From Publishers Weekly:
More than two days after it first began experiencing problems with the ranking feature on an array of titles–mostly books with gay and lesbian themes–Amazon said last night that the problem was due to an ”an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error.” The mistake involved 57,310 books in what Amazon said was a broad number of categories including health, mind & body, reproductive & sexual medicine, and erotica. The problem affected not just the sales rank but also removed books from Amazon’s main product search, the company acknowledged. The e-tailer said many books have now been fixed, adding that “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.”
That’s really not good enough, I don’t think. That’s a statement that Drew Herdener gave to the Seattle Post-Examiner yesterday afternoon, when pressed by a reporter (at least that’s as far back as I’ve been able to track it—could be wrong). It’s since been elevated to the status of official communication, in the face of a lack of additional outreach from Amazon. What Amazon should have done, in my opinion, is issue a public, formal apology (ideally directly from Bezos) to the GLBT community. But apparently that’s not gonna happen.
Even if the cause for the delisting was an innocent mistake, much of the consumer frustration and misinformation going around is directly Amazon’s fault, for not reacting immediately in an open, transparent, and forthcoming way to this PR disaster. Corporatespeak and talking at your customers just doesn’t fly anymore, and companies that resort to it, without engaging directly with their customers in an open, human way pay a big price. If Amazon had posted something on its front page (say, where their big honkin’ Kindle2 ad is) as soon as they realized what was going on (Sunday afternoon, at least, or Monday morning), this would have barely been a blip on the radar. As it stands, their silence allowed people to speculate, circulate false info, come up with half-assed theories, and even take credit for hacking Amazon (which, in turn, fed the F.U.D.).
It’s not what happened (which, while still incredibly egregious—see last post—was apparently an honest mistake), so much as how it was handled, that has people in an uproar. It’s a classic case of how not to do PR, and everyone would be well served to take some lessons in how not to handle a situation like this.
Additionally, AmazonFail has brought into stark relief (at least in my mind) the fact that Amazon.com is the 800 lb. gorilla in publishing (even though selling books really isn’t even its main business anymore), and some of its practices run counter to the industry’s best interests. If you’re, say, a small press that specializes in erotic romance, and Amazon decides to de-list your books (or worse yet, decides that it won’t sell them anymore, period, as is their right), you’re well and truly fucked. Or, say, if you’re a large publisher, and Amazon decides to sell your ebooks at $9.99, thereby taking a loss on those in order to sell Kindles, the publisher gets the pushback from the consumer when they have no choice but to price their books regularly elsewhere in order to make a profit. Now, I work for a large publisher, so take all this with a grain of salt, if you so wish, but I’ve never been an apologist for big corporations—quite the opposite. Amazon is behaving in a very old-school, big-bad-corporation way. Considering the amount of power Amazon wields in the publishing industry, Amazon behaving like WalMart is a very scary thought.