To further illustrate the creepy behavior by Jeff “Big Brother” Bezos and his Amazonian company, check these quotes from regular folks interviewed for another NYT article on the subject from Saturday:
“It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom and an expert on computer security and commerce. “As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”
Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.
In defense of Amazon’s actions, Drew Herdener, spokesman for the company, said “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.” Riiiiight. Sorry Drew, the seeds have been planted. Let the revolution begin.
It’s not that I hate the ebook or the Kindle – I personally don’t feel a need or a want for any of it – it’s just that I don’t want them to supplant the bound books that I love so much. Do we really need to print 2 million copies of every James Patterson novel, with half destined for the pulping mill? No, but I believe that they have a place in the digital world and have the right to be read by someone, somewhere. I would be an idiot to deny that there is a market for books of that caliber – not everyone reads 1984 for fun. (In fact, I recently had a full-grown man come into the store and ask for the very same book and react with disbelief & shock when I not only knew the author, but right where it was shelved.) And while there is a degree of panicky freakout going on in the book world as far as how quickly things are progressing, there is no denying that ebooks have a place, its just that we haven’t figured out where that place is yet. Amazon has been force-feeding us on the virtues of their product to the point that no one has read the fine print to see what their rights of ownership really are. This recent debacle is just the first time we’ve been able to see behind the curtain a little bit and regardless of what the company spokesmen say towards appeasement, we should be greatly concerned over where this is all leading us as a society.
My librarian cousin Janet forsees things as this: “In the future, hardcover books will become prohibitively expensive to ordinary folk. Hence, the only place people can get access to hardcover books will be the public library. We are back to 1731, when Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia where he and his pals banded together to buy books.” I don’t think that’s too far off if things continue on this current course. (Of course, Janet is just plugging the library.) Some of us – booksellers, mostly – have just been looking for that chink in the armor of Amazon where we can point and say, “Look! See what happens when you forsake the printed book!” None of us have figured out a way to combat or even embrace the coming ebook storm – it is pretty much a guarantee that many independent bookstores will go out of business due solely to the influx of electronic books in the world. That’s the tragedy. Once they’re gone and all you have left is the Kindle store….
UPDATE July 21st: Barnes and Noble announced the opening of their sexy sleek new Ebook Store this morning. Ebooks are available for download from B&N, but are of course not compatible with the Amazon Kindle, so they have provided a free ebook reader that works with Mac, PC, Blackberry, & Iphone. Of course, being in direct competition with the Amazon juggernaut, most ebooks on B&N are $9.99, (advertised as 62% off! or what-have-you), essentially pricing themselves and everyone else out of the market down the road. It will be interesting to see where this takes things – of course, indies still don’t have ebook capabilities via the Indiebound chain of websites….
One more thing: check out e-bookvine for fascinating info on the Kindle & the society it has spawned, including hacks written for pdf’s and other ebook formats and a telling chart of ebook price changes over time at Amazon.