Amazonfail: Amazon Responds

After multiple attempts to contact Amazon, I have at long last received the following reply from Patty Smith by email:

“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.”

When I asked Ms. Smith about whether or not this problem represented a hack, she insisted that this was a “ham-fisted cataloging error” that had been caused by Amazon. Therefore, Amazon’s position seems to indicate that the cataloging problem came from its end. Ms. Smith did not, however, answer any questions I put forth to her about why much of this metadata was necessary in the first place.

It’s also worth noting that Amazon still hasn’t issued an apology.


  1. Amazon responded to my email with this, so clearly they don’t have their messaging quite figured out yet:

    “Thanks for contacting us. We recently discovered a glitch in our systems and it’s being fixed.

    Thanks again for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.”

  2. Gawker’s is pointing to an old post that’s already been proven a troll. This was done internally at Amazon, and they know it because they’ve been playing with changing their system so people doing general searches don’t get adult books, said one Amazon rep to an editor at Seal Press.

    So they’re still going to be screwing a lot of authors even if they fix some, because they want to be the Walmart of books. Just what we need.

  3. It was a hack, but amazon will never admit it was a hack because no website that handles credit cards wants to admit that they were hacked. “Amazon Hacked” on CNN is a lot more damaging than all the self important twitter hand wringing.

    And speaking of twitter hand wringing, Ed, do you ever step back and think to yourself, “God, I’m a bit of a silly blowhard.” Seriously, your behavior the last few days has been almost comically insane. Posting home phone numbers? On Easter? Claiming homophobia because nobody deigns to return your calls? You’re like the guy leading the mob in the Simpsons. For somebody who reads so widely, you’d think you’d have more critical self awareness.

  4. This is such bullshit. Note that they don’t deny that they are removing some titles from their sales ranks intentionally. the only mistake that they are admitting to is that they removed some of the “wrong” books. The whole point is that it should not be up to Amazon to decide which are the right and wrong books.

  5. I have to agree that posting phone numbers was going too far. I admire your zeal and resourcefulness, Ed, but consider that Amazon spokespeople probably had thousands of e-mails and phone calls on this issue. Despite your prominence as a literary blogger, these people probably had numerous other more pressing concerns to address (and their own superiors breathing down their necks/concocting a PR response, deceitful, truthful, or somewhere in between it might be). You took it a little too personally that you didn’t receive an immediate response.

  6. Jason: To be clear on this, I didn’t post home numbers. I posted office numbers that were publicly available. Indeed, I managed to find a number of cell numbers, but opted not to post these.

    The upshot is that Amazon refused to respond to any press other than through blanket boilerplate statements. A multimillion dollar corporation bears some responsibility to respond to all inquiries. And I’m not so certain that Amazon did so. They should have reacted immediately given the hundreds of thousands of people expressing their outrage. It was necessary to be tenacious, even if I only did get this rather anemic response.

  7. Bah! Anything Amazon says this late is simply not credible. There is too much documented evidence (Mark Probst and others) that Amazon has done this intentionally. My bet is on the Fundie Fsckwits pressuring Amazon to get whaterver it is they don’t like off of Amazon.

    Frankly, all that christian mythology should be removed, everywhere.

  8. Someone did point out to me that I should type ‘homosexual’ into the search bar on the amazon website.
    Most of the top results are significantly negative towards homosexuality. The first? “A Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.”

    In comparison, most of the results returned by Barnes & Noble are either homosexual romance or books on how to come to terms with ones homosexuality.

    It doesn’t seem to me that ‘ham-fisted cataloguing’ error would have targeted both homosexual romance and books on how to come to terms with ones homosexuality, but would leave books or reparative therapy alone.

    I’d love to hear Amazon’s explanation of this.

  9. One explanation I’ve heard is that “homosexual” is a term more used by wingnuts, negatively. I’m gay and I can’t remember the last time I used “homosexual” without being sarcastic or mocking. I’ve heard the joke that searching for gay-positive books by using “homosexual” as a search term is like searching for porn using “fornication” as a search term. Try an Amazon search for “gay” or “queer” and see what you get.

  10. Also, just wondering…did anyone ever do an Amazon search on “homosexuality” BEFORE all of the poo hit the fan? Is there any way to compare a search now with a search say, a year ago?

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