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Amazon Calls Title Debacle 'Embarrassing And Ham-Fisted'; More Than 57,000 Books Affected

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
Yesterday's "glitch" is today's "embarrassing and ham-fisted error." That's from an Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) spokesman responding to my request for more information about the de-ranking of gay and lesbian titles, among others, that has caused such controversy over the past few days. Turns out that more than 57,000 titles not only were de-ranked but literally removed from Amazon search. Amazon said the repairs are already under way. I've asked for more detail but here's the full statement:

"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."

More after the jump, including a staffer's explanation.

Amazon's statement follows yesterday's comment describing the event as a "glitch" that was "being fixed." I suggested then that it would take more that one line to quell the uproar fueled by Twitter, blogs and the online equivalent of word-of-mouth. This could mollify some people but it's still not an explanation. Amazon may have concerns about getting too detailed about the way its catalog works but there must be a midpoint. Without it, even though other segments were affected, the idea that gay and lesbian titles were targeted will linger.

Also, this doesn't answer concerns about the way Amazon treated some individual titles prior to the mass de-listing, as detailed in Sunday's report, or the direct responses some authors or editors got about books being removed from sales rank because of their "adult" content.

Update: Blame the French ... or at least one person in France who filled out a field incorrectly and switched a category from "false" to true." Andrea James offers an inside explanation from an Amazon staffer who asked not to be identified because of company policies. The staffer told James a team of 20 worked on the problem Sunday before handing it off to an international team.


By Staci D. Kramer

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