Amazon Still Plays Big Brother, Eroding My Trust

First, full disclosure:

  • George Orwell’s 1984 is one of my favorite books of all time:  a great novel of what a horrible future could still await us all, and how we must be vigilant if we are going to limit it (I don’t think we can fully prevent it).
  • I’ve recently purchased a Kindle DX.
  • Jeff Bezos is a fellow Princeton alum.
  • We are enthusiastic customers of, taking great advantage of its unlimited free two-day shipping through our Amazon Prime membership which costs only $79 a year.

That said (I hate this phrase now, due to its vast overuse, and Larry David did a great job skewering its use recently in his show Curb Your Enthusiasm), I am not happy one bit that Amazon has played Big Brother one more time in its dispute with the book publisher Macmillan.  According to the Huffington Post:

NEW YORK — New copies of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” Andrew Young’s “The Politician” and other books published by Macmillan were unavailable Saturday on, a drastic step in the ongoing dispute over e-book prices.

Macmillan CEO John Sargent said he was told Friday that its books would be removed from, as would e-books for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Books will be available on through private sellers and other third parties, Sargent said.

It’s not the first time that books have disappeared from Amazon’s virtual shelves. Last summer, Kindle users were surprised and unsettled to receive notice that George Orwell works they had purchased, including “1984” and “Animal Farm,” had been removed and their money refunded. It was a deletion of pirated copies that had been posted to the Kindle store, but the ordeal highlighted a concern – that a book already paid for and acquired can be revoked by an e-tailer. The Kindle operates on a wireless connection that Amazon ultimately controls.

Bezos later apologized, and Amazon offered affected customers free books or $30.

Amazon later capitulated to MacMillan, and restored its books, but this is another reminder that even though I’m enjoying my Kindle DX, I can’t trust that I what I purchased for it from Amazon, which should be my property as long as I want it to be, can be taken away from me at any time.  I guess I’ll be checking out the Apple iPad when it becomes available this spring…