One of the things that scares publishing people most is the breadth and scope of Amazon’s power — and the news the other day that the company had gone “into” people’s Kindles and removed copies of George Orwell’s novels 1984 and Animal Farm.   Say, what?   In the same week that lawyers filed another motion to give a novice writer the opportunity (nay, the right) to publish an homage-or-ripoff, depending whom you ask to another great writer, JD Salinger, the biggest player on the operational level, Amazon, played its own censorship card.  Apparently, Orwell’s books were not authorized for Kindle, or they were and suddenly they weren’t, and Amazon either believed or were persuaded by the publisherthat anyone who’d bought Kindle versions of Orwell’s classics  needed to return them.


Obviously, this whole mess could have been avoided had Amazon and publishers been clearer up front about which e-rights,  if any, were available to Kindle.  But this is, of course, the central stumbling block in the already fraught relationship between publishers and e-publishers — and one that is particularly problematic when the author in question is deceased and his contracts written long before even the most forward thinking had imagined e-books.   But to offer them and then remove them?   Not only is this upsetting to the user — the piece I read suggests it’s akin to a bookstore employee breaking into your house to take a couple of books off the nightstand, even if they do leave a check for the value behind — but it threatens to become another crisis for publishers and booksellers.    Amazon has always promised that it wasn’t interested in being a publisher — despite its acquisition of certain self publishing arms — but only a bookseller.  And yet by having books live on its server in Kindle form and thus having the power to send, remove or — and this is the part that scares publishers in the future — ALTER them. .  ..well, nothing good can come of this. ..  That “live on the server” business is, after all, what has inspired some publishers to favor other readers, the kind that don’t actually require you to access any server but your own pc.   Cut out the middle man, the thinking goes, and you’ve saved your business.

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