Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amazon, Orwell, and the Great Internet Freakout of 2009

Stop me if you've heard this one.

Something mysterious happens with Amazon. Internet freaks out. Media follows with hysterical articles about apocalyptic implications of mysterious machinations of Amazon.

A week later, everyone wonders: what was it we were freaking out about again?

It's deja vu all over again this week: earlier in the year you may remember "#Amazonfail", which turned out later to be "#seemingly innocuous Amazon systems glitch." If you recall, items had incorrectly been flagged as "adult material" on Amazon, the Twittersphere in particular went ballistic, ominous articles were written, Amazon fixed the problem, everyone moved on.

Well, as I'm sure you've heard, this week books by George Orwell mysteriously disappeared from Kindles. Cue Internet freakout. Next came the media with articles about The Dire Implications: even normally mild-mannered fellows David Pogue and Farhad Manjoo were not immune to apocalyptic warnings. The subtitle of Manjoo's article says it all: "How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future."

Wow. Really?

Let's start from the beginning with this whole Orwell thing. What really happened is that a third party illegally uploaded copies of Orwell's books to the Kindle Store. Amazon was notified by the rightsholder (presumably either Orwell's publisher or literary estate or both), after investigation they discovered that the copies were illegal, and then they both refunded customers' money and then digitally recalled the e-books.

Now, I don't doubt that it feels a little intrusive to have a book removed from one's device without consent, and Amazon later announced that it would no longer do so in the future. Where I think they really erred was that they didn't recognize that it would be unsettling to consumers (and rich with irony given this is Orwell), and didn't sufficiently lay the groundwork for a forced recall.

But imagine you're a writer (not hard, since 99.9% of the people reading this blog are writers and the other person is my mom). Someone illegally uploads your book. 10,000 people download it and you don't see a dime. Would you want these people/lost customers to continue to read their illegal versions or would you want them properly refunded and the illegal copies removed so they can buy the real version instead? Or better yet have a legal version substituted at the right price? I know there are some "I just want my book read" freevangelists out there, but I still think most people would want the problem rectified if it were possible to do so.

I mean, it's not as if the police says, "Sorry, sir, your house was broken into and then the burgler sold it to another couple for $10. But that couple bought it fair and square so you're just going to have to find a new house, there's nothing we can do about it."

The other tack that analysts have taken is that this reminds people that they don't really own their e-books, and buying books on the Kindle is more akin to a rental. Which, as a Kindle consumer, let me just say: I already know this. Sure, I hope someday that e-books will be truly device agnostic (as opposed to fake device agnostic), so that, much like my music collection, I can move my e-books to a new device when a better e-reader comes along.

But honestly, as a rabid e-book consumer, this isn't something I worry about a great deal. I don't buy e-books for permanence, I buy them for convenience.

If you're reading e-books you've already made the break from the book as a permanent fixture in your home. And then you realize that most people only re-read a fraction of the books they own. I don't worry about keeping every single e-book on my virtual shelf in perpetuity. I'm not really going to re-read them, and if I do want to re-read something again and again I'll either figure out a way to migrate the electronic version I do own, or I'll buy it again in a new format to support the author, or I'll just buy the paper version. And people who are creeped out about the impermanence of digital content tend to stick to paper books to begin with.

So yeah. Amazon can effectively delete your books and e-books are more akin to rentals. Got it.

But it's a pretty fantastical leap from there to assume that they or the government are going to start using these these nefarious devices to control what people read. Sheesh, people, we're not living in a police state (resist political jab). Also: Kindle sales represent at the very most 1-3% of total book sales. Not exactly totalitarian control of the book world. And even if you assume Amazon is bent on world domination they really don't have any incentive to mess with your legally bought Nora Roberts novel, nor do they have or will they have the monopolistic power that people are imagining for such an apocalyptic scenario to come to pass in the future.

What is it about Amazon that causes such hysteria? I mean, I'm in contact with Amazon a lot, and let me tell you: it's a company populated by extremely nice, extremely smart people.

Well, aside from some unforced errors, I do think the suspicion comes down to the fact that Amazon is the 5,000 pound gorilla in the book world and people are worried they are going to eventually possess some sort of book monopoly. Obviously Amazon is having a huge impact on brick and mortar bookstores, people are worried about their power, but perhaps most importantly, because they so firmly represent the new world of books they're basically the receptacle for our anxieties about the future.

I personally think a lot of the fears of Amazon's coming world domination are seriously overblown. Amazon may well emerge from this period of transition in the publishing industry as a dominant player, but it's not as if they're going to be the only player. If Apple and the iPod have taught us anything, killer devices drive where and how people buy digital content, not habituation to retailers such as Amazon. (The Kindle: love it, but not so much a killer device). And if anything, the buying possibilities will be more dispersed and decentralized in the e-book era. Yeah, iTunes is the dominant player in music, but how many places are there on the Internet to buy digital music? A bazillion.

Ultimately, I just can't get too worked up about all of this. If there's anything we should fear from Amazon it's that the mere sight of their logo apparently turns normal people into conspiracy theorists.






138 comments:

Margaret Yang said...

I thought Google was our great digital overlord. Now I have to fear Amazon, too?

lindacassidylewis said...

Oh, yeah, the conspiricists are everywhere. Did Amazon do the right thing by taking back the illegal copies and refunding the money? Absolutely. Your analogy to the house sale was perfect.

Kristi said...

Oh the irony of it being Orwell - I think the whole thing is hilarious AND Amazon acted correctly. Another reason why I'm sticking with good, old-fashioned door stoppers.

Bane of Anubis said...

People like to overreact -- particularly in this day and age (where everything we see and hear in the media is hyperbolic overload - before, it was to outdo the competitors, now it's just to keep our dwindling twitterized attention).

The irony of Orwell, IMO, is that he got it almost completely backward. Big Brother is the internet, which is an independent conglomerate with far-reaching (if sometimes unguided and misdirected) power.

The massive instant intercommunication flow reduces government control and, if anything, makes governments and government like entities (Amazon, Microsoft, etc...) more susceptible to the whims of the twitching populous.

Nathan, sorry to hear your father doesn't read the blog - he must be too busy in the courthouse... he should twitter about it, methinks, and rouse the masses ;)

Mira said...

Bravo, Nathan! Extremely well-said. I agreed with every word. And I like the irony of this being around Orwell.

And I'm a great Amazon supporter - I think Amazon is brilliant. But people do get scared of change.

I also think people are forgetting that the internet and electronics make censorship even more difficult, rather than less. It's easier to distribute and recieve information. Look at what happened recently in the Middle East and the rebellions, which in the past the government would have been able to keep quiet. So, setting up and maintaining the type of totalitarian goverment which would control books would be much more difficult to do nowadays.

Oh, and can I take a second to say hello to Nathan's mom? Hello out there. Your son has an awesome blog.

Anonymous said...

What?

Your mom isn't a writer?

What's the point in having a son who turns out to be a literary agent if you're not a writer?

The Goose.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, I can't believe how quickly this section fills up with comments?

Don't you guys have anything better to do than to sit around waiting for the literary agent to post his morning blog?

I've got lots of stuff to do myself.

The Goose.

Ink said...

I think it was Amazon on the grassy knoll.

Ink said...

Goose,

Do as I say and not as I do?

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Hmm, this shows how important it is to select a good agent and publisher - they'll be looking out for your best interests even after you die....

TERI REES WANG said...

Big Brother giveth and He taketh away.

jimnduncan said...

One thing this whole debacle has pointed out to me, which I wasn't really aware of before is the problem with copyright outside of the U.S. There are a fair number of books that are still under copyright in the states but are now public domain in other countries. This would seem to be a bit of a mess of publishers when dealing with e-content.

Elise Logan said...

The point I find disturbing about the whole mess is not that Amazon took back the books and refunded money. That was, IMHO, what they ought to do in this situation. No, the problem is this: prior notification. The way the Kindle works, you can have a good bit of your own content on that file - notes, musings, meanderings. All that stuff that came out of your brain is yours (granted, it probably wasn't really smart to store it on the Kindle, but...). Because of the WAY Amazon handled the recall, people did not have a chance to retrieve their notes and other content that was, in fact, not affected by the copyright problem. I do have an issue with that.

In the case of your house analogy, I strongly suspect that any accidental buyer would be notified that they had to move - they wouldn't just suddenly find themselves on the street with all of their stuff still in the house.

So, to sum up: Should Amazon have recalled the books? You bet. Should they have done so without notification? Well, here I'm not so sure. I think a 24 hour notification would not have been out of line. A little note from Amazon saying "It has come to our attention that there is an issue with this content. Amazon will be recalling/deleting the content from all Kindle units a X o'clock EST. Thank you for your understanding."

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

JohnO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...

elise-

I agree, I think that's how they should have handled it. A lot of people would have still freaked out, but the volume probably wouldn't have been as great.

JohnO said...

I mostly agree, except that as the 500 lb. gorilla, Amazon now has the responsibility to be a squeaky-clean corporate citizen.

While both of the incidents in the book world have been overblown, it doesn't change the fact that Amazon could and should do better.

For a short list, check out their controversies (via Wikipedia)

Also, such enormous retailer should be as environmentally responsible as possible.

Amazon stinks in this department. Climate Counts scores companies on a scale from 0 to 100. Amazon gets a 5. Their former score was zero.

So maybe there's a bit too much hype. But keeping their feet to the fire is the only way to keep them accountable, since they're basically now an e-commerce monopoly.

Steph Damore said...

Elise - I think your comment sums it up nicely:

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

People, including companies, learn from their mistakes. I'm sure in the future Amazon will communicate a recall to the Kindle community (at least I hope they will).

Nathan - I agree. I wouldn't want people downloading illegal copies of my work. Yeah, I want people to read it, but not that way. Unlike music, you can get a free copy of a book at a library (okay, so it's not an e-book, but still). There's absolutely no excuse for downloading books illegally.

RW said...

I'm definitely not with you on this one Nathan. Disagreeing respectfully!

You may not have a certain kind of personal attachment or future plan for the e-books you bought and apparently own. But buy means buy and own means own and aren't conditional on how strongly the purchaser feels about it. I either bought it or I didn't. When I think I've bought it, I assume I own it. To find out that it's all just semantics really sucks.

Every property dispute, and most financial disputes, come down to ownership. To take your stolen house analogy . . . yes, it would wrong to end up that dispute by saying there's nothing that can be done about it and the purchaser of stolen goods gets to keep it. But the thing to be done about it isn't necessarily for the seller to show up at the door and unilaterally impose a resolution. The buyer is in possession, did buy it, feels like they own it and may have another POV than the seller. In this case, it seems like Amazon's POV is the only one that matters.

From this situation perhaps it's an exaggeration to fear some kind of state control in the future. (I saw the same headline and skipped it. Yawn.) But it's reasonable to wonder about it, because when government does overstep, it's after groundwork has been laid by the kinds of arguments being made here -- Amazon needs this kind of power; it's no big deal when they abuse the power; I don't personally mind the abuse of power; if I had skin in the game I'd want Amazon abusing its power on my behalf. I'm glad we have the sensitive types to keep trying to break up that groundwork.

Teresa D'Amario said...

LOL I'm with Kristi. My first thought when I heard of this was "Orwell, of all authors!" Big brother is definitely watching, but is it truly through Amazon? I think not.

Great blog, Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...

RW-

Just to clarify, in the house analogy how would you want it resolved?

And similarly, if you were an author, you would be fine forgoing lost revenue in the event someone uploaded and sold your book illegally?

Rik said...

'I mean, it's not as if the police says, "Sorry, sir, your house was broken into and then the burgler sold it to another couple for $10. But that couple bought it fair and square so you're just going to have to find a new house, there's nothing we can do about it."'
Heh. It works for the British Museum and the Elgin Marbles.

Sorry. Shouldn't have said that ...

Eric said...

I think it really boils down to a lack of transparency. Almost all publishers, booksellers, &c give reasons for why they pull a book or recall it (plagiarism, book went on sale too early, high incidence of defective stock, extreme controversy, and so on). Amazon didn't tell anyone what they were doing or ask anyone to return anything; they simply took and didn't explain, and people are, I think, right to feel that their property rights were infringed.

RW said...

In the house analogy, if I was the person who had their house stolen, I'd want the person in my house booted ASAP. If I was the person who bought the house, I'd WANT to keep my absurdly cheap new house. I'd expect forewarning and reasonable compensation for my trouble. I definitely would not be satisfying with the seller who screwed up being the arbiter of that dispute. Thus courts and so on . . .

Which is overkill here obviously. So, another analogy. My local used bookstore is considering buying some books brought in to resell. They decline. They are left on the counter unattended for a minute. I pick one up and it is mistakenly sold to me. If that bookseller let themselves into my house to reclaim the book, I'd pretty upset.

If I was the author of a pirated book . . . well, first I wouldn't harbor any illusion that after Amazon retrieved the pirated copies that I would suddenly gain a bunch of legit sales from those customers. I'd expect the protection before that point.

The solution I think best here is that Amazon reimburses the rightful owner (Orwell's estate) for the lost sales so far and lets the pirated copies so far go. They might also invite to the buyers to SWAP their pirated copies with free legit copies on their own dime.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

now some websites, like Boing Boing, are encouraging Kindle owners to illegally download Orwell's novels from from foreign websites stationed overseas, where the copyrights aren't valid. Absolutely disgusting and vile.

Nathan Bransford said...

RW-

Pogue also used the "breaking into the house to retrieve the books" analogy, but I don't understand that one. I don't live in my Kindle.

I do think the solution you outline about compensating the publisher/estate for lost sales is one that Amazon should consider, but, hypothetically, it may be that the publisher/estate simply doesn't want any electronic versions available for sale. And I agree that there should be better controls in place to verify that people uploading material really are the rights holders.

Thanks for sharing your perspective, I can definitely understand how you've reached your conclusions.

Thermocline said...

I keep waiting to hear about Google jumping in on e-readers. They've been scanning books since December 2004 and already have bajillion digitized. E-readers could really take off if Google makes all their books available on an reader. They'd instantly have a massive digital library if they let everyone download free copies of books in the public domain.

That scenario might be a game changer.

Bane of Anubis said...

The real question is: What Would Brian Boitano Do?

Dara said...

Well, further incentive for me not to convert over to e-books. :P

Not because they can delete books from my Kindle but because they're actually only "rented." Sure, I rent from Netflix at a price per month, but I know it's on loan and that it has to be returned. I also know that they won't just disappear from my coffee table because Netflix needs to rectify a mistake :P

I'll just stick to renting from the library for free rather than paying $7-$10.

I do see your point though and really don't think this is worthy of a conspiracy theory and a Big Brother type crisis.

Now if Amazon was actually owned by the government, then I would be saying something completely different...:P

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, the pricing of e-books does not reflect the risk to the purchaser that the book may be recalled at any time if the relevant rights have not been cleared.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

What risk is there with regard to pricing if they refund your money?

DeadlyAccurate said...

I have to disagree with you, too. It wasn't that they recalled books that should never have been sold to begin with. It was that they did so and didn't even bother telling people why. No forewarning. No explanation until after the crap hit the fan.

If I held a garage sale and my nonexistent kid sold my friend's nonexistent Tiffany lamp for $5, I don't get to break into the new owner's house, leave a fiver on the table, and take it back just because it should never have been sold to begin with. I have to go through legal channels. And they might just tell me it was my fault, and I owe my friend the cost of the lamp.

The courts might have decided Amazon was required to pay the Orwell estate for the sales that occurred because they didn't have a structure in place to prevent illegal copies.

Kassia said...

I think the key point of your post was this: "Where I think they really erred was that they didn't recognize that it would be unsettling to consumers (and rich with irony given this is Orwell), and didn't sufficiently lay the groundwork for a forced recall."

My guess is most of those customers had no idea they'd purchased an illegal copy (I keep hearing it was a rights mix-up, but that's another discussion!), so Amazon's intrusive behavior was even more unsettling. A little conversation would have gone a long way in this case. Those of us who are intimately involved in these topics on a daily basis often forget that the average reader doesn't know or care about the vagaries of digital content, and having your books (and associated notes, in the case of at least one consumer) removed from your reader is disturbing.

The fact that it was Orwell, well, could there have been a more perfect attention-grabber?

Kassia said...

I think the key point of your post was this: "Where I think they really erred was that they didn't recognize that it would be unsettling to consumers (and rich with irony given this is Orwell), and didn't sufficiently lay the groundwork for a forced recall."

My guess is most of those customers had no idea they'd purchased an illegal copy (I keep hearing it was a rights mix-up, but that's another discussion!), so Amazon's intrusive behavior was even more unsettling. A little conversation would have gone a long way in this case. Those of us who are intimately involved in these topics on a daily basis often forget that the average reader doesn't know or care about the vagaries of digital content, and having your books (and associated notes, in the case of at least one consumer) removed from your reader is disturbing.

The fact that it was Orwell, well, could there have been a more perfect attention-grabber?

Laurel said...

I adore a good conspiracy theory, really I do, but Nathan, you are so right on this.

The outrage was so great that I actually had to check in several different places to see that the books were refunded. I thought Amazon must have kept the money in order to make people so angry.

In addition to prior notification, which would have been the good sense thing to do, they might have offered 10% off the next eBook purchase for readers affected. I know they aren't making money on the eBooks but that would have smoothed some feathers.

And BofA: WWBBD is hilarious.

Angela said...

I agree both that it was the right thing for Amazon to do, and that they should've done it better. They definitely should've given some kind of warning and explanation for pulling the material if they wanted to prevent doomsayers of the apocalypse and consumer protests.

RW – Out of curiosity, which do you consider the abuse of power; Amazon taking down the material or Amazon not forewarning the customers? From your comment it sounds like the former, and if that was your meaning, I don't believe Amazon overstepped its boundaries - if it didn't tread as gracefully as it should've - because, at the end of the day, it was still illegal material.

The government has the power to confiscate pirated DVDs. YouTube has the power to delete copyrighted videos. They don't say, "Because it violates copyright laws, in 24 hours we're going to delete your upload." They just do it, and people don't get into an uproar every time this happens. You buy pirated DVDs, you might go to jail. You upload copyrighted a video, YouTube might get rid of it.

These mega-guys do so not because they're taking over the media or increasing their power over the consumer culture, but because they have the responsibility to do so. Orwell's estate could feasibly go after Amazon for letting sellers profit from pirated Orwell works, and Amazon had the responsibility to the proper rights-holders to take those illegal copies down.

Amazon did NOT communicate this to the consumers, however, and that's wrong. They had the responsibility to do that as well, and I also agree with you in that I would definitely expect protection from Amazon before it reaches that point, but in a situation like this I don't think Amazon could have solved the problem by letting the pirated copies go.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Nathan,

Here's why people were so freaked. It's not because Amazon wanted to correct an error that gave customers an illegally uploaded book, it's because they pulled the books off people's Kindle's without warning. Compare that to a similar situation with a physical book and a brick and mortar store. Mom & Pop Books accidentally buys 1,000 copies of 1984, illegally printed by some kid down the street. Upon realizing their error, they come into your house, get the book off your bookshelf, and leave you the cash.

Had Amazon simply sent all people who had purchased that version an email saying what they were going to do 24 hours prior to doing it, it would have gone a long way toward this having been a non-issue. But instead they abused their ability to delete books and also the trust of the people who own Kindles.

It's an abuse of power that can have insidious consequences. And maybe that's taking it to it's most extreme, but the fact that Amazon's shown that they can and are willing to do such a thing, only proves that it could happen again in the future.

Writer's Demon said...

I disagree with the house analogy, one house is not the same as another and can not be replaced easily. One book is just as good as another (unless it's a textbook you've written a ton of notes in :P).

I think that the books should have stayed with the owners and the company who caused the problem (you know the one that published illegally) should have paid the original publisher the damage. It wasn't the fault of the customer, or Amazon's fault for that matter. It was the illegal publishing company's fault. They are the one to blame, they should be the one to pay. Amazon should have ceased sales when they found out.

My concern is that publishers of media get out of hand when they have all the power. Just one example http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_tec_music_downloading.

AM said...

This is just another legal and technical issue that e-book providers need to address. No biggie.

Did Amazon notify the customers that due to copyright infringements they were removing the e-books and refunding the purchases ... or did they just take the book? Either way, they will live and learn like the rest of us.

Many more issues will be identified and addressed as the technology is adopted.

Obviously, Amazon needs to vet their policies and procedures regarding ‘authorized digital books’ and establish a published policy and procedure regarding recalls.

If people want to freak out, they should worry about how everything they do in this electronic age can be monitored, recorded and used by technically savvy hackers and authorized government offices.

Easy electronic access is both the good and ugly of technology.

My concern is the article was blatantly one-sided and intentionally flaming negative, alarmist sentiments against e-books.

I also find it very difficult to believe that a ‘chief security technology officer for British Telecom and an expert on computer security and commerce’ didn’t know exactly what he was buying when he bought a Kindle. I mean, really, someone needs to look into this guy’s credentials and/or competency.

Anne said...

Amazon HAS been frightening me lately... and it's not the computer glitch and it's not the kindle thing... but those incidences have got me thinking about the cultural power Amazon currently has, and THAT terrifies me. I worry that all these book discussions, links to books, pictures of books, book reviews are posted on a for-profit site. That site can then chose to highlight certain books, hide others, suggest others. It just seems an enormous power in the world of literature.

So they're a great site, and some of the best customer service I've ever encountered, but I have been taking my web footprint elsewhere lately.

Laura Martone said...

Wow, what an interesting debate. Thanks for bringing this to my head-in-the-sand attention.

I actually own a Sony e-reader, and while I love reading e-books (classics and new ones) on it, I feel very much in the middle on this issue.

On the one hand, as a writer, I absolutely agree that Amazon should have recalled the illegal copies of Orwell's books (haha! - that is irony for ol' Georgie-Porgie) and refunded customers' money. But, on the other hand, I agree with RW - you're spending good money on an e-book (often three times as much as a movie rental might cost), so I think you've bought it fair and square - and I find it more than a wee bit unsettling that Amazon can simply delete it from your e-reader withour prior notice. So, I agree with Elise - Amazon should have, at the very least, given customers 24-hour notification before violating the sanctity of their e-readers (even if said customers had already agreed to the sneaky fine print of their terms of service).

As to the house analogy... this very situation happened recently in Southern California. An Asian couple purchased a house, but before they could move in, a bogus "landlord" rented the house to a Mexican family. The so-called "landlord" then disappeared, and the new homeowners were out in the cold. Now, this is no surprise in a state like California, where tenants have WAY more rights than in other states. But, quite frankly, I think the homeowner has the right to boot out the renters - I'm sorry, but it's a buyer-beware scenario, and it just BOILS MY BLOOD when these sorts of situations happen.

So, my only question is this... does the same thing happen with the Sony e-readers? It hasn't happened to me yet - but now I AM a little worried that the next time I turn it own, my Jane Austen novels will have disappeared like the proverbial fart in the wind.

--Laura, the Newly Turned Conspiracy Theorist

Jeff said...

Cory Doctorow has the better of the argument, Nathan.

http://boingboing.net/2009/07/20/amazons-orwellian-de.html

Angie said...

You're not involved with the GLBT end of the industry, but I can assure you that those of us who are are definitely not wondering what we were all freaking out about. We're well aware of what we were upset about, we've taken some actions to plug a few leaks, and we're keeping an eye on them to make sure they don't do it again, or at least that we won't be left flailing if they do. It's easy for people who are part of the mainstream majority to eyeroll when someone slams a minority group, and then does a quick backpedal while babbling lame apologies. To members of that group, the incident is just one in a long line of similar and we're not willing to be quite so naive or forgiving.

And your example of someone buying stolen property and getting upset when the police come to reclaim the item is inappropriate. A much better example would be of someone buying a pirated knock-off. The authorities close down the manufacturing centers of unauthorized knock-offs (if they're in a country which will cooperate) and come down on the people who sell them, but they don't go after the people who've already bought the pirated object. If you have a pair of fake Gucci shoes, even if you knew when you bought them that they were fakes, you get to keep them. And I imagine that if the cops or anyone else broke into your house, rummaged through your closet, confiscated the shoes and left a few bills on your dresser, you'd feel pretty darned upset about it, fair compensation or no.

Note that I'm a writer whose only publications so far are electronic, and I've been pirated. And yes, I'm upset about that when it happens. There's a difference, though, between selfish jerkwads downloading something from a pirate board, and honest people buying something from Amazon (or any other legitimate retailer) in good faith. It was Amazon's system that let the illegitimate copy be sold, so they should be the ones to clean up the mess -- and not by barging into their customer's readers and rifling through their books. I can think of several better ways they could've handled this.

About e-book permanence, I personally can't afford to re-purchase every book I want to reread. I buy e-books and expect to keep them essentially forever. I refuse to buy anything with DRM on it and all my e-books are installed on my desktop, my laptop and a flash drive. If one of them gets lost it won't be because I didn't have them backed up, and it definitely won't be because some vendor I chose to do business with decided to unilaterally nullify the transaction.

Angie

AM said...

Nathan,

Although I work in information technology, I am always a late adopter. I believe in letting others pay for and suffer through the debugging phase of new technology.

So I thought I'd ask you a couple of questions:

1. What happens if you have a technological problem with your e-reader? For example, you're in the middle of the climax - pow - it stops working.

2. I'm sure e-readers have had and will continue having some form of media corruption and part or all of a customer's books (and innotations) will be lost - do you back up your Kindle?

Taryn said...

If I am the writer in this situation I am not going to piss off a bunch of people for downloading a copy of my book that they paid for through Amazon Kindle. But, I will go after Amazon who is ultimately the vehicle for this kind of theft. Amazon will have to improve the system itself to prevent it from happening again. In my mind, they own the playground and they should be responsible to the writers.

Anonymous said...

So first Amazon sold books they had no right to sell electronically and then they took them back without explanation in what can only be called an intrusive and unsettling manner. On top of this books purchased in this manner should only be considered as rented not owned. Why?

This sort of behaviour is not going to quiet conspiracy theorists and you it's not hard to see why. Amazon does not seem to have shown any sort of respect for either side. When any corporation so dominant in a market behaves like this people are right to voice concern.

Nathan Bransford said...

jeff-

I disagree with Cory. Consumers do have a seat at the table, both in terms of where they decide to take their business and, through debates such as this one, in shaping a company's image. People choose Amazon because it's convenient. If they're overly exercised about Amazon's specific policies they can take their business elsewhere. The consumer absolutely has a seat at the table.

I feel like DRM is somewhat tangential. Yeah, DRM is what allows Amazon to do this, but it doesn't have anything to do with the rightness or wrongness of Amazon's actions.

RW said...

Angela,

I gave the wrong impression. I didn't mean the former. Definitely, Amazon was right to take down the problem books and not sell any more of them. I mean they overstepped their authority when they snagged back the copies they already sold.

BTW, there is a terrific novel that is instructive on this similar to the California house case someone else mentioned. The House of Sand and Fog by Dubus. And like all good literature, both sides in the dispute are sympathetic. It's a heartbreaker.

Nathan Bransford said...

AM-

Amazon keeps a record of what books you have purchased, so you can delete them from your Kindle or iPhone at will and re-download them later. If you buy a new Kindle you have access to the e-books you've already purchased.

You can't take the e-books elsewhere to a new device, which rankles some people, but that doesn't worry me too much because I'm not planning on re-reading the books I bought on the Kindle anyway.

Bane of Anubis said...

Angie, it comes down to legality... technically, the wite is Amazon's but if they have the obligation to retract all digital copies, they should retract all digital copies. Are there better ways to go about communicating/implementing it, sure (as many people have pointed out), but, legally, they're obligated to do what they did (and refund the issue).

As far as earlier issues w/ Amazon, as a non-govt entity, they have a right to do almost whatever (within the strictures of capitalistic tenets as defined by our govt) they want in terms of defining their selling structure (whether they were hacked or not is a different matter, but ultimately a trivial one); whether that's in their best interest is a different story... just as it's our right to get pissed by arbitrary classifications and subsequently to veto/reject using said seller.

Nathan Bransford said...

angie-

Actually I am involved in the GLBT side of the book industry as I represent the estate of John Preston. I just accept Amazon's explanation for what happened. There really was no incentive or reason for them to miscategorize a bunch of books, and I just don't see a diabolical hand at work.

I still don't get the breaking into the house analogy. Again, I don't live in my Kindle. It's not my personal space. Amazon isn't committing a crime in the process of retrieving the book. It's ominous-sounding but it doesn't make any sense to me.

Jeff said...

Nathan,

Part of the problem that Cory alludes to is that Amazon does not disclose all of their policies or the powers that the DRM grants them. How can consumers have a seat at the table when there's no disclosure? How many of the books on your Kindle have flags that limit the number of times you can download it (another issue that has recently come to light)? Can you say that you know the answer with any confidence?

Bradley Robb said...

I think the argument is a bit more multifaceted than you let on.

Yes, Amazon suddenly found itself selling eBooks for which it didn't have the rights to do. However, this is not a new instance on the internet. Legislation was put into place a decade ago to take care of just such instances, particularly the Safe Harbor provision of the DMCA.

According to the DMCA, Amazon should (and did) immediately stop selling access to the illicit content. Where things get murky is in regards to whether or not Amazon should have taken the extra step to remove those books from the devices of users whom had already paid for them.

Why? Because Amazon's own ToS for the Kindle grants rights to users to permanently keep books which they purchase. That is, Amazon is selling a copy, not granting a conditional license.

The logical rebuttal is - Amazon had no right to grant such a sale, as they never had rights to that item in the first place. Thus, you can't give what you don't actually have.

Therein lies the rub, and it is one likely to be exposed in court, as a class action suit has already been launched.

Not that this clears away all the murk. The Orwell books in question have lapsed into public domain in some countries, while remain protected under copyright in others. Welcome to patchwork laws trying to work in a flat world. So, in some nations, MobileReference, the offending publisher in this instance, actual does have rights to electronically publish the Orwell works in question. Just not in the US.

Even still, this isn't the first time that Amazon has run into this mishap. Previous instances, as cited by numerous sources, include Ayn Rand's works, and several Harry Potter books.

All of which draw up several questions:

Should Amazon be responsible for enforcing DMCA requirements up to removing works from user's devices to maintain their Safe Harbor privileges?

If so, will Amazon have to change their ToS to retract the granting of permanent rights for users?

How would Amazon's shift from selling eBooks to licensing them differ from the proposed Google cloud-based streaming alternative?

And how much damage are these types of actions doing to consumer confidence in electronic publishing and purchasing of non-material goods?

As I noted earlier, much of this will likely be decided in the judicial system, but could prove to be a very important moment in the history of electronic publishing. This case is establishing boundaries between publisher and seller, and between seller and customer. As publishers and sellers start to look more and more alike in the future, it's going to be an important set of precedent to know.

Nathan Bransford said...

jeff-

The true answer is that I just don't think about or worry about this stuff as a Kindle consumer. I know that I can't easily pass around my e-books (none of my friends have Kindles anyway), I know that Amazon has the ability to sync my e-books between devices, deliver and delete them... etc. etc. I accept the tradeoffs because it's convenient to buy and read books on the Kindle.

I just want to read my books. I'm not sitting around thinking about how I'm going to move them or how I can or can't give them away or how I can and can't get around the DRM. I understand these issues are issues for some readers, in which case I wouldn't recommend the Kindle. But I think they already know that.

Ultimately I still think Amazon is sufficiently paying the price for any wrongdoings or ham-fistedness. Their image took a hit. Probably some people are thinking twice about buying Kindles. It's bad for business. Consumers are exercising their collective power.

Nathan Bransford said...

bradley robb-

Yes, I think all of that does add more content and layers, and thanks for summarizing.

Anonymous said...

So a Kindle isn't anything like a computer? I don't own a Kindle, but I consider my computer private space and would be ticked if someone took something off of it, like Microsoft or Itunes or even some of my songs. May not be anything the same at all, but it kind of feels that way. It makes you wonder if they can see you personal notes on it.

AM said...

Thanks Nathan, but I was already aware of Amazon's restore capabilities.

To be more clear, I was wondering about technical support for customers' current Kindles. If a customer has a technical glitch, what kind of support do they get?

The level of fast, friendly, and competent technical support for new technology is my last road block for trying the technology.

If it is in place and easy to use, I am closer to trying it... if not, I'll wait a little while longer.

If you haven't crossed this bridge yet, no problem. I just thought I'd ask.

Bane of Anubis said...

Logic time:

Home = where the heart is -->
heart = love -->
NB has said 'I love my Kindle.'

Q.E.D. One of Nathan Bransford's home is his Kindle...

It's time to rethink your argument, Mr. Bransford :p

Nathan Bransford said...

AM-

Ah, sorry, misunderstood. I haven't had any technical issues with my Kindle and so I don't know what their support is like.

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

Ha. I stand corrected.

Kristan said...

Thanks for keeping a cool head, Nathan. Granted I don't have a Kindle, but I thought the outrage was ridiculous. Yes, it would be irritating/weird to have something of mine disappear without warning -- and I'd probably be pissed at first -- BUT THE THING WAS ILLEGAL. I was losing something I wasn't supposed to have in the first place, so I'd move on. The end.

Matilda McCloud said...

Thanks for clearing up the Amazon Orwell controversy. Like some other poster said, I didn't even click on the articles. I find conspiracy theories pretty boring. Amazon is a monolith, but I can't help but love it anyway. I have actually dealt with human beings there and they were nice and helpful.

Christa said...

My kindle came with a USB cable so that I could copy e-books onto my laptop/desktop as my kindle memory became too full. Thus keeping my e-books, but making room for new acquisitions.

Now, I haven't had the need to download my current e-books, so I don't know how this would work, but if I removed the Orwell book I purchased from Amazon onto my desktop before they did the delete, then a few weeks after the delete, copied the file back onto my kindle, would it be removed again? Or is that simply a one time "query and delete" by the giant Amazon query engine.

Ulysses said...

"the mere sight of their logo apparently turns normal people into conspiracy theorists."

Hmm. Everyone I meet says this... there has to be a connection... 8)

Jeff said...

Nathan,

I think you're right in that the consumer who is well informed about the Kindle may find that they will enjoy the device notwithstanding Amazon's mis-steps.

I know I enjoy mine, though I wish I had known some of these things in advance and could have done without the mis-steps. :) However, I only use it for books that I don't want to keep long term. I originally reached that decision because I don't believe that digital files provide the same long term benefits as paper, both tangible (paper books are, absent a fire or poor binding, quite long lasting) and intangible (I love the smell of books). Amazon's actions just reinforce the tangible benefits of purchasing a physical copy of a book that you wish to keep long term.

Mike said...

Your mom reads this? Does that mean you have to watch your language?

Hopefully the publishing world has learned from the mistakes of the music biz. We all know that when things can change they will and no amount of nostalgic sentimentality will stop that. Digital is here to stay so we might as well get used to it. Let's hope things stay fair and profitable and let's hope the advantages digital publishing brings end up outweighing the drawbacks.

Nathan Bransford said...

jeff-

I definitely agree. There's also just something irreplaceable about the cover, the art, the look, etc. of a book you truly want to own forever. For that there's really no substitute for a paper copy.

For the books you want to read once: can't beat the Kindle.

terry donaldson said...

Actually, in today's society, maybe some authors would've wanted amazon to keep the book on Kindle, but they'd sue them for an absurd amount of money to pay them back what they would've made on the book, plus punitive damages. Now that's a jackpot and more like what would happen today.

Angela said...

RW,

Ah, I see what you mean. And as for the issue of taking back the book copies, Amazon's in trouble now for doing it and I think they'd still be in trouble - just with different people - if they hadn't.

Nathan mentioned the problems in his post - that there'd been no precedent, that Amazon botched the groundwork to SET a precedent, and in turn those problems made this decision seem like something they could easily repeat in the future.

AM said...

Christa,

Excellent question...

Technically, I can tell you that if Amazon has assigned a unique identifier to each e-book and updated their software not to run that particular e-book, then you will not be able to restore the book and read it.

Functionally, I don’t know what they’ve done.

Btw ... since you've mentioned using the backup functionality… may I ask, does it back up your annotations?

The reason I ask: In the article that Nathan provided, someone complained that when Amazon deleted his e-book, Amazon also deleted his annotations.

This particular technical problem opens up an entirely new legal problem. Whether or not Amazon was legally within their rights to remove the novel is one issue... where they were within their rights to take hours or days of that poor boy’s work... is another issue.

One last question: since Amazon's Kindle is proprietary, can you see/use the backups on your PC with Amazon's software - or do you just see a listing of the books backed up?

Vacuum Queen said...

I think you have great common sense. No feathers get ruffled on you. It seems that sometimes the masses get crazy about Big Brother and jump to conclusions, when really...they have a pretty simple, believable story about what happened.

And no matter who sells it or distributes it in the future...people will always be interested in good story telling. There will always be authors writing and creating, and consumers hungry for new ideas and just good storytelling. I don't think one big bad company will ruin all of that.

Steph Damore said...

Nathan said:
I know that Amazon has the ability to sync my e-books between devices, deliver and delete them... etc. etc. I accept the tradeoffs because it's convenient to buy and read books on the Kindle.

And I agree. It's a personal issue. If you accept the terms, fine. If you don't, that's fine too - don't buy a kindle.

e-books aren't the same as paper copies. Ownership isn't the same. It's definitely a trade off, but I'm willing to accept it.

Bradley Robb said...

@Steph

Except that it was the same. According to the Kindle's ToS, you were buying permanent rights.

Bane of Anubis said...

Legally, I believe, even a physical hard-copy would need to be returned. Of course, most probably wouldn't return it and few, if any, would be prosecuted (other than the seller by a lawsuit), but, technically, I believe, you'd be in possession of contraband.

Which, ultimately, means that digital law might be more readily enforced -- b/c proprietary ownership can be more readily controlled -- assuming they can get past all the pirating :).

Marilyn Peake said...

From the length of your post, Nathan, I’m guessing you’re a huge fan of Amazon and Kindle. : ) I love the Kindle for convenience in storing large numbers of books in one device, and I purchase many, many books from Amazon; but I definitely understand the other point of view.

I know several authors who asked Amazon to stop selling illegally printed paperback copies of their indie print-on-demand books. Amazon refused to stop selling them so long as copies were available (and print-on-demand books by their very nature are continuously available). A large publishing corporation asked Amazon to stop selling illegally created eBooks. They took drastic measures to immediately comply, even removing purchased copies from Kindles. I think there’s a pattern here that many writers find unsettling.

Another problem exists for students and others who highlight passages and take notes in books they read. Readers are able to highlight text and take notes in eBooks they pay to download into their Kindle (technically, they don’t actually own the books). I think that Amazon’s recent move shows that Kindle probably isn’t the best place for students to read assigned books. I can’t imagine having had all my notes and highlighting disappear from my books two days before an exam when I was in college or grad school. It would have been a nightmare!

kneog said...

You're not worried by the ability and willingness of Amazon to log onto a personal machine and remove material without advance notice?

Nathan Bransford said...

kneog-

Nope, not really.

As others have mentioned I think the problem with this incident is that there wasn't sufficient notice and thus people didn't have time to prepare. That was a mistake.

But Amazon doesn't have any incentive at all to abuse this power. People will just take their business elsewhere.

T. Anne said...

It would seem people glom onto the sky is falling mentality without hesitation these days. Amazonfail? Really?

Oh and, hello Nathan's mom!

nicov said...

It was Amazon's mistake, clearly, and so Amazon should eat the damages. Not the writer, and not the readers.

Those readers, after all, were faithfully trying to legally buy a book. If I was one of those readers, I'd be mightily disincentivized to legally buy a copy of a book I thought I'd already bought if the author and bookseller snatched back the book without warning, explanation, or permission.

The action might be relatively defensible, but doing it in the dark of the night, without even a word of warning, is what rankles people.

The proper way to do it is for Amazon to pay the copyright holder out of pocket for the stolen copies and leave them on the machines. If they can't police their uploading system well enough to avoid this kind of problem, they have accept the consequences and not pass them on to readers or authors.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan @11:06 AM said:
"... but, hypothetically, it may be that the publisher/estate simply doesn't want any electronic versions available for sale."

This happens all the time with eBooks. They’re constantly pirated. eBook and indie presses are constantly going after piracy sites and shutting them down. Piers Anthony (published by both big and indie publishing houses) has mentioned on his website that he frequently finds illegal copies of his books being sold on websites. He’s talked about how, after he manages to shut one site down, another pops up. I know an indie publishing house where illegal copies of their books are extremely popular in countries without copyright laws, but they have no way to prevent it. Amazon is the first company to take back an eBook from customers; other eBook companies simply try to stop future piracy from taking place.

Jenn Johansson said...

Not only that, I am pretty sure they are controlling the lightbulb in my refrigerator. It only turns on when I am searching for foods that start with the letter A--coincidence? I think not.

Lupina said...

A whole bunch of my work (emphasis on word "work" as in something done for a wage) is already available free through Google Books, so I would highly object to yet another form of unpaid access.
Amazon totally did the right thing with rip-and-refund.

As for Amazon being the new World Overlord, well, if you spell it backwards you get noz ama, or KNOWS ama -- ama standing for American Medical, Management and Motorcycle Associations PLUS meaning "goddess" in Japanese! That is proof positive, enough anyway to add it to the lists of major world conspirators of the coming apocalypse.

Marilyn Peake said...

This discussion is fascinating and led me to do more research. I started wondering: can companies like Amazon who are trying to enter the digital age have it both ways? Turns out that copyrights on the George Orwell books in question have expired in Australia, and are in public domain there (because copyrights for all books by authors who died before 1955 are legally in public domain there). People in the U.S. are warned that they should not download an Australian eBook copy of George Orwell’s books because it is illegal to do so in the U.S. where those books are still under copyright. So, in some cases the World Wide Web is not exactly ... well, ummmm ... worldwide. Commercial: "Here is the World Wide Web. Some restrictions may apply. Void where prohibited by law."

In many ways, it’s important to enforce the laws of individual countries, but difficult to enforce such laws on an Internet that’s a kind of Wild West right now.

Mira said...

Jenn - Lol.

AM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AM said...

Jenn,

The conspiracy deepens.

Apple, asparagus, apricots, avocado …

That’s a flagrant display of power and it’s just mean.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

A little off the topic, but I like the thought of comparing digital books to rentals. Only problem for me? They're expensive rentals. I know they're meant to be owned but maybe this is the way e-books needs to go. Lower the prices drastically to say two or three dollars and do make it a rental, like i-tunes movie rentals. You have two to four weeks to read the book and then it's gone. The turn off of e-books for me is you have to buy the pricy device and then buy the pricy digital book. I get books for cheap anyway in various ways, usually less than $10, or I go to the library. If e-readers are going to appeal to the masses they need lower the prices a LOT. The device can be expensive, fine, but if you're taking away the romanticism of paper and binding you need to make it appealing in some other form than convenience. Pricing is key. It could be great, but it's not there yet for me.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Ahhh, your mom reads your blog? Hi Nathan's mom!!

Marilyn Peake said...

Finally caught up reading everyone’s posts here. Fascinating discussion! I feel your pain, Angie, having been through piracy issues with my own books, many times. It truly sucks.

Liana Brooks said...

If Amazon already had the money couldn't they have asked for permission to sell the books at the current price, updated the Kindles, and split the royalties correctly? Wouldn't that have been fairer all around to both buyer and author's estate?

Somehow just deleting a book seems... dodgy. If I buy a physical book it's mine. Short of committing theft you can not take it away even if I bought it second hand or without permission. Yes, the author could sue me, but the book is mine.

A bookstore owner is not going to raid my house at night to get my paperback.

It was Amazon at fault in the end, after all. They didn't check the rights for the Kindle book. They didn't send the royalties to the right people. Ideally, they should have kept it quiet and dealt with everything in house UNLESS the person who holds the rights to the books doesn't want them distributed.

If the estate didn't want the books sold I can see asking for people to bring it back. But to suddenly find the books been banned by the friendly neighborhood Big Brother Amazon?

Irony doesn't even cover all the issues.

Firefly said...

Natahn, you note that Amazon is the 5,000 pound gorilla in the book world and people are worried they are going to eventually possess some sort of book monopoly.

Yup -- that's exactly it. Many a corporation has had to live with those fears... case in point ... IBM in the 70's and 80's. The good news is -- a corporation is only feared if it is indeed successful.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

It kind of scares me that so many people are okay with this. Even Nathan says, "But Amazon doesn't have any incentive at all to abuse this power. People will just take their business elsewhere," which is like saying police who abuse power don't have any incentive to beat suspects.

Look, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't sit around in my boxers and contemplate all the ways in which the government is watching me, but the fact is that Amazon HAS this power. They have the power to alter what you read. They can upload a different version of a book right to your device and you'd have no way of knowing. They can change the way a product is ranked and effectively banish it from their site. If the capability is there, rest assured that at some point it will be abused.

Sure, maybe people overreacted that doesn't mean they were wrong. It's totally plausible that a large consumer group (like conservative christians) could demand Amazon censor books it finds salacious, and Amazon could use this power to censor books without you ever knowing. And if you think it can't happen, they're the same kind of consumer groups who make sure Wal-Mart doesn't sell certain books or CD's or movies.

I'm just saying it's a slippery slope.

Nathan Bransford said...

shaun-

How in the world could Amazon censor books without anyone knowing? They apparently can't even delete a couple of illegal copies of 1984 off some Kindles without a public relations catastrophe. You think the Internet would let mass censorship and willful changing of texts go silently?

Jens Porup said...

If it can be, it will be. That's the nature of power. It doesn't matter how "nice" the people at Amazon are.

See this essay:

http://www.jensporup.com/essays/george_orwell_is_dead.html

Lisa Melts Her Penn said...

Nathan, you are just so CUTE with all your world domination and e-overlord talk. And that reader request the other day -- I think the best way to get people to send their partial mss with the original query letter would be to ask those same people what they think other people would need to hear to do that. Ah, yes, that's what you did -- pretty shrewd! I'm still un-Kindled, though I look at them longingly when I see one on someone's lap.

Jenn Johansson said...

AM -

Finally someone who understands just how disturbing this is. I also think PETA could be involved. Think about it, how many meats do you know that start with an A? Difficult to find one without your fridge light on. You know what else starts with A? Anemia... I think you can see where I'm going with this.

They are beyond sneaky.

;)

K.C. Shaw said...

Nathan @1:32 wrote "But Amazon doesn't have any incentive at all to abuse this power. People will just take their business elsewhere."

Yeah, people who have Kindles will just go download ebooks from other companies. Like, um, um....

Well, I guess people who own Kindles just should have bought a Sony Reader. Glad I did.

Chuck H. said...

First off, Hi to Nathan's Mom. You do good work.

Second off, if you want to keep a book forever, buy it from Easton Press--leather bound, gilt edged and paper that will easily last till the next millenium and the smell. Ahhh.

Nathan Bransford said...

k.c.-

Like Fictionwise, which sells e-books that work on the Kindle.

Nathan Bransford said...

Incidentally Fictionwise is now owned by Barnes & Noble.

Angela said...

Shaun,

I know very few people personally who use an eBook reader and none of them use it exclusively. Like Nathan mentioned in his post, Kindle represents a scant 1-3% of total book sales, which isn't the equivalent of Amazon taking over the publishing industry and being single-handedly responsible for censoring what the public reads.

If consumer groups like the conservative Christians you mentioned somehow DO manage to force Amazon to censor books they disagree with, people are definitely going to find out, and if they can't find out for certain, they'll make their own conclusions from the clues at hand just as quickly (look at #amazonfail), which can lead to public outrage over a 'scandal' even more damaging than the truth. If there's one thing people don't want to see in this kind of industry, it's censorship, and this blog discussion proves it.

And then, even then it's 1-3% of sales. The e-book industry is growing but the vast majority of books are still sold as just regular books. Kindle can ban or censor or alter all the books it wants and it won't take people long to notice. The only way anybody might be able to get away with it is if every single person in the world only read books using a Kindle and the traditional publishing industry had gone kaput.

The fact that Amazon can pull material, that it CAN be done doesn't mean we've started to slide down that slope, any more than the fact that YouTube CAN take down any video it wants to (and we know it) means we're going to lose free speech in the online video medium anytime soon. YouTube, like Amazon, is a company. It can do whatever it wants but in the end it depends on its consumers to survive.

And, like Amazon, YouTube only one of many. If it wants to delete a video, in five minutes you'll be able to find it somewhere else. Amazon, likewise, can control what it removes from its Kindle - the Kindle is, after all, Amazon's product - but it can't control what other companies do with their products, and it can't control the fact that it's competing against others and that competition will only get even fiercer in the future, as the electronic part of this industry continues to grow.

Of course it has the ability to happen. Of course Amazon has the power to take books off the Kindle and this incident has just proven it. But look what happened here, and on such a small scale compared to the predictions for the future. The reaction to the Orwell problem was immediate and it was fierce. If something on a much bigger scale could even hope to happen, we're all going to have to turn into sheep first.

Moreover, Amazon has little to gain and much to lose should they let this happen again. Like any other company and any other store, they depend on consumers for profit. Unhappy consumers, as Nathan said somewhere back there in the comments, take their business elsewhere, as in the WalMart example - sure, WalMart can refuse to sell something and we know that. But for every store that decides not to stock something there's another store that wants to profit from it.

And for every #amazonfail, there's an explosion on the Internet from millions of people who - if worst-case censhorship ever does rear its ugly head - are armed and ready to take it down.

I wouldn't give up on the future of publishing just yet.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan - I remember when Fictionwise was one of the new kids on the block, founded in 2000 by Steve and Scott Pendergrast. My first book was posted for sale there in 2004 when they were still fairly new and eBooks were considered mostly experimental. In less than a decade they were able to sell Fictionwise to Barnes & Noble for $15.7 million. Pretty cool. Things are happening so quickly in the digital world.

Just finished reading a fascinating three-part interview with Amanda Palmer, musician and girlfriend of Neil Gaiman ... I know that from Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer on Twitter : ) ... about how rapidly her world is changing as a musician due to the digital age (warning: some four-letter words included):

Part 1

and

Part 2

and

Part 3

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how many good looking people there are posting here?

Is it necessary to get published?

I can see, judging from these comments, that there are a lot of talented writers posting here as well.

Man, good looks, AND talent.

How the hell are the rest of us supposed to compete with this?

The Goose

JohnO said...

Jeff Bezos apologizes

Posted today on the Kindle Community page at Amazon.com:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

via BoingBoing

Jenn Johansson said...

Goose -

You may have stumbled upon yet another conspiracy! Tread lightly, THEY are all around you.

Anonymous said...

Off topic a little bit - but you know what I heard, that Jeff's wife (Mrs. Bezos?) desperately wanted to be a published novelist, and that she actually did succeed in finishing a novel and getting it published.

What I heard though was that the novel was pretty bad, and probably wouldn't have gotten published if her name had been anything other than Mrs. Bezos.

So what do we think about?

I bought a book once on how to get published, and honestly, I never saw any of that in there.

The Goose.

Bookish Cook said...

I completely agree with you, Nathan. Finally, a level-headed view on this. I couldn't figure out why everyone was freaking out.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

and rich with irony given this is Orwell

First thing I thought. I love it!

I do think #amazonfail was never really properly explained (at least not to my satisfaction). I do believe it was an algorithm problem but at the heart of algorithms are people. So that kinda worried me at the time.

Marilyn Peake said...

Apparently, Jeff Bezos apologized to Kindle customers today, right before Amazon announced its earnings .

Yesterday, announcement was made that Amazon had purchased Zappos for $880 million .

Today, Amazon announced its earnings .

Interesting stuff.

Marilyn Peake said...

Looks like Amazon purchased Zappos for more like $928 million, rather than $800 million ... Also, really interesting video at this link featuring Jeff Bezos speaking about Amazon, including how he started Amazon.

Mira said...

Marilyn - thanks, those are great links. I like Amazon. I think that's a classy statement.

Angela, that was really well-said, I thought.

Goose, I don't know what you're talking about. You don't have a picture, but you are obviously the most dashing writer here.

Oh. Or is Goose feminine? Gander? Well, then, the loveliest.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mira.

It must be difficult being an ice cold beverage with a slice of lemon in it.

I'll bet that people are constantly trying to pick you up.

The Goose.

Angela said...

Oh man, Goose, I just choked on my Coke.

Mira - Thanks! I've admired your thoughts from afar for a while, not to sound totally creepy or anything, so I'm really glad you thought so.


...Rereading my earlier comment, second to last sentence should be **censorship, not censhorship. That's what I get for doing a lousy proofread, apparently.

Mira said...

The Goose,

Lol. All the time! I am rather sweet and refreshing. But Goose, sometimes I'm not sure people look beyond my deliciousness to see the real me. It's like they just want to gulp me up and leave me empty.

But then, I'm sure you have your own problems with being too....tasty.

Mira said...

Angela - thanks. I was impressed with how clearly you laid that out.

Mira said...

Oh, and Angela - thanks again, that was really nice of you - but as someone who posts alot, I can assure you, misspelling comes with the territory.

Maybe someday we'll be able to recall our posts...

Comment deleted said...

This post has been removed by Amazon.com.

Angela said...

No problem, Mira. And thanks for the heads-up - I agree with the recall thing. Well. In future posts, I'll simply have my minions ready to dispatch the typos that might come slinking by.

;)

It's been a pleasure meeting you. Officially, that is.

Marilyn Peake said...

Mira,

Aren't you actually a shape-shifter? I mean, one day you're iced tea, another day an ice cream cone ... and all your other assorted pics. :)

Eric Blair said...

What are you talking about conspiracy theory? Just to clear things up: conspiracy: a secret agreement between two or more people to commit a crime.

Theory: abstract reasoning; speculation. An assumption; conjecture.

Napolean is always right! I will work harder!

Laura Martone said...

Yes, Marilyn, very fickle of that Mira girl. She's rarely the same thing long. :-)

trashycowgirl said...

I'm sure I am repeating what has already been said, but how cool that it happened to an Orwell book. Second, what a shame that Orwell's publicist (if he had one) isn't alive to see this. What great pr!

Laurel said...

Comment Deleted: LOL!!!

Clearly Haliburton, Garmin, the Feds, and Amazon are all working together to mold our collective consciousness and make sure we are all subject to their whim. Oh, I forgot the Christian Right. Them, too. Yep, pretty soon we won't be able to buy anything on Kindle except the Bible and that will be minus the Song of Solomon. Because there will be no other choice out there...not the library, not print, not the Sony eReader, and certainly not Google because they'll be in on the whole conspiracy before they throw their hat in the ring.

Marilyn Peake said...

trashycowgirl -

I was thinking something along the same lines. Too bad Orwell isn't alive. I would love to hear his own personal take on all this.

Mira said...

Nice to meet you too, Angela. :)

Comment deleted, Laurel - Lol!

Marilyn and Laura - My new goal in life is to beat Nathan on profile viewing. He's at 48,000, and I'm sure they're not ALL his mom. So, I have a few more to go. If I change my picture, I figure people will forget who I am, and check my profile again.

Besides I need a creative outlet, and constantly changing my profile pic is the only one that occurs to me.

So, Mr. Goose. No come back. Did I 'cook' you? Ha ha ha ha.

Simon Haynes said...

The irony for me is that both Orwell books are out of copyright in Australia, so we can download them. What we can't do is buy or use a Kindle.

Laura Martone said...

Ah, but, Mira, to beat Nathan's profile views, you have to be a seemingly accessible agent-type like him! Offer folks the possibility of an amazing career, and the count will go up and up and up!

Being silly and clever and refreshingly cool like a Southern glass of sweet tea... is admirable, but simply not enough, I'm afraid.

Tumblemoose said...

Thank God. A voice of reason in a sea of knuckleheads.

The first wind of the debaucle was on a news site for me. Then I proceeded to come across black helicopter post after black helicopter post on twitter and stumble and the like.

Thank you for setting the record straight.

Cheers, Nathan.

George

Hat Man said...

I would say that, unfortunately or unfortunately, exteme reactions to insignificant events or other imputs are a fact of life in our 24/7 world.

Mira said...

Laura - yes, I know. My life goal of beating Nathan at profile views is probably an impossible dream, and - let's face it - completely meaningless, but it's my goal and I'm sticking to it.

And Nathan may offer you access, but it's your writing that gives you the amazing career. :)

Chuck H. said...

Well, Goose, I can't speak for others who comment here but you will notice that I am represented by a really cool lookin' motorcycle.

PurpleClover said...

I'm confused. If you upload a book to your Kindle, Amazon can pull it off your Kindle?

How is a Kindle any different than a personal computer? I thought that would be illegal to search someone's computer and remove information? What if they had purchased the book on hardcover (another analogy) and it was in their bag/purse/home? I can't see the store b&e to get it back?? I agree with the notification process but I think it was inappropriate to remove without approval.

Maybe it would be better that it was a voluntary removal and anyone not complying would be fined?

Wow.

Christine said...

I think that given what just happened in the Iran protests, with the government trying to lock down internet access, and people using Twitter to get news out to their family (and the media), and the censorship that already happens in many countries (China being the first one that comes to mind, but surely not the last) it's not a huge leap in logic to see governments using technology like the Kindle or other ereaders to monitor what their people are reading.
Our government? No. I don't see that happening anytime soon. But other governments around the world? I'd be surprised if it wasn't already happening.

Christine said...

Though for the record, I think Amazon did the right thing in pulling the books and refunding the cost to the customers. Youtube would have done the same thing (well, not the refund, since the videos are free, but in pulling the content.)

I just don't see it as a huge leap in logic that this sort of thing could be used for censorship in countries where that's already rampant.

Anonymous said...

Oh just wait until books can be stored in our brain chips allowing us to store in our memory and then see what happens when deletions happen by accident. This is nothing yet.

Leigh KC said...

Perfectly put, Mr Branford. I love my Kindle/ebooks. If anyone should try to take it/them away from me, I can't say what I might do.

Tiffany Maxwell said...

I am so glad to see this post. A friend of mine mentioned to me the other day that Amazon had done something big, scary, and evil. I eagerly asked her what, but just at that moment, she had to take off for work. I impatiently whiled away the hours until she came home, then said, "So, Amazon?"

I was terribly disappointed when she told me. God knows I love righteous anger. But this?

Call me when they start luring children into a house made of candy.

Jens Porup said...

Nathan,

My other blog is Schneier on Security. Take a gander at this post.

He isn't talking about Amazon, but you wouldn't know it when he writes, "It's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state."

Nita said...

As writers I highly recommend that all of us conquer the art of correct spelling. It is possess not posses.

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