Last week, Amazon.com unwittingly dealt an enormous body blow to the concept of Digital Rights Management (DRM) by remotely deleting legally purchased copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from all Kindle ebook devices. The excellent TeleRead site devoted to all things e-book and e-reader has a very well-considered post about the dangers of DRM and how we must protect ourselves against a world where customers don’t really end up owning digital copies of things they buy online.
When Amazon can connect to your Kindle device and blow away the book you bought, it means that you never really owned it at all. You’re a renter. Get used to it. Almost any online service you can think of that sells you a book or a piece of music can come into your device and zap your stuff. They consider it their right to do so. We need laws that make our digital purchases our very own property and forbid anyone from modifying or deleting them for any reason.
The TeleRead article draws the connection between the ability of a company like Amazon to zap books and government censorship. Since the technology can zap books, it will zap books because governments will consider it an effective means of censorship.
We have totally had enough of Amazon.com at Candlelight Stories and have completely removed them from advertising space on this site and permanently severed our ‘associate’ relationship with the company. The reason is simple. Over the weekend, Amazon went into customers’ Kindle ebook devices and deleted purchased copies of George Orwell’s classic novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Apparently, the U.S. owner of the novels’ copyrights either decided to change its mind about offering an ebook of the novels or complained about illegal electronic copies on Amazon. So Amazon removed them from the site and then reached out into Kindle devices that are legally owned and whose owners had legally purchased Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from Amazon’s own site and completely removed all traces of the novels from those devises. I call it an eBurn.
What this means is that when you buy a Kindle ebook device you don’t actually own the device or anything on it. Amazon does. They can simply reach into your device and destroy any file they want to at any time, without your knowledge or permission. I call that vandalism. I think any company behaving that way should face a class action lawsuit and be investigated for violations of law. I will not allow Candlelight Stories to engage in any further business with such a company and cannot recommend that anyone purchase a Kindle or any electronic file from Amazon.com whatsoever. What Amazon did was basically like this: imagine you go to buy a book for $14.95 at a Barnes & Nobel store. Then Barnes & Nobel decides for whatever reason that they actually didn’t really want to sell you that book. So they send an employee into your home while you’re out to remove the book from your bookshelf and leave $14.95 under your pillow. That’s exactly what Amazon thinks it can do to you. Appalling. George Orwell must at this moment be laughing in his grave. And the joke’s on Amazon.
Amazon has gotten into the habit recently of engaging in digital censorship and then apologizing once they get wind of a public outcry. They then try to spin their bad behavior as a technical glitch that won’t happen again. They have replied to this latest debacle by saying that it happens ‘rarely’ and that it will not happen again. We do not believe them. What this episode proves beyond any shadow of doubt is that the company can press a button and blow away any book you may have purchased. Refunding the purchases simply does not make up for this grotesque behavior. So, when you buy a Kindle, you really don’t own anything. You are simply renting a little portable Amazon cash register that Amazon retains full rights to. Companies like Amazon are building distribution systems that make censorship as easy as the press of a button. How far are we willing to go in allowing just a few companies to control the distribution of most of our literature and reference material. If that handful of companies decides it doesn’t like the politics of a certain kind of literature, it can blow it away completely by pressing a button or entering a simple code. Book burnings have never been able to eradicate ideas so efficiently. We now have something new: the eBurn. No company that cared in the slightest for literature or for books would ever behave this way for any reason. I am disgusted and horrified by Amazon. I actually bought a television through Amazon. Now I’m wondering if they can get inside it and delete my favorite TV shows. My digital camera. Can they blow away my vacation photos?
We have an excellent open-source web browser called Firefox, we now desperately need an open-source ebook device that allows us to purchase from any bookseller in any format available. Hey, Mozilla, are you listening?
Oh, and by the way, here’s a technology writer to stay away from. He actually says he thinks it’s a good idea for Amazon to sneak into Kindles and destroy books: Read his dimwitted comments on nothing other than C-Net.com.
But here’s a writer who understands the problem.
Here’s a New York Times article about the eBurn.
Tim O’Reilly has posted quotes from an interview with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
“We’ve co-evolved with our tools for thousands of years,” he says, explaining how ease of Kindle buying changes behavior.
“Reading is an important enough activity that it deserves a purpose-built device….It’s a myth that multi-purpose devices are always better…. I like my phone… I like my swiss army knife too, but I’m also happy to have a set of steak knives.”
“I get grumpy now when I have to read a physical book….The physical book has had a great 500 year run, but it’s time to change.”
Hmmm. First of all, anyone who uses the expression ‘swiss army knife’ in a conversation is skating on very thin ice because if he actually owns one he understands perfectly well that those things are not ‘multi-purpose’ at all. And no army in the world carries them. Secondly, if Mr. Bezos is grumpy when he has to read a physical book, he should get out of the bloody book selling business. What a simpleton. During Amazon’s entire history of steady growth as the Wal-Mart of the internet, I have never heard Mr. Bezos utter a single intelligent or captivating remark.
Thirdly, I think it is very clear that Mr. Bezos gets grumpy whenever he has to read anything at all.
Here’s a reprint of a fascinating and well thought out CC-licensed article by Ransom Stephens on the openDemocracy Network about the future of books and publishers. The main thrust of the article is that books will survive mainly in hardback versions, electronic on-demand publishers will take over the bulk of book publishing, this takeover will begin the day Stephen King releases a major novel through an online self-publishing outlet, major publishers will whither and eventually be outmoded, and bookstores will thrive in a healthy relationship with electronic publishing.
Booking the Future
Ransom Stephens (openDemocracy Network)
Though the role of publishing has not changed – connect readers to writers – the revolution will not be led by an established publisher. To date, no established player has prospered through, much less led, the transition to the digitally-based economy. What’s left of the recording industry is still pursuing the fascinating how-to-best-prosecute-our-customers business model. No one was better positioned to profit from the web-based economy than Sears, with its legendary catalog, but Amazon all but killed it. Even IBM barely survived the computer revolution.
For some reason, even when entrenched companies can see the iceberg they can’t turn the ship. In 2000, at the height of the “Napster Crisis,” Time-Warner/AOL’s CEO, Richard Parsons said, “It’s an assault on everything that constitutes cultural expression of our society… And the corporations won’t be the only ones hurt. Artists will have no incentive to create. Worst-case scenario: the country will end up in a sort of Cultural Dark Age.”
Have YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Blogspot, et al reduced cultural expression? Here’s a better example. In 1977, Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) which, at the time, built the best computing hardware, said, “There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home.” Time-Warner/AOL, Sears and IBM survived, but are swimming in the wake of Dell, Google, Amazon, etc.
This image is floating around the internet along with rumors that Apple is ready to unveil a much larger version of its iPod Touch that might be called MediaPad. Apparently, it has a 6-inch HD touchscreen and will have cellular wireless connectivity. So people are writing about this thing as a Kindle-killer. Apple is also rumored to be preparing an ebook reader application that will allow book purchases through the iTunes store.
I think this has been coming for a while and I am almost certain that Steve Jobs will implement the first serious major competition for Amazon.