Note Since this post was published the Times reported that the books removed were unauthorized editions, and that in the future, Amazon would not automatically remove purchased copies.
So you thought you own the books you bought for your Kindle? Think again. This morning owners of Amazon’s eBook reader discovered that some books by a certain author were mysteriously deleted as they slept. The author? George Orwell. The books? “1984” and “Animal Farm.”
By all accounts Amazon’s Kindle has the best chance of finally doing for eBooks what Apple did for music with the iPod—make it easy enough for everyone to consume books digitally. In a way Kindle is even better positioned to do this than iPod was when it debuted: where over-the-air purchasing and downloads was only recently added to iPod Touches and iPhones, Kindle launched with Amazon Whispernet, a free, always-on internet connection powered by Sprint’s EVDO wireless network.
But lately serious flaws in Amazon’s plans for industry domination have started to show. First there was Kindlegate—where the inconsistent and obscure implementation of the Kindle store’s DRM and download policy were exposed (muddled to the extent that even Amazon’s customer representatives could not easily clarify the situation until much later). Now comes the news that Amazon can and will reach out over Whispernet to delete eBooks you thought you owned free and clear.
I hoped that by now publishers would have learned from the music industry’s experience with digital distribution and try to take advantage of the qualities eBooks have by virtue of being digital: portability, low cost, and easy to share. Instead they chose to take a page from the same playbook: treat readers with contempt and do everything in its power to shackle the format, virtually ensuring that eBooks don’t take off, all in a bid to preserve the old ways.
Amazon should use its clout to do an Apple: force publishers to come to terms with the digital era and work towards making eBooks a true replacement for the Book—let it keep the strengths of the old (readers being able to gift their eBooks freely, or resell them, or archive them indefinitely) while enabling new ways to encourage and promote reading (text search, text-to-speech, sharing favorite passages). This way, even as paper goes the way of the dodo, the publishing industry continues to be relevant in the digital era instead of being fated to shamble along like a relic of times past.
Cohen, Dan. “KindleGate: Confusion Abounds Regarding Kindle Download Policy.” Gear Diary June 29, 2009 July 17,2009 <http://www.geardiary.com/2009/06/21/kindlegate-confusion-abounds-regarding-kindle-download-policy>
Pogue, David. “Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others – Pogue’s Posts Blog.” The New York Times July 17 2009 <http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/some-e-books-are-more-equal-than-others>