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April 13, 2009
Anatomy of the #AmazonFAIL protest
Amazon recently deleted the sales rankings of hundreds of gay- and lesbian-themed books. Writer Mark Probst blogged about the de-ranking and was told by an Amazon representative that the company will no longer include sales ranks for "adult" material on the site.
Reaction was swift: anger over lumping gay-themed books with pornography accompanied by cries of censorship.
Probst's blog post was dated Sunday, April 12 at 2:08 am. In 24 hours, here's a quick look at how things developed:
- Twitter. Users begin using the hastag #AmazonFAIL. It was the number-one trending topic on Twitter search all day. After an Amazon spokesperson told CNET news that the de-ranking was "a glitch in our system and is being fixed," Twitterers responded with a new hashtage: #glitchmyass.
- Facebook. The AmazonFail Group launched, quickly gathering 1,200 members out of the gate.
- Online petitions. Online petitions sprang up protesting the "adult" policy. One gathered more than 9,000 signatures in a few hours' time.
- Google bomb. A blogger launched a campaign to redefine "Amazon rank" on Google. It's working. This page is #2 in the search rankings.
- Hacking. Protesters started tagging the de-ranked books on Amazon site with #AmazonFAIL. At last count, 882 books were tagged.
- Logos. People created logos for the protest.
- Merchandise. #glitchmyass boxer shorts, t-shirts and other apparel are for sale!
- Complaint templates. Customers wanting to complain and who need writing help can use this pre-crafted complaint letter.
The anger of injustice spreads quickly and can take on a life of its own. For a company that helped pioneer using customer comments to sell books in a flattened, democratized context, this sure seemed like a fail moment for Amazon.
(Feel free to post any items or updates I may have overlooked or tell me on Twitter: @jackiehuba!)
- Follow the real-time Twitterstream for the #AmazonFAIL and #glitchmyass tweets here
- The list of de-ranked books that have been tagged by customers as #AmazonFAIL is now 1,1371,335 books.
- Online petition is close to 16,000 signatures.
- Over 335 mainstream media articles related to this story, including Wall Street Journal, Wired, and NPR.
UPDATE: Amazon has released a statement calling the issue a "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error." The spokesperson said it wasn't just gay and lesbian titles that were affected, but also the error included 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. Amazon also refuted the rumor that a hacker had caused the glitch.
There are still a lot of questions that were not answered here. How did the cataloging error occur? Was it man-made or computer-related? Regardless, Amazon waited too long to address the building outrage with some kind of explanation.This is a great case study for PR professionals on dealing with today's 24/7 real-time Twitter-fueled word of mouth world.
UPDATE: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that the "cataloging error" was the result of a single Amazon employee in France who flipped the wrong switch, causing over 50,000 books to be flagged as "adult." This is according to an anonymous souce inside the company.
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@ExploreMyBlog, I am not sure what you are referring to. My post does say 2am on Sunday. I wrote the post at 2am Monday.
This was such a great synopsis of how all of this social networking can come together and force change immediately. It was great to see it on display, play-by-play!
My only question is "When will companies just learn to say, "Sorry, that was a bad idea, we apologize!" We see this constantly, read case studies and yet corporations still think they can pull the wool over our eyes. In the end they will know they have been caught and look, Sheepish!
Thanks again, Jackie
In trying to deal with the problem and assuage GLBTG and handicapped customers, Amazon stepped in it big time and now it can’t get the crapola off of its shoes.
When members of social networking sites began spreading word about what was happening at Amazon, news spread like wildfire. The web was all a-twitter – pun intended – with people wondering what lay behind the retailer’s action.
Rather than dealing with the public’s questions and concerns in a straightforward, honest manner, Amazon began tap-dancing like an AIG executive caught not returning a multi-million dollar bonus for wrecking the economy.
The fact is that, when faced with a serious PR predicament for the first time in its corporate life, Amazon’s strategy to deal with a 2009 problem is to use a 1979 response. It also shows why, no matter how “kewl” a corporate behemoth tries to act, under the pounding iPod, stylish jeans and brand new Nike’s beats the heart of just another John Thain type.
And blaming the French? The French? Is Amazon serious? As Deanna Zandt wryly observes at DeannaZandt.com, this is like the pimply-faced, gawky and awkward high school kid who can’t take gym class and never talks to anyone insisting he has a girlfriend “but she lives in France” to explain why no one ever clapped eyes on her.
There seems to be a lot of astroturf going on around here.
The real problem with AmazonFAIL is that everyone who reads or writes now knows that Amazon is essentially a single point of failure for book distribution in America with a Microsoft-style monopoly.
The "mob-reaction" appears to be the new Amazon Party Line... I suggest that the astroturfers drop it.
Anyone who's literate enough to care what Amazon does is smart enough to realize that the ONLY "mob" threat here is to Amazon corporate profits. Who cares about Amazon corporate profits who is not on Amazon's payroll or a stockholder?