Why eBooks Aren’t the Same as Printed Books

July 24th, 2009

I’ve avoided commenting on the controversy this week when Amazon realized it was selling an eBook of George Orwell’s 1984 that the vendor did not own the rights to sell to Amazon and its customers. I knew that there would be lots of back and forth to fill the blogger trough. Of course the story became more inflammatory because (a) it  was Orwell’s 1984, which we all know deals with the destruction of printed books, and (b) because Amazon, in its omnipotence, removed licences to the book from many customer’s Kindles without so much as an “excuse me.”

Of course, if we translate the story into the world of traditional print book publishing the publisher would merely have withdrawn the book from sale and requested retailers to return unsold copies for credit.

And as the Wall Street Journal points out in a well-modulated post tonight: “an ordinary bookstore wouldn’t be allowed to come into a buyer’s home to retrieve a book that he or she owned.”

And there’s the rub.

Amazon, of course has been suitably shamed and says it will never remove books from customer’s Kindles this way in the future (what else would it say, particularly until legal counsel has a chance to weigh in fully?).

Anyone who reads this blog know that I’m not a big fan of the Kindle, nor of Amazon’s promotional efforts surrounding it. But surely this is a tempest in a teapot. Amazon will become more cautious in accepting uploads, and will issue recalls more gracefully in the future.

The sky is not falling.

Follow-up: An interesting post on Fiction Matters which casts the incident very much as a tale of the perils and pitfalls of DRM.

And of course the inevitable lawsuit has now been launched.