from being used improperly in the future as soon as the hubbub dies down–but greater choice in Internet suppliers might.

In terms of how I’m feeling about the issue, Amazon isn’t getting my money even if it does offer an apology. I feel pretty much the way that are pretty much summed up in Kelley Eskridge’s take on Amazonfail from a managerial perspective:

Amazon is perceived right now as everything from deeply clueless to desperately stonewalling to deliberately deceptive. And of all the errors you can make as a manager, this is the worst — to communicate in a way that distances people even further. Amazon will never fully regain credibility with many of its customers, and they have no one to blame but themselves. They gave a generic “Daddy’s working on it” answer to a deeply divisive situation; they communicated “at” stakeholders instead of directly to them, on their own online turf; and they have so far refused to engage with the notion that people aren’t just curious or concerned, they are offended.

Lilith Saintcrow’s amazonfail-related entries is probably the most comprehensive breakdown I’ve seen yet and I would highly recommend reading through all of them.

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