Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Big Bro" Amazon - My Obligatory Post

As I am an owner of a Kindle 2, a law student interested in Internet policy and the implications thereof, and given that I am a quote/unquote blogger, I feel that I cannot possibly withhold from commenting on this story.

Granted, there has been a lot written so far about Amazon's decision to wirelessly and remotely "kill" the George Orwell e-books, '1984' and 'Animal Farm', from some user's Kindles. For the most part, I agree with the developing commentaries that are out there. (see here, here or here) I especially enjoyed Jonathan Zittrain's post about the exemplary nature of the incident, in that it actually demonstrates the dangers of a widespread movement to cloud computing, wherein users won't actually own (or at least be able to sufficiently control) their own data and content.

However, perhaps the most concerning thing to me about this story, is that it seems to be part of a larger trend of bad (or potentially bad) moves on the part of Amazon in their handling of the new genre of e-books, and the Kindle 2 as a platform.

First, there was the whole text-to-speech functionality brouhaha, that was doomed to cause a controversy amongst practically everyone involved in the launch of Kindle 2 (publishers, users, interest groups, etc.).

Then, we heard the story of one Kindle user who was cut-off from attempting to re-download books that he had previously purchased from the Kindle store. This particularly left me unsettled, as after I finish reading a book on the Kindle, I generally "delete" it into my archive. So, if I decide that I do want to read it again, I have to re-download the book into my library. The knowledge that there was a cap on the number of times this could be done (or worse, that Amazon seemed to admit that they didn't even know what the limit was) was a disheartening feeling.

Next, came the story about Amazon securing (or filing for) the patent rights for the process of putting advertisements into e-books. The Kindle reading experience is supposed to emulate the book reading experience. When I read a book, the last thing I want is to be bombarded by advertisements; inserting ads into e-books is not the way to convert people to reading in the electronic format. The only possible way I could see this ad-based e-book model succeeding, would be if the price of the e-books (or the device) were to be drastically cut because of the revenue generated from advertising.

And now, as seen from this latest incident, it appears that Amazon can wipe your library from the ephemeral location where they actually physically exist (we all know that since they have no physical presence in numerous states, they don't have to pay taxes there....yet). Hopefully, the PR hit that Amazon will take from deleting these books will keep them from electing to utilize this feature in the future. Amazon's willingness to bend to the whim of publishers is unfortunate, to say the least, and I would like to see them support the reader more often when considering the implementation of policy decisions in the future.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see where this trend will land Amazon, in terms of their relative position as the predominant vendor in the e-book market. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to reading my Kindle (before I wake up and find my books are gone!)...

[On a side note, I can only imagine what my PR-oriented friend, Rich Pulvino, would say about Amazon, a company that has (at least until now) maintained a public good-guy image, choosing to delete of all books '1984'! I think the only way this could have been worse from a PR standpoint would have been if they had removed 'Fahrenheit 451' from user's Kindles...]

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