Amazon update: it was a “hamfisted” glitch

An update on yesterday’s post about Amazon de-listing and de-ranking books with “adult” content that included health, sexuality studies and gay-themed books (including nonfiction).

AP is now reporting that Amazon admits that some 57,310 books were affected. An Amazon spokesman was quoted as saying it was due to an:

embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection…

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,” Herdener said. “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.

AP (and other blogs) go on to point out however that this announcement was greeted with some scepticism by authors, one of whom claims this glitch goes back several months.

I did confirm that the History of Sexuality ranking, which was missing on Monday, has been restored.

Amazon have also denied that they were victims of a malicious hacker.

On a larger scope, this episode helps to reveal what Amazon is today: essentially an “online Wal-Mart” in the words of one former employee. No longer the company it once apparently was, he went on, “there is little accountability inside the bubble.” Yet it still has a huge influence on the publishing industry.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (hometown paper of Amazon) has the best and fullest explanation. Seems it occurred in when an employee incorrently flagged gay books as “adult” (their term for porn, it is claimed).

Here’s the lead paras of the Seattle PI story:

I’ve spoken to an employee who works closely with the systems involved in the glitch. The employee asked me not to share his name because of company policies on talking with the media.

On Sunday afternoon at least 20 employees were paged alerting them that items, possibly many, were incorrectly being flagged as adult. The employees also received links to the Twitter discussion AmazonFail.

Thousands of people were angry that gay-themed books had disappeared from Amazon’s sales rankings and search algorithms. The number of Tweets on Sunday afternoon that had the term “AmazonFail” surpassed even those with the words “Easter” or “Jesus.”

By this time, had upgraded the problem to Sev-1. ( breaks down its operational issues in terms of severity levels. Sev-3 means a problem affects a single user. Sev-2 is a problem that affects a company, or a lot of people. Sev-1 is reserved for the most critical operational issues and often are sent up the management chain to the senior vice president level.)


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