Amazon’s Irony: Orwellian Recall of Kindle Books

Amazon recently removed two books that were already on customers’ Kindle devices after a rights issue surfaced

Last Friday, the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) forum was rife with posts about the disappearance of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” from their Kindle e-readers. In their place, was a credit for the e-books.

The irony was not lost on the people who experienced the digital erasure, as Orwell’s books take on themes of omnipresent censorship and surveillance, and many people reacted by making angry and indignant posts at the Kindle forum.

The news comes at a time when Amazon is bucking the recession with the successful roll out of its Kindle family as well as other services including cloud-based Web services. The e-tailer is reporting its second quarter earnings Thursday after posting a 24-percent jump in net income for the first quarter.

It appears the digital deletion happened after a publisher, who did not have the rights to the books, had made them available at the Kindle store.

“These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the 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,” said Drew Herdener, Amazon’s communications director, in a statement issued to

While Herdener declined to comment on how the issue will be addressed in the future, it appears the e-tail giant may think the move was over-reaching. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Herdener’s statement says.

Other e-book’s vanishing act

The policy, which doesn’t appear to be new — posts at the Kindle forum reported the disappearance of Harry Potter and Ayn Rand e-books over similar issues — should be changed, according to one analyst covering the e-book market.

“I am sure they will never handle an issue like this in the same way again. To be fair, the issue is that they sold a book from a reseller who did not have the rights to give to Amazon, but the way Amazon went about trying to resolve the issue was ironically Orwellian and given the books they took away, it will be a PR nightmare for them for a long time, ” Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, told

Bajarin says Amazon needs to clarify the policy or the news could hurt sales in the nascent e-reader market.

“If uninformed customers get in their mind that a book from Amazon could be taken away at Amazon’s whim, then it could be a real problem for Amazon. However, if Amazon makes it clear what happened, and more importantly, markets around the idea that it will never happen again, then they should be able to come out of this with only minor bruises,” he said.

A discussion at the Kindle forum has several major themes. Some feel that Amazon had a right to recall the books if they were illegally offered, but stated they would have liked the company to offer more information about the move, both in advance of the deletion and afterward in regard to what they plan to do in future instances that are similar.

Others say that it’s not ethical to keep a book that is essentially pirated, whether by error or not, while others say that angry Kindle owners have a “massive sense of entitlement.” Still others said they had the right to keep digital books they had already purchased if the recall was an error on Amazon’s part.

“What ticked me off is that I got a refund out of the blue and my book just disappeared out of my archive. I e-mailed Amazon for an answer as to what was going on and they said there was a ‘problem’ with the book, nothing more specific. I’m sorry, when you delete my private property — refund or not — without my permission, I expect a better explanation than that. And, BTW — Pirated books showing up on Amazon — not MY problem – hire more people to check them BEFORE you sell them to me,” writes one forum member.

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