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July 24, 2009


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Joel Heffner

What I don't understand is why didn't Amazon simply pay the copyright owner whatever fee they wanted for the copies that were sold via Kindle? It would have been a small investment for Amazon since they made a mistake. They could have then stopped selling the illegal copies and everyone would have been happy.

Speed is important, but so is common sense.

Charles Neville

As Joel points out above, a practical solution surely could have been reached, rather than the heavy handed/light-fingered approach Amazon took. Amazon's lack of openness over this (and the previous #amazonfail regarding the gay & lesbian literature that was vanished) paints a picture of a company that believes they're infallible. Maybe some of Zappos' culture will rub off on them.

Justin Locke

not only is speed of response essential, it can be a marketing opportunity. i had a customer complain once about a book i shipped-- had a page missing. I shipped him a replacement overnight, and a dissatisfied miffed customer was converted into someone praising (to one and all) my exemplary customer service. was a better outcome than if no error had been made. failure recovery is better than failure avoidance, as the latter is impossible. people know mistakes happen, so yes, the only real mistake is in being afraid to admit to being less than perfect.

J Stdy Rockn

Speedy apology or an acknowledgement of the problem by the CEO is PR 101. They should have acted quickly, now people will feel that Amazon did not feel this was somewhat an important enough problem to take serious.

From left field: DMS I've read that you are a astronaut fanatic and I came across this article which I know you would appreciate. Enjoy.


Eric Goebelbecker

I don't think there's an excuse that would have been fast enough or heartfelt enough. It shouldn't have taken Bezos so long - only long enough to fire the responsible parties and put together a few paragraphs would have been appropriate. Not sure if they would have been enough to change what this has done to the Kindle brand though.

As said above, this was an opportunity to show off Amazon's willingness to protect the digital rights people bought from them or their ability to make do in some sort of creative way. Instead they did exactly the wrong thing. Like they, heh, read it in a book.

Myself, I went from curious about the Kindle to completely uninterested in anything involving DRM and Amazon. Not sure what they could do to fix that.

Omar Halabieh

For this story to have become so widespread definitely signals that it was not handled appropriately. An apology was more of a duty at that point than anything.

This being said, mistakes do happen, but from my personal experiences with Amazon, I still believe they have one of the best customer service out there.

Moving forward its important for the company to periodically review the elements of its corporate behavior/culture to ensure that this mistake was a result of an individual one time error rather than a systematic issue.


Mark Pack

Slightly puzzled by the reference to not reimbursing Amazon customers as other reports I've seen say they were reimbursed (and before the 'big apology' came out)?

On the more general issue, I think speed of response is vital, though it's also reasonable to stand by your staff and have a chance to look in to what they've done and why before deciding whether or not to criticise their actions in public and to undo them.

The recent fuss over the change in how Digg was redirecting links I think shows the perils of reacting too fast - the boss comes back from holiday and says in public in effect, "Wasn't me, don't know the details, but my staff were dumb". That's a pretty poor way of treating your staff, reacting in public like that when you don't yet know what they've got up to. And in the long run means you are likely to have worse staff who are less willing to be imaginative or flexible because everyone just hunkers down.

So often I think a quick, "We're sorry people are unhappy and we're looking in to it quickly" is better.

Bob Bly

See my interview with Harlan Ellison on a related copyright violation of his fiction:


Adele Revella

First: it's never too late to apologize. I only wish that most of the apologies I've heard lately were as short, unambiguous, and humble as this one.

Second, I too own a Kindle and love it mightily. But I also spent almost 11 years working on intellectual property issues and I understand that new ground is being broken with electronic distribution of books. Everyone involved is going through a learning curve. Most of the law and business practices that have been relied upon for more than a century need to be reevaluated or even written anew.

Yes of course Amazon should have apologized sooner. In fact, as Bezos admits, they should have never handled the problem the way they did.

But this event doesn't change anything about how I feel about my Kindle or Amazon as a company. I believe that they did learn from this mistake and that it won't happen again.

John R. Sedivy

I see two issues here. The first is a company having access to a purchased device and doing something without my knowledge - kind of creepy! I believe this could be the most damaging aspect of this situation - given concerns over Big Brother intrusion, for example domestic spying. What happens if a customer and Amazon have a disagreement in the future - can Amazon remove an entire library from the device?

The second point is speed, Amazon's hesitation leads me to the conclusion that they were perhaps trying to find another sneaky way around this blunder of accessing and deleting the books.

Not good.

Robert French

They were slow to react. Too few corporations are willing to expend the time and consideration to catch and repair these instances early.

They can ignite and spread so fast, why not devote resources to mine converstations 24/7. It can be done. A process can be created to react quickly.

Sometimes I wonder if they are using some fantasy actuarial table to determine what damage may occur.

I'm somewhat amused by Bezos' apology. It is written for the online culture club. A form of text self-flagellation perfect for the forum, Bezos releases his inner personal troll (before any others do).

It is doubtful we'll see many other CEOs copy Bezos' style. It was fun to read.

Colin Warwick

I think it's a bit harsh to say that fixing this in a week is too slow. It seems like a reasonable response time to me. It not like the United Breaks Guitars case that rattled around for a year or so.

Dave Barnhart

The real issue here is not that it took Bezos a week to respond. The important thing is that we now know that Amazon has the capability to reach out an touch any Kindle and delete anything they don't approve of. Does this mean they can paw through it's contents as well? What about my personal documents on it? Can they delete those too? Can they read them? Can they detect their presence?

I was considering a Kindle until this happened.


Think you're alone on that one. Between the #amazonfail debacle with tags/removal, the Orwellian removals, and my personal experience, I think Amazon.com has some Microsoft-style customer service: we'll play nice when we feel like it because we're dominant.

Last I read, over 30% of online transactions are through Amazon.com alone.

Personally, I refuse to use Amazon.com altogether because I don't want to be part of that problem. I'd rather spend the extra money and go to another seller and, specifically, sellers that respond to me immediately.

Amazon.com customer services takes days. Nothing more irritating to me than customer service solely through email that takes an unpredictable amount of time over 2 days. Back and forth means my problem takes over a week to solve.

Between Twitter, Facebook, and the bloody damn internet, it only takes a couple of hours for a company to be ruined.

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