I’ve been very reluctant to buy a Kindle. Not because I don’t think e-readers are a great technology. They are. I’ve been reluctant because when you use a Kindle, you’re entering a walled garden. The books you “buy” don’t have the same benefits as a printed book. You cannot loan them to friends, can’t donate them to a library, can’t sell them to a book store. In short, you don’t really own them, you buy a perpetual license to read them.
Now, that alone can be a big deal breaker. But we have to remember there are benefits that printed books don’t offer. I can have hundreds or thousands of books with me all the time, and not have cases and cases of books taking up space in my home. It’s awesome having a book with you everywhere.
In that spirit, I downloaded the Kindle iPhone app and got a couple of books that I’ve been wanting to read. The first was Micheal Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker”. Reading on the iPhone is surprisingly nice once you’ve dialed in the right font size and background color.
I’ve loved using it. All those moments where I’m pointlessly waiting in a line, I can now spend reading. Awesome.
Also, it’s incredibly gratifying to hear about a book from a friend, or listen to an author on the radio, and be able to immediately buy the book and start reading on the spot. Instant gratification is awesome.
But I won’t be buying any more books for the Kindle, or buying a physical device. Why?
The 1984 debacle. Amazon apparently got copies of 1984 and Animal Farm pulled into its store without permission of the actual copyright holders. Once it was made aware of the issue, it removed the books from every kindle and refunded the purchase price. It undid the deal.
So much for that perpetual license to read your “purchased” books huh? This was a completely bone-headed move. Amazon should have noted the number of copies out there, removed the further ability to buy it, and found some financial settlement that compensated the rights holders, just as if they had printed and sold books without permission.
Now Amazon is promising that it won’t ever delete books off of the Kindle again, but how do we know that they’ll keep that promise.
Walled garden services like this live or die off of trust in the provider. The license you’re buying depends on amazon maintaining their servers, and staying in business at the very least. At the worst, you’re depending on Amazon to not capriciously change the deal whenever it’s beneficial to them. Rather than just buying an object, you’re now entering into a long term relationship. And Amazon is now saying “Oh it’s okay baby. I was just angry. I won’t hit you ever again. I promise.”
Well bullshit. As pointed out in the article, it’s not clear that Amazon had the right to remove the books in the first place, at least according the the license agreement. What’s to keep them from doing the same thing or worse later on? Unfortunately, pretty much nothing. So it’s a relationship in which the other party gets to make all the rules and change them whenever they feel like it. No thanks.
Amazon has got a lot more work to do to rebuild trust in their walled garden than simply saying sorry and that it won’t happen again. They need to plainly spell out what exact rights licensees have over the what they have licensed, and exactly what Amazon can do or not do to content on people’s devices.