Over the past few years I have reported on numerous examples of Amazon letting its platforms function without adequate human supervision. Audiobooks being dragooned into Kindle Unlimited was a particularly worrisome example, but it was far from the only instance.
Most recently the Guardian reported on flaws in Amazon's reviews system that caused reviews to be conflated between unrelated products, and now a report has crossed my desk about Amazon sending a form letters to third-party sellers as part of a crackdown on the sale of pesticides and related products.
The long form letter details Amazon's change in policy on selling pesticides, and that would be great except that Amazon was also sending the letter in reference to books sold in Amazon's Marketplace.
"Is there anything we need to do?" one seller wrote in Amazon's forum. "This was a used book we sold last year. Has nothing to do with chemicals of any kind."
"We got another email. Another book on medicine but with no pesticides," commented a second seller. And a third seller said "Received notice of three so far. I sell books and all three of these were books with no relationship to pesticides."
I have not found reports of ebooks being impacted, although sellers of speakers, pillows, shoes, and antivirus software have all reported getting the form letter, so there's a good chance authors and publishers have were among those thrown for a loop last week.
While Amazon did announce on its support forum last week that sellers could disregard the email because it had been sent in error, sellers responded with reports that they are still getting the email and were still as baffled by its incongruousness. (And that's not even counting the seller who wanted to know why their books were identified as being "Rhino Male Enhancement products".)
What's even worse is that some sellers are reporting that their listings were being deactivated as a result of Amazon's screwup. "I sell Garden Flags. Our Buddies at Amazon made my EASTER Flags all Inactive!" a seller commented yesterday. "I can’t list any new ones. Yet, I purchased them to sell for Easter."
What is particularly scary for anyone who sells through Amazon is that the sellers have been left with no way to reactivate their listings. "It’s been 6 days since my 4 best products are inactive and I finally could talk with someone at Amazon who told me something that I had never heard before since this problem: it will take until 14 working days before my listings become active again. What a nightmare…"
While these complaints are not strictly book-related, I think it's important to be aware of Amazon's operation. This bungling could easily be repeated in the Kindle Store, and quite a few authors depend on Amazon for their livelihood.
Even a minor glitch such as the one that made thousands of ebook listings vanish earlier this month can cost authors hundreds or thousands of dollars in income. The potential impact of a mistaken purge like the ongoing pesticide issue is legitimately frightening.