In an amazingly Orwellian twist, Amazon has dekindled George Orwell's works -- 1984 and Animal Farm -- from Kindle "owners" worldwide. David Pogue gets the inherent wrongness involved, but doesn't go far enough into this post-industrial accident, perhaps:
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. 1984A screen shot from Amazon.com The MobileReference edition of the novel, “Nineteen Eighty-four,” by George Orwell that was deleted from Kindle e-book readers by Amazon.com.
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.
This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.
As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.
But actually its not like that at all, since it would a/ require hundreds of thousands of thieves to break into hundreds of thousands of homes, physically, and then b/ find, and ultimately c/ steal the books. This is logisitically impossible, and even if it were possible, it couldn't be done by one person hitting the delete key on some queen bee server at Amazon. And, of course, d/ this would be a felony, or better, a hundred thousand felonies.
Amazon sort of explains their so-called thinking:
[from Mysterious George Orwell refunds - kindle Discussion Forum]
The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.
Since when does pulling a title from a digital store lead to it disappearing from the shelves of those that bought it in the past?
If Amazon markets the Kindle device and the digital content it delivers as a rental service, well, fine. And if the "owners" of these devices go along with it, cool.
But the reality is somewhat more sinister, since the marketing hype is that Kindle is 'your library', which is generally conceived of as comprising the books I possess, not the ones I get from the library:
[from Amazon Website]
Carry Your Library in 10.2 Ounces
Holds Over 1,500 Books
The ultimate travel companion, Kindle weighs 10.2 ounces and holds more than 1,500 books. No longer pick and choose which books fit in your carry-on. Now you can always have your entire library with you.
Automatic Library Backup: Download Your Books Anytime for Free
A copy of every book you purchased from the Kindle Store is backed up online at Amazon.com in case you ever need to download it again. You can wirelessly re-download books for free any time. This allows you to make room for new titles on your Kindle, knowing that Amazon is storing your personal library of Kindle books. We even back up your last page read and annotations, so you'll never lose those, either. Think of it as a bookshelf in your attic--even though you don't see it, you know your books are there.
Unless, of course, Amazon hits the kill switch.
In a way, we shouldn't be too surprised at the newest infraction of our e-dreams about the Kindle. After all, we've known from the start that Amazon's approach to digital books is all about money, not high fidelity allegiance to the nature of books. You can't loan a Kindle book to a friend, for example, or sell one. It interrupts all the wonderful social fabric that surrounds books and reading.
And, this was their choice, of course. No book "buyer" ever said, "Please free me of the distractions of loaning my books to others: what a bother!" No one ever said they'd like to buy a book they cannot sell.
You can make a case that Amazon had no choice, that the publishers wouldn't go along otherwise. This is just digital music and Apple's iTunes all over again. Although I don't recall Apple ever deleting my Massive Attack discography. And, unlike Kindle, iTunes allows me to bring in my own digital content: I can rip music from CDs, and those tracks are unencrypted. And iTunes at least allows me to share even my encrypted music with five computers -- like my family or close friends. Not a great social model there, but it's at least something.
Amazon's world is hermetically sealed by comparison.
And, since they have gone ahead and built this dekindling doomsday device, couldn't a repressive government use it to degauss questionable books? It goes beyond censorship, to the undoing of history. Our past purchases of books are erased.
A Cheney granted the Messianic control that he desires might have deleted every Paul Krugman or John Rawls book in existence. Or the Chinese politburo -- in a future China, bursting with Kindles -- might delete or block the sale of millions of titles. Would Amazon go along with that?
This is mere conjecture, I grant you. But tools like this have a way of being used, just as Google and Yahoo have worked with the Chinese government in the past, to block searches and track keywords.
The brightest light can make the deepest shadow, and just so, the Web and its myriad shiny objects form a Gahan Wilson silhouette, casting a spectre of frightening possibilities. What Pogue and other take as irony -- the dekindling of Orwell -- portends a darker future than they might want to consider.