Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos was traveling during the company’s earnings call Thursday but managed a virtual cameo appearance to apologize for last week’s ham-fisted handling of illegal books on Kindle. In a message posted to the Kindle Community forum on Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), Bezos wrote:
“This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. 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.” He signed off “with deep apologies to our customers.”
He was referring to Amazon’s removal of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle accounts of users who bought the books through the Kindle store for $.99 each. The discovery set off a backlash over the way the books were yanked from accounts and concerns that Amazon might abuse the process again. It also highlighted the way Kindle works: unlike the outright ownership of print sales, under the terms of Kindle use, Amazon only grants buyers a license that can be revoked at the company’s choosing. The uproar was fueled by Amazon’s poor handling of the situation and by the unfortunate coincidence of Orwell’s themes about invasion of privacy, institutional control and Big Brother. Turns out the books were added to the Kindle Store through the self-publishing tool but the publisher didn’t have the right to sell them.
Amazon was right to stop selling them — and would have been right to offer refunds in exchange for giving up the books — but utterly wrong in the way it was handled. Bezos doesn’t say here how the process will work in the future; as the owner of multiple Kindles, I hope he shares the resolution with the Kindle Community as well.