Amazon apologizes for Orwell Kindle mishap but was it too late?

Posted by David Meerman Scott 08:47 AM on July 24, 2009

KindleA fascinating social media-driven corporate communications brouhaha involving Amazon Kindle and George Orwell has unfolded over the past week. I wanted to share it here and get your reaction to how it was handled. Specifically, I think Amazon waited far to long to apologize. What do you think?

Hat tip to my wife Yukari Watanabe Scott for explaining the nuances of this situation to me this morning over coffee. Yukari is a both a writer (several books and zillions of magazine articles) and a blogger. Her blog is about the Japanese book business and she's been one of the most popular voices in Japan about the Kindle.

Here's what went down:

A publisher who did not have the rights to books added them as offerings in the Amazon Kindle reader using a self-service function available to publishers. In an ironic twist, the books were George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. (More on the delicious irony later).

On July 16, Amazon removed the unauthorized copies of the books from customers' Kindle accounts without any notice of why they were being removed and without refunding the money paid for the e-books. The e-books just disappeared. Poof.

This was clearly an error by Amazon. They should have alerted customers first. But hey, we all make mistakes. The Kindle community reacted swiftly on the forums and many tweeted and blogged about it. As Yukari pointed out to me this morning, people who have a Kindle are likely to also be social media savvy and many are active on Twitter. So it should have been obvious that the community would react swiftly.

The next day, many mainstream media outlets ran stories. The New York Times lede went like this: "In 1984, government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the 'memory hole'."

Ouch. Irony. Amazon as Big Brother by removing 1984.

Yesterday, a week after this broke, Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO finally apologized. (Click the image below to read the apology).


Questions for you:

When something breaks very quickly like this story did for Amazon, my sense is that the right thing to do is quickly apologize and quickly do something to make the situation right. Do you agree that speed is essential?

Yes, mistakes happen. But don't you think that those initial mistakes are compounded significantly when the company (in this case Amazon) does not react? Doesn't silence imply that a company does not care?

The apology from Bezos was heartfelt and appropriate. But don't you think it should have come much sooner?

Disclosures: My books are sold through Amazon and are available on Kindle. Both my wife Yukari and I own a Kindle.

David Meerman Scott

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