Essentially, Amazon remotely deleted purchased copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from customers’ Kindles, crediting their accounts with the values of the books removed.
Amazon initially stated the publisher had changed their minds about selling the books, later it clarified that in fact they were unlicenced copies sold by a company which wasn’t a rights holder, they have since stated that they will not delete books from bona fide purchasers in future.
That last statement I suspect comes from the negative response this has received, leaving aside those who were part way through the books when they were deleted, it meant a sale was not final. That a book purchased, wasn’t really owned. It’s a big deal. And while the corporate policy has been changed to prevent such deletions in future, corporate policies can change again and not necessarily with prior announcement.
For me, this damages the Kindle as a brand and a concept. There is already an issue with the inability to lend or resell books published electronically, with some overeager early spokespeople for the ebook industry referring (inevitably) to lending books to a friend as a form of theft. That sort of rhetoric is no longer bandied about (though lending is not enabled, it has been recognised that it’s not smart to insult your customers), but this is if anything a more worrying development.
Personally, I struggle in any event to be comfortable with an ebook named in reference to bookburning, it just seems fundamentally crass. But that’s an aesthetic point, this is a practical one. Digital rights management issues and the use of proprietary software already threaten the development of a vibrant ebook industry, suspicions that books we buy may not even be ours won’t help matters.
For me, ebooks need a format similar to the MP3 for music, one that does I grant risk piracy but also allows me to change my device (or reader) and yet keep my collection (or library). As long as shifting to an ebook means transferring control of my library to a third party publisher, with the prospect that if they go out of business or cease to support the format my ereader utilises my library ceases to exist, I won’t be buying an ebook. The prospect that my books may simply be deleted without my consent, that would prevent me buying any device with remote access. And that’s not even touching on the possibilities of post-purchase revisions to the text…
It reminds me of the tivo debacle, where in the UK tivo overrode people’s preselected recording choices to record a new show which the BBC wanted to promote. Once tivo demonstrated, on just one occasion, that it rather than the customer had control of the device in the home, sales never recovered.
As I’m generally optimistic about the prospect of ebooks, in a way I rather hope the Kindle doesn’t recover from this, though it likely shall. Ebooks are I think a good idea, the Kindle perhaps not so much.