This is the only thing so far that I remotely believe regarding #amazonfail.

 The best thing about #amazonfail is that I have picked up so many new blogs and communities, about ten-fifteen twitter followers (not sure which were just random spam), and an amazing to-read list of books. The newest blog I’ve picked up has also provided the best explanation for #amazonfail that I’ve yet heard, though it is in no way substantiated.

Sexerati says:

I spoke to an anomyous coder inside Amazon. That coder revealed that someone at Amazon — a real person — was responsible for tagging 58,000 titles as “adult” — not a hacker, and very likely not a “glitch,” either:

anoncoder: I can’t find the actual actual root cause, but it looks like someone internally changed 58K asins to be adult – whether that was accidental or intentional I couldn’t say, but we’re rolling it back.

The whole post is worth a read, and while it still doesn’t explain the letters sent to authors or the stone-cold silence, it at least makes real sense.  The hacker theories don’t, for many reasons which are splatted all over the #amazonfail tag on twitter.  What I am increasingly afraid of, however, is that this is a combination of many things.  Amazon.com has a long history of subtle but aggressive practices regarding sales; their goal is very plainly to be a complete and total monopoly of bookselling of all kinds, and they’ve positioned themselves as close to that reality as they can manage.  The problem is that this episode proves (as have smaller ones) that Amazon.com is no benevolent overlord.  They’ve been given too much power, and it may already be too late to take it back.

I plan to make all my book purchases elsewhere from now on.  I will not be buying a Kindle, no matter what.  I can’t, even if they fix everything tomorrow.  Amazon.com hit me personally, and they have made it clear they aren’t interested in apologizing; anything at this point is going to feel like they did it because they had to.  If they demonstrate for an extended period of time that they have new policies free of censorship or dictatorship, I might possibly change my mind, but I don’t see this coming.  I haven’t yet decided how I feel about buying videos from them, or music, but I suspect my distaste will be too great for anything for awhile, no matter what.  Certainly I won’t be making any purchases until the delisting is fully rectified–and I do mean fully, not just the high-profile books they’ve fumbled to restore now.  

I don’t expect any of my friends of family to follow suit with me, though I’ll ask you not to purchase anything from amazon.com for me for some time to come.  I will, however, ask you this: what would you like to be certain is never censored?  Books?  Music?  Movies?  A genre?  What assurance do you have that you won’t find the say when you, too, have been amazon ranked–and will you find that you have any alternative.  If you can answer that for yourself or simply feel you can still trust amazon.com, that is your decision.  For now, I’m sticking to my decision to leave amazon.com entirely, and if they don’t resolve this in the next day or so, I’ll be deleting my account and making that a permanent break.

UPDATE: Seattlepi has a new update from Amazon.com with an actual statement.  Here it is in full:

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.


Nice start.  Keep going.

3 Comments on “This is the only thing so far that I remotely believe regarding #amazonfail.

  1. Sounds to me like that’s a pretty explicit apology right there. Given the time it takes to track down bugs or unforeseen permutations of database algorithms or hacks (if somebody working for Amazon marked 58K asins as adult without permission/authorization from the suits, that counts as a hack) and then figure out how to fix them – which isn’t always as easy as a rollback of code, and code rollbacks can take days to complete – I’m not inclined to burn Amazon at the stake just yet. They rolled out new logic, it went all pear-shaped and fucked up a bunch of stuff, and now they’re working to fix it. Doesn’t seem like a conspiracy by Mormon hackers – no matter how well Twilight’s done in the rankings – or any other sort of conspiracy, more a code glitch that is getting fixed. As far as we know.
    That said, who knows how things will be shaped once they roll out what they intended to roll out? Amazon’s query and ranking logic is pretty sophisticated stuff and has produced a lot of surprises in the past when logic parameters touched bigger spaces than the coders had anticipated. I am interested in seeing what and why they mark certain items as adult, as well as whether customers will be given the option to filter for or against adult items. I have no problem with parents turning an adult filter on before letting their kids cruise Amazon’s virtual shelves. I do have a problem not being able to turn that filter off when and if I choose to do so. In the meanwhile, I’d rather give them time to correct the problem than eradicate a mutually beneficial relationship. It seems as if a lot of the sturm and drang on teh internets about this is coming from folks who forget that Amazon is a business – it just doesn’t make business sense for their suits to put this kind of enforced censorship in place; they’re too good at making money to be that stupid.
    Says the recent escapee from corporate America, who is constantly astonished at the sheer short-sightedness and stupidity of MBAs and their cronies/leavings. And has popcorn.

    • No, there’s no “we’re sorry this happened” in there.
      They’re just too big and too powerful and at the same time too clueless/stupid. I can’t support them anymore.

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