In an emotional post in Amazon’s Kindle user form, CEO Jeff Bezos apologized for how the company handled illegally sold copies of two e-books — saying their erasure from users’ devices was “stupid, thoughtless and out of line with our principles.”
The e-commerce giant recently removed two books that were already on customers’ Kindle devices after a third-party rights issue surfaced.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) responded by erasing the books — George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” — from users’ devices, and credited the impacted Kindle owners with the amount they had originally paid for the titles.
But the move set the Kindle forum alight with posts about the disappearance of from their Kindle e-readers. A large number of Kindle owners reacted by making angry and indignant posts at the forum, saying the move was heavy-handed and came with no warning. Many were critical of Amazon for not sharing more information about the issue.
But in his apology, Bezos sought to mollify users’ complains and called the move an error.
“This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle,” he wrote. “Our ‘solution’ to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”
Amazon spokespeople told InternetNews.com in an e-mail that the problem with the books stemmed from the discovery that they had been made available to the Kindle store from a publisher who did not have the rights to the books.
Response to post from Bezos should make him feel better. Most people were thankful that he apologized.
“If I unwittingly purchase an illegal copy of an e-book, I see no problem with Amazon deleting it from my Kindle as long as I get a straightforward explanation and an immediate refund,” one user wrote. “I have no desire to own stolen merchandise. A lot of people seem to think an apology was necessary. I don’t, but thanks anyway. Good for you.”
Others said they felt they were owed an apology, graciously accepted it, and are ready to move on.
“Nobody ever said that Amazon was lacking in amazing customer service,” user LASoundCrafter wrote. “It shows at the top and filters down. Thank you for your mea culpa. Now, it will be interesting to see how Amazon handles future (possible) illegal downloads and potential license holder’s lawsuits — maybe a more extended time before posting to search out ownership?”
Others wondered if the apology meant that Amazon.com will include a provision in its End User License Agreement stating that the company will never send a transmission to a Kindle without the expressed permission of the Kindle owner.
“Will the EULA be changed at all due to this situation outlining what rights Amazon.com and the end-user have regarding Kindle books that have been purchased through Amazon.com that reside on a users’ Kindle?” another user asked in the forum.
Amazon had not returned calls seeking additional comment by press time.
Bezos posted his note right before the company’s lackluster second-quarter earnings call, which he did not attend. Amazon executives said he had been traveling at the time.
The e-tailer certainly can’t afford to lose potential Kindle customers, with the nascent digital book market is becoming more competitive, as rival Barnes & Noble just opened its own e-bookstore and plans next year to introduce a multi-format e-reader in partnership with Plastic Logic.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble, along with other competitors including Sony, are moving fast into the sector as recent research shows promise for the burgeoning e-book market. E-book shipments are slated to increase with worldwide shipments expected to grow from almost 1 million units in 2008 to close to 30 million units in 2013, according In-Stat. The analyst firm cites Amazon as the space’s current leader with its Kindle lineup, due to its wireless content delivery service.
Still, Amazon can’t become complacent if it wants to remain in the lead.
“There’s absolutely room for more competition in the market, not just for the devices, which we forecast will top 3 million units by the end of 2009 and 13 million by 2013, but also for the content,” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told InternetNews.com. “Today, e-books account for less than 2 percent of U.S. book sales, and sales nearly doubled from 2007, $67 million, to 2008 where we saw $113 million.”
“There’s a lot of room for future growth of e-book sales, not just on dedicated reading devices like the Kindle, but also on smartphones and netbooks, which is why B&N is smart to take a device-agnostic approach,” she said.