Monday, August 03, 2009

Amazon Ate My Homework

Allow me to give the world's shortest summary about what recently happened regarding Amazon and its Kindle reader:
-Amazon sold copies of 1984 and other works that it didn't have rights to
-when it found out about the error, it immediately erased the works and credited buyers for the amount they'd paid

When I buy a dead-tree book, I expect to be able to read it forever. I'm sure most people think the same way about e-books, but that isn't the case. In reality, buying an e-book for a Kindle is akin to buying a ticket to a museum exhibit: you can look, but if the museum needs to move the exhibit somewhere else that's just tough for you.

Amazon has apologized for the way they handled the situation and has promised not to react that way again, but that doesn't satisfy some. Class-action lawsuit, anyone?

I'll admit that I have a modicum of sympathy for the student mentioned in this article:

One of the plaintiffs, Justin Gawronski, has a compelling story about his experience with Amazon's memory hole. Apparently, he was reading his copy of 1984 as a summer assignment for school, and had been using one of the Kindle's selling points—the ability to attach notes to specific parts of the e-book text—to prepare for his return to school. Since he was actively reading the work when Amazon pulled the plug, he actually got to watch the work vanish from his screen. He's left with a file of notes that are divorced from the text that they reference.

Even though I think that electronic textbooks could be the wave of the future, I have to laugh--it's impossible for a publisher to make dead-tree book text disappear before your very eyes!

Update: Young Mr. Gawronski need not read 1984 to learn about a police state. Instead he can pay attention to the real Airstrip One:

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.
This, in Britain.


Ellen K said...

Call me paranoid, but doesn't the ability of "someone" to alter books in the 1984 newspeak fashion worry you? My books are my friends. And like old friends, I visit them when I am in the mood. Given the ability of some groups to seek literary change as some sort of rite, it worries me that if all media is suddenly electronic that we won't know if it was changed, when it was changed and by whom.

Darren said...

Downloads are one thing. Having to connect to a server and provide some digital authorization to access a work--no way.

Mrs. C said...

The proletariat still buys most of its books at the thrift store for 50 cents each.

"It's better than Kindle," one low-class shopper from Missouri remarked. "If I lose a book, I've only lost 50 cents. Through the wonder of thrift store technology, I can have three people reading different books AT THE SAME TIME."

I know. It's incredible. :]

pseudotsuga said...

Wake up! It's 1984
Wake up! And we've been here before
--Danny Elfman with Oingo Boingo

I am incredulous at the thought process that believes all that money spent for surveillance is a good idea.
Echoing our own budget deficit, where is the money going to come from, anyway? More speed camera traps?
Alas, Albion, how far you have fallen!

neko said...

- Ellen K
You know, I don't think that I have even considered this before, but it is a very good point. If the files are digital, they could be altered and updated in the same way this boy's book was removed. The user would not even be the wiser, unless they had a copy of the original book. Imagine how the books could be changed! It is a scary prospect.