Friday, July 17, 2009


What Amazon did recently is just plain shitty: it deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 from everyone's Kindle. (Doing it to any other title would have been just as bad, but.come.on. Not 1984.) Something to do with copyright issues between Amazon and one of the publishers of 1984.

Like so many other book lovers, I too have indulged in an occasional rant or ten against Amazon's Kindle. Even with recent announcement of the new pricing, I am not clear why I should get one. (Not that I am in the market...) But when you work in the tech business like I do, you do feel vaguely ashamed at sounding like a bit of a Luddite. I mean, if I can't accept changing trends, why do I expect my customers to behave differently?

For me, the biggest obstacle with the Kindle is that it takes a perfectly great product, aka the book, and turns it into what is described in the software world as a "proprietary platform". A Kindle is a platform on which you download, read and store books (and is not the book in itself).

If the last 3 decades of Information Technology has taught us anything, it's this: the the one who builds the platform is the victor. Apple, Microsoft and now Google, they are all fighting for that right to build the next platform. With the platform come the cool software applications and before you know it, you are tied to one provider.

That is the *only* game in town. Hence, Amazon wants to create a "reading platform". The trouble is, platform providers wield too much power. They decide what can and cannot run on the platform. They decide how things will work on the platform.

Amazon deleted the book because it could.

But what all this means is I don't have to go through the trouble of drawing up the pros and cons of buying a Kindle. The fact that Amazon can "unsell" a book only makes the argument in favor of buying "real" books that much more compelling.


Falstaff said...

Whoah! that is scary.

My big problem with the Kindle so far has been just that there's no way to import a book you already own into the system - and there's no way I'm buying all the books of poetry I own all over again. But you're right - this is a much bigger deal.

Phantasmagoria said...

Emerging out of hiding to say, WTF.

Just when I thought I might succumb.

But KM, well written!

Space Bar said...

there's also the minor point that when you've paid for a book, you've (in effect) only hired it and don't own it outright.

i'm happy being a luddite under the circs, thank you very much.

km said...

Falstaff: scary and idiotic. But that importing problem you describe is another gripe of mine.

PH: Thanks, but please don't be caught reading poetry on a Kindle in a coffee shop while checking email on a know how I feel about such people :D

SB: Agreed, it's that tiring bullshit argument about digital media. Screw that. I'm buying paper.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Very nice write-up. Somehow I'm not surprised. Richard Stallman saw it coming years ago and it could get worse: look up 'The right to read' (sorry no link, typing this on my phone, but very likely you know it already.)

Tabula Rasa said...

sheesh! thanks for posting.

km said...

Rahul: yeah, I've seen that RMS piece. I used to think he was being too paranoid. Now I think you can't be paranoid enough.

TR: unkindled your appetite, I hope.

Lekhni said...

Oh, did you rant about it too? :) For too long, Google and others have been testing the limits of how much loss of privacy and control we are willing to accept, and scarily, consumers have been willing to accept huge inroads :(

??! said...

Screw that. I'm buying paper.
There goes the rainforest. Can we blame that on Amazon as well?

km said...

??!: Amazon has its own rain-forest, thank you. :)

Lekhni: Nothing is free on the web.