On Monday afternoon, Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener released this statement about the AmazonFail fiasco to the LA Times and other media outlets:
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.
Various sources are reporting that rankings have been restored to some of the affected books. I just spot-checked the specific titles I mentioned in my last blog post, and as I write this some have had their ranking restored, but most have not. Let’s see how long it takes to fix them all. Fixing the damage to Amazon’s reputation and restoring the trust and goodwill that’s been lost will take a lot longer and require more than just this PR statement. That Amazon has not handled this well is a monumental understatement. It would help if they issued an actual apology that showed some understanding or acknowledgment of why the Internet and Twitter exploded. It may have been an unintentional error, but the results and implications of that error and Amazon’s late and inadequate response caused pain to authors and readers alike and felt like a betrayal to those of us who’ve been Amazon customers for years. You can fix this, Amazon. Please try. Hard.
I’ll leave you with one last link for now: Kelley Eskridge’s great post on her Humans at Work blog about the management lessons to be learned from Amazonfail.
Update: On Monday night the Seattle P-I posted “AmazonFail: An inside look at what happened“:
I’ve spoken to an Amazon.com employee who works closely with the systems involved in the glitch… On Sunday afternoon at least 20 Amazon.com 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…
By this time, Amazon.com had upgraded the problem to Sev-1. (Amazon.com 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.)
“People got pulled away from their Easter thing when this whole thing broke,” the employee said. “It was just a screwup.”
Amazon.com employees are on call 24/7, and many began working on the problem from home. It didn’t take much digging to realize that there was a data error.
Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as “adult,” the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from ‘false’ to ‘true.’)
“It’s no big policy change, just some field that’s been around forever filled out incorrectly,” the source said.
New Update (April 14): All of the books I listed in my original blog post have had their sales ranking restored.