[LINK] Amazon withdraws a Kindle title from customers' Kindles

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Tue Jul 21 08:49:50 AEST 2009

Fwd: Publishers Lunch

[an interesting story about the shift from ownership to licensing 'books']

What We Talk About When We Talk About Amazon
Last week was a bizarre one in the annals of Amazon-dominated news, 
closing with Friday's Orwellian removal of unauthorized editions of 
two books by the actual George Orwell from a small number of Kindle 
owners' libraries.

Among the things I find interesting about the story:

* Internet outrage began with an incorrect blog post on the NYT's 
site from columnist David Pogue who shot first without asking: 
"Apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an 
electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and 
dies by publisher happiness, caved," Pogue wrote. Bear in mind that 
Pogue has made a substantial amount of money as both author and 
co-publisher of computer books, but he assumes the worst of 
publishers from the outset.

* Amazon's open-publishing platform for Kindle (and the popularity on 
the device of free and very cheap public domain works) requires more 
vetting/monitoring than it has received to date. As Amazon spokesman 
Drew Herdener explained on Friday: "These books [unauthorized 
editions of 1984 and Animal Farm, uploaded by MobileReference 
according to customers] were added to our catalog using our 
self-service platform by a third party who did not have the rights to 
the books."

While this is the story that wound up making news, customers posting 
on Amazon's 
board have reported seeing other unauthorized editions 
available--including Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ("yes, 
illegal copies actually made it through for all of about an hour here 
on Monday.")

* Famous for putting the customer first--at least in the service of 
selling other people's physical goods--Amazon is encountering a 
number of challenges as producer/seller of their own device and in 
the new world of selling physical goods. In the case of the 
unauthorized Kindle books,
"when we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the 
illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and 
refunded customers." That's what ignited the real firestorm from 
Kindle customers.

For customers, however, it was a reminder that they are licensing the 
right to view a file rather than owning it. And it showed how the 
cool Whispernet--which downloads books "in 60 seconds or less," can 
also make those books disappear just as quickly. In this, Amazon 
appears to have overstepped the provisions of its own terms of 
service. (The NYT wrote, "Amazon's published terms of service 
agreement for the Kindle does not appear to give the company the 
right to delete purchases after they have been made. It says Amazon 
grants customers the right to keep a 'permanent copy of the 
applicable digital content.') Of course for all of us, it's also a 
reminder of one reason why ebooks are "worth less" to customers: they 
come with fewer privileges.

Hence spokesman Herdener's additional comment: "We are changing our 
systems so that in the future we will not remove books from 
customers' devices in these circumstances."

* But Amazon's customer service left customers disappointed in other 
ways, too. When the unauthorized files were removed, the explanation 
was less than candid. In e-mails reproduced on the company's forum, 
customer say they were told via e-mail only that "we recently 
discovered a problem with a Kindle book that you have purchased."

* That customer service failure echoes a story from earlier last week 
that got dramatically less national pick-up even though for the 
affected customers it's a much more serious issue: the lawsuit filed 
by one customer (seeking class action status) regarding a cracked 
Kindle they allege was damaged by the cover.

All of this is interesting viewed against the first Amazon-driven 
story of the week--also continuing this week: the fight over the 
$9.95 price point, and publishers' strategic questions about release 
windows for certain ebooks. (Clearly anything Amazon/Kindle related 
is now receiving disproportionate attention from mainstream 
press--and those stories are going to focus on battles and failures 
more than anything else.) To echo one of our themes from last week's 
pricing post, Amazon is suffering by not being completely candid with 
their customers; publishers should avoid the same mistake and tell 
the truth, and the complete truth, about their pricing concerns.

At the same time, if you are not both watching and participating in 
Amazon's abundant Kindle customer forums, you are missing out. There 
are customers who understand (and regularly track) the $9.95 price 
fallacy--but they don't know whom to blame for the "bait and switch."

Watch the Kindle bestsellers and you'll see that right now all of the 
top 5 ebooks are free--as are 7 of the top 10, and 15 of the top 25. 
When publishers talk to the press about pricing, you should mention 
all the ebooks you give away, as well as all of the titles that are 
published simultaneously with the print edition. (Meanwhile, despite 
all the supposed resistance to paying over $9.95 for an ebook, one of 
the top paid titles on the Kindle bestseller list remains Breaking 
Dawn, selling at  $11.38, now after "352 days in the top 100."

For still more on pricing, both 
Shatzkin and 
Schnittman are looking at some of the issues on their blogs.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
blog: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com

Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or 
sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

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