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My commentary on AmazonFail
cap, captain miss america
teaberryblue
I don't like to think of this as belated. I like to be one of those people who lets thoughts stew and not to write things from a position of kneejerkiness.

I think I'm ready to make a statement on this, since there's response from Amazon out there. As infuriating as this was, having been in positions of having to address a problem that was going to take more work to solve than it did to create, I was totally willing to wait and see how Amazon responded, how transparent they were in their explanation of the problem, and so on, before making a decision as to whether I would continue to shop with them.

I should say-- I very rarely purchase from Amazon as it is. I like to buy my books in person. I mainly purchase books from Amazon.co.uk when something isn't in print on this side of the pond, or I purchase gifts to be delivered directly to the giftee.

Right now, assuming nothing changes, I have decided that I will not be shopping with them anymore.

Why?

Because Amazon's approach in responding to the problem is completely unacceptable.

I am the kind of person who likes to trust people. I take what people say at face value and assume they are not lying. So I am operating on the assumption that the issue is exactly what Amazon claims it was-- a mistake.

But when you make mistakes, you apologize-- to your authors, whose sales may have been hurt and who spent what might have been a holiday weekend for them frantically wondering what they had done wrong to have their rank stripped. And to your customers, who might have been trying to find a particular book and ended up frustrated or confused. To everyone who spent the weekend angry and upset and feeling disenfranchised over a mistake. Those people deserve an apology.

They do not deserve a statement-- a statement, mind, that has not been posted publicly on Amazon's own site, or blog, or even in their press releases, which seem gleefully oblivious to the fact that there is a problem at all in spite of the fact that every major news source has written on the subject by now-- that basically boils down to saying "oh, we made a mistake, and by the way, it wasn't JUST the gay books that were bahleeted."

The way it's worded sounds almost accusatory. It makes it sound as if they are saying that those of us who were upset over the exclusion of gay and lesbian books and books about disabled sexuality should STFU because other people got excluded, too. And you know? No. It just means that those other people who might have escaped notice have a right to be upset as well. You do not, intentionally or unintentionally, disenfranchise a group of people who have been systematically disenfranchised their entire lives and then tell them that they're overreacted because other people got disenfranchised, too.

No. This is totally the wrong response. This does not restore my confidence in Amazon.

If they want to do this right, they will have a public apology. They will realize that this is more important than the release of Kindle 2.0 and they will replace that graphic with an apology. A real apology where they actually apologize. They will have a press release in their press releases, and a blog post in their blog. They will fucking man up and own up that they did something wrong that hurt people.

This is the kind of response I expect from the Olde Tyme Maw and Paw Dairy when they accidentally don't sell milk from their gay cows one weekend, not from one of the biggest internet companies in the world, who should understand what this kind of customer response means.

Let me also just say that I don't think an official statement has been released at all in any kind of press release sense-- all the newspapers are quoting the same exact letter Amazon sent to my email address after I complained this weekend upon hearing about this issue. And the more in-depth explanations I've seen ("It was a French dude, lol!") are all coming from FORMER Amazon employees, not current ones. Dude, Amazon. Is that how you're playing this? Getting a guy who's no longer with you to dish so you don't have to respond in an official capacity?

Not fucking cool.

At this point, Amazon would have to do something amazing, like send a free GLBT-friendly book to every user with an account for me to consider purchasing with them again. I'm glad some more Kindle-competitors are coming onto the market, because that's the only thing they sell that I'd really miss.

ETA: For those of you who didn't write to Amazon and who are wondering what the letter says,


Hello,

Thank you for contacting Amazon.com.

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.

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


Sincerely,

Customer Service Department
Amazon.com

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I'm seconding this.

Not that I have much money TO shop with them, but I've picked up a lot of stuff from them in the past...

Well, there's online book retailers over here that'll be more than workable since Amazon has their head up their ass.

I closed my account with Amazon last night. I didn't purchase from them often but the fabulous thing about the internet today is that Amazon isn't as special as it used to be in finding things you couldn't find anywhere else.

I waited because I genuinely believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. People-- and thus, corporations, make mistakes, and sometimes a horrible mistake can end up spurring positive and affirmative behavior on the part of the person (or corporation) who made the mistake. The response-- and correction-- is, for me, much more important than the mistake, because mistakes are made without thinking-- corrections are made when a person is striving to be at their best. This is not what I would have liked to see from someone striving to be at their best.

This is a hard decision for me. I am gay and if any of this were found to be deliberately done, I would certainly not want anything to do with them. I'm also a 'major book store chain' employee and shouldn't be shopping there anyway except that in general I've liked shopping there. It seems that Amazon will not get off 'scott free' in this case and I'm betting a lot of people have deleted their accounts. If this actually does have anything to do with discrimination, it would be an amazing opportunity for the GLBT community to show that their dollars do indeed count. And yes, you're right. The words 'sorry' and 'apologize' SHOULD have been in their letter, reports and statements. It is an important detail.

I'm still going to wait and see. It's still too early for me to utterly write them off. It's not so clear cut a case as is WalMart to me. I really appreciate your support here and the scrutiny you've put to the issue. Well stated. You made me think.

I honestly believe them when they say it was an error. That may be naive of me, but I think it's better to trust people unless you have a reason not to. The problem for me is that they seem to think that it being an error means they don't need to address it-- or need to address it at a bare minimum. There haven't actually been any released statements apart from the letter I posted, which is part of what's frustrating me.

I just wrote them another letter and said I was dismayed by the way they handled this and telling them that I felt they should have a public apology as well as an official press release-- coming from them, not from an ex-employee. I agree with you that it's not a Wal-Mart situation, but it honestly bothers me that it seems like they're trying to sweep it under the rug when it's in every major American and British newspaper.

Oh, I totally agree with their needing to apologize. It is nice to know that things like Twitter bring such matters to the attention of a great many people very quickly indeed and that things like this cannot so easily be swept aside without notice.

(Deleted comment)
What kind of "accident" was it then? 'We deleted all the H's?' No, 'we deleted all the sex books?' No. I am more inclined toward cynicism so this makes me just not trust them anymore.

And the e-mail definitely sounds like "uhhhh, it wasn't just the gays. Sheesh, shut your trap."

Working in software as long as I have, I totally believe that this is possible. I've seen developers make stupid mistakes that shut down whole sections of content or userbase. The issue, from what I've read, is that they gave a developer instructions to remove certain content from the rankings. The developer was not an English speaker, and mistranslated an instruction to remove anything of a sexual nature as anything in a category related to sex as opposed to anything inappropriate for children to view. Which, considering the cultural differences between Americans and French people in terms of general feelings about sex, makes a lot of sense. The guy removed categories like sexual health, sex and religion, several categories relating to feminism and puberty, books dealing with homosexuality and politics, and not the nudie photos.

I can totally believe this could happen. Often mistakes are worse than what might have resulted if something were done intentionally-- like James Earl Jones being given an achievement award mis-inscribed to James Earl Ray. I don't really see a reason to accuse them of lying-- because to be honest, if it were a deliberate move, people were bound to notice, and they would have to publicly make a statement defending their position. No one in business knowingly takes an indefensible position if they know they're going to be caught out. It doesn't make sense.

But the email pisses me off. A lot.

hmm, I see what you mean by how that mistake could have happened. I didn't realize that was the case with it.

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