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Amazon Blames Book Delisting on "Ham-fisted Error"

The online bookseller delisted thousands of gay and lesbian titles from its site.
April 14, 2009

Once upon a time, when a company did something that upset a group of people, the group would organize a response that could take anywhere from days to months; letter writing campaigns, protests, press kits, and boycotts were common reactions to bad corporate behavior.

Now we live in the age of Twitter, where complaints are heard frequently and at a high volume. This means making any mistake or unpopular business decision can be immediately, and very publicly embarrassing for a company.

Such was the case when Amazon delisted more than 55,000 books, including gay- and lesbian-themed titles, from its sales ranking over the weekend. On Friday, Mark Probst, the author of “The Filly,” noticed that his novel, a gay romance, had lost its sales rank. Then he noticed that popular gay romance novels were no longer on the genre’s best-seller list. An Amazon representative responded to his questions about it by claiming that the company excludes “adult” material from some product searches and best-seller lists. So Probst wrote a blog post about it.

From there, Twitter took over. Over the weekend, Twitter users linked to Probst’s blog describing the problem, tagging their tweets with #Amazonfail and #glitchmyass, referring to an Amazon response that the omissions were due to a technical glitch. The tags remained the most popular “trending” topics on Twitter for Monday and today.

Amazon has now officially responded to the uproar in a statement: “This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection,” says Drew Herdener.

In all, Herndener says that 57,310 books were affected, including those in categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica.

“Many books have now been fixed, and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible,” Herdener said. “We intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.”

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