Amazon.fail

Over the weekend, the blogosphere has been alive with tales of AmazonFail (as it’s being referred to in some circles). I think Debbie’s summary is a pretty good one, but basically Amazon.com has been removing the sales ranking from books with LGBT content which has a variety of effects, including making the books not show up in searches. So, for example, a book like Heather Has Two Mommies has had its sales rank removed because it’s an “adult” book.

What interests me in this story is not just the general Amazon-slagging that’s going on (although that’s been pretty entertaining). What interests me is how this story took off through the blogosphere like lightning. Information Week (who are quick to shovel out apologia for Amazon) suggests that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about bigotry and that we should give Amazon the benefit of the doubt. I am interested in how this crisis for Amazon has gone directly from places like twitter and blogs to Amazon’s PR department, and the mainstream media is playing catch-up (when they’re noticing it at all).

(As an aside, on the weekend I watched Inherit the Wind: there’s a great moment when an acidly cynical newspaper reporter tells another character: “the business of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Makes me wistful, it does.)

Already, Amazon is telling us that it’s “a glitch” that’s causing the removal of sales ranks. Personally, I’m skeptical, but it may be true. To say it’s “a glitch” suggests that there’s some technology somewhere that’s broken. And that may be true. But even if it is true, there’s also an institutional problem because people have been trying to get to the root of the “glitch” at least since February and the bureaucracy has prevented any progress.

I think that if companies like Amazon are not able to implement customer service departments that can actually respond when people report oddities, then really the only way to get anything resolved is to create a blog-based brouhaha. And that can’t be good for PR.

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