Amazon.com as Big Brother

News today that Amazon.com activated its ability to take back eBooks from its Kindle Reader.

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

And the books retracted? Ones by George Orwell, including 1984. Come on. If this were April 1, this would be a perfect April Fools Joke. But it isn’t and the threat to the whole eBook model is significant. To placate publishers, Amazon lets them be fickle. But this destroys consumer confidence with all publishers. Think about it. If a book becomes a best seller, a publisher can retract it and then charge everyone (past and future) a higher price to get it again. It is the worst sort of hold-up.

If this sort of shenaningans continues, the publishing industry is likely to be Napstered and it will serve them right. Music publishers expressed frustration when Apple fixed music prices and played hardball. I suspect they will in the future see this as a necessary evil to protect them from each other.

[Update: apparently, the Orwell books were ‘unauthorised’ editions. Not sure that changes my basic argument though. Amazon needs to therefore be religious about what gets put up. For known works, one would think that should be straightforward.]

6 thoughts on “Amazon.com as Big Brother”

  1. 1984 is still copyright in the US, apparently.
    Also, supposedly, the deletions were automatic after Amazon removed the books from their sales system. So it was more an automated deletion, which Amazon are now working to ensure doesn’t happen in the future, rather than Amazon going 1984 on their Kindle users…

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  2. It doesn’t threaten the whole e-book model, it threatens the limited, inflexible and broken Amazon e-book model.
    There is an separate open eco-system out there of interoperable e-book readers and e-book stores that compete with each other in an open market, that this form of retrospective action doesn’t and can’t apply to.

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  3. Jeff Bezos just posted an apology: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum/ref=cm_cd_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdThread=Tx1FXQPSF67X1IU&displayType=tagsDetail

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