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July 21, 2009

Amazon's Gaffe Isn't What You Think It Is

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've been wanting to avoid writing about the (latest) mess Amazon finds itself in. However, the story is being mis-told all over the place, so I'm going to pontificate about it.

Amazon's new Kindle
Compare, if you will, these two headlines: "Amazon redacts Orwell on Kindle like it’s ‘1984’" versus "Pirated copies of Orwell books pulled from Kindle". You'd almost think they were talking about two different things, but in fact they're talking about the same thing. And here is where Amazon seems to have failed completely to learn the lessons of its past gaffes.

It is true that Amazon pulled some e-books off Kindles after customers had paid for them. The problem is that those books were 'stolen goods' to which Amazon never had sale rights in the first place. The fact that those pirated e-books were Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm makes me think this was a deliberate hack set up to embarrass Amazon. And it seems to be working, as the company first took the action silently, then has failed to manage the publicity around the incident, starting with the initial New York Times piece.

The gaffe here isn't that they pulled e-books that people had bought; it's that they're currently in a situation where they're looking at new competition from a new e-book reader put out by competitor Barnes & Noble and they can't manage to keep egg off their face. The way this situation has been handled is putting doubts into the minds of customers who are already hesitant to adopt a new reader technology.

For years, the Cartel has slowly been infecting the public mind with the notion that by buying a CD or DVD you don't actually own that music or movie - you just own a piece of plastic and the bits that are burned into that plastic are still the Cartel's property. Now Amazon has shown that the same thing is true for Kindle e-books. You don't really own the books, you just own the hunk of plastic pictured above.

That has some further unpleasant implications; for example, Christopher Dawson's piece "Amazon ate my homework, or why DRM stinks for education" draws a direct line from Amazon's actions to the larger implications of harm to student education from digital control technologies. In an ideal world, schools would save a bundle by buying Kindles or other e-book readers and giving (or loaning) them to students. My bet is that, just as there is a serious economic argument for Kindle over home-delivered newspaper, there's a serious financial case for putting student texts onto e-readers.

But what teacher or school administrator wants to worry about their whole school's supply of a textbook disappearing overnight because of some error that the publisher (Amazon) decides to "rectify" by erasing all downloaded copies of the book? I'd guess none. Maybe Amazon can convince schools it won't happen. But really, you don't want to have to make that argument in the first case because this should never have happened. Amazon should have taken steps to make things right with the Orwell book rights holder without impacting its customers' experience. I feel like a broken record saying "customer experience matters most" over and over, but it's still true.

Amazon has just proven that it can take seemingly random actions that result in bad things happening to innocent people. And you're going to sell that as a good technology to... who?

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Rob on July 22, 2009 9:34 AM writes...

"Now Amazon has shown that the same thing is true for Kindle e-books. You don't really own the books, you just own the hunk of plastic pictured above."

Wrong. Amazon is showing that you don't own the hunk of plastic or anything stored on it. Instead, you have paid $300 to license a device from Amazon which allows you to further license books. You own nothing.

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2. DrWex on July 22, 2009 10:53 AM writes...

Rob, unless you have some evidence that I've missed, then I think you're mistaken. Everything I've read indicates that you own the Kindle device. Toss me a URL please?

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3. Eric on July 27, 2009 7:34 PM writes...

Amazon's biggest mistake was in deleting the material, rather than leaving it there, paying the royalties due to the actual copyright holders and then going after those that offered it fraudulently. Why this simple and very PR friendly option escaped the notice of anyone at Amazon is beyond me.

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4. Nick Robinson on August 5, 2009 3:20 AM writes...

Hi there,

I saw your most of blogpost very interesting.i am Nick Robinson a community member at as well as a(Non Disclosure Agreement is the website for finding forms and sample agreements about NonDisclosure Agreement, Non-Disclsoure Agreements, NDAs and Confidentiality Agreements.)
( provides one of the most comprehensive worldwide sources of patent data - available in 15 languages. It’s a source for patent data, analytic tools and provides a hosted community platform enabling users to connect to generate business opportunities, including the licensing/sale of patent.Answers to frequently asked questions about patents, copyrights, and trademarks, from the law firm of Oppedahl and Larson.)
NonDisclosure-Agreement.Com is the website for finding forms and sample agreements about Non Disclsoure Agreements, NDAs and Confidentiality Agreements. We provide quick and affordable access to agreements, contracts, legal forms, and many other documents. Save money using our sample agreements, sample contracts, and legal forms instead of calling an attorney.

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