Was it a policy decision? Was it a glitch? No, it was a cataloging error, at least that’s what Amazon is now attributing to the stripping of GLBT titles from its sales charts.
In case you missed the story, over the weekend it was discovered that Amazon had started stripping primarily GLBT books from its sales lists. One author received an email from Amazon saying that his gay romance book had been removed as it had been classified an “adult” title despite the said book being nothing more than a gay version of a Mills and Boon book. As the PR nightmare descended on Amazon Sunday, an Amazon spokesman then said it was a “glitch.”
To its credit, be it a couple of days late, Amazon has finally taken responsibility, referring to the omission of the books as “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error.” Amazon is also denying that GLBT books were targeted, saying that “57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica” were affected by the “cataloging error.” It should be noted that #AmazonFail protesters did ascertain that books classified as “erotica” were affected as well, although there still appeared to be an over-representation of GLBT titles on the list.
But there could be a twist, because one person at least is claiming that he used a browser hack that flooded Amazon with complaints against GLBT books, a move that could have forced Amazon systems to strike the books from their sales lists. A number of sites are questioning whether this is true or not; we haven’t tested the alleged exploit, so can’t make a comment on it.
What ever the reason, the missing piece is the how: how did a company the size of Amazon allow this to happen? how did Amazon respond so poorly to begin with?
The new apology will go some way in appeasing the seething masses, but the damage is done, particularly given it took three attempts to get it right. Whether Amazon is to be believed now is irrelevant, because they’ve suffered a crisis in trust that has damaged the brand, at least among a section of its users. That they’ll lose business is already a given: you only have to have followed the #AmazonFail tweets on Twitter to have seen the people who canceled orders and closed accounts. Those same people, the people who read Amazon blame it on policy, then a glitch, are unlikely to quickly trust Amazon again. This is a cockup that has cost millions, even if they’re trying to make it right now.
As I mentioned yesterday (here and on Twitter), if you’re in social media, PR or marketing, this is a case you should be looking at. The notable thing is the speed: this developed over the Easter weekend perhaps quicker than any huge PR disaster online before it. The handling mistakes and ultimate correction will become textbook fodder in coming years.