Last week, hundreds of Kindle owners discovered that an e-book they had bought had been deleted from their Kindles overnight, though Amazon credited their accounts for the purchase. (The titles affected included George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four or Animal Farm, ironically enough.) It seems that these were unauthorized editions offered on the Kindle site and the “publisher” had no legal right to sell the titles. Fair enough. (Amazon is fairly diligent about purging other unauthorized titles from its site, including pirated Harry Potter books.)
But the action raises a lot of questions about the future of e-books. Just how permanent are these products if we can’t share them with friends, import them to other devices, and the company can effectively sneak into our homes and confiscate them at will? Some of my proudest possessions are rarities like David Leavitt’s While England Slept and Kaavya Viswanathan’s How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, novels that were withdrawn from stores shortly after publication due to separate plagiarism charges (Leavitt’s novel was later reissued in a “revised” edition). I can imagine a not-too-distant future when such treasures won’t exist at all.
Of course, I can also imagine a future in which textbooks and timely nonfiction titles can be revised remotely with more up-to-date information without readers having to go out and buy a new updated edition. (Why do I suspect that publishers will want to charge an extra fee for this privilege?) But is anyone else a little disturbed by these new developments regarding Kindle and e-books?