Why I will never buy a Kindle

I like the idea of e-books, and I have even read a few. Of course, I have read all my e-books on my laptop, and mostly they have been downloaded from Project Gutenberg, which, I may add, is a fabulous site.

The prospect of having to carry a separate book-reading device seems like an additional burden when one is traveling. We already carry a laptop, a cellphone and/or a Blackberry, an ipod/other music device, a camera, and chargers for all of these. Do we need another device to hold? In fact, if anything, we try to combine 2-3 devices, like use the cellphone as an ipod-cum-camera-cum-phone and so on. Ideally, it seems to me that a netbook can double up as a book, being much lighter than a laptop and the screen size is almost the same as most books; it should make for easier reading than a Kindle.

But these are not the reasons why I will never buy a Kindle. I will never buy a Kindle because I am outraged at Amazon’s action – erasing copies of a book that customers had purchased from it from their Kindles,without their permission.

The story so far – Amazon’s Kindle Store had carried digital versions of George Orwell’s “1984 and “Animal Farm” which had been, in Amazon’s words as quoted in the New York Times “added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function.” So apparently, when Amazon heard from the original rights-holder about this snafu, it went ahead and remotely deleted the versions of “1984” and “Animal Farm” that people had purchased from its store. Yes, remotely deleted (apparently it can do that, which is scary in itself) and deleted without asking permission. Of course, it refunded customers their purchase price, if that was any consolation.

I have three issues with this:

1. The customers who bought these books from Amazon bought them in good faith. They are not responsible for any copyright violation – I would say, if anyone is responsible, it should be Amazon who should check who the vendors on its online store are.

2. If a customer had bought a counterfeit tool set at say, Lowe’s or Home Depot, and the store later realized its mistake, would a store representative come to your home and repossess it?

Remember, even product recalls that happen every now and then (due to salmonella contamination or lead paint or whatever) are entirely voluntary. You can always choose not to bother with returning your purchase.

Most stores allow returns too, but that comes with conditions and if those conditions are not met, they can chose to refuse to take back a product. My point is, no return is unilateral. This must be the first time that a unilateral return of a product has taken place. Surely, Amazon must be proud that it has made history.

3. The New York Times reports that Amazon’s published Terms of Service agreement does not give it the right to unilaterally delete purchases after they have been made.

It would have been bad enough enough it had been legal, hidden away somewhere in page 14 of the Terms of Service – after all, every time we are faced with an EULA or a “Terms of Service”, most of us unthinkingly hit “Accept” and move on without reading a word of it. But Amazon does not seem to have had that contractual right to delete the books.

Was this the best way of dealing with the issue? Why could Amazon not simply removed the vendor from its store, publicly acknowledged the mistake and refunded the original rights holder for the amount of royalty lost? Or couldn’t it have asked user’s permissions before deleting the book? Surely, it has their email ids, or their phone numbers or addresses? Yes, some customers will refuse, and yes, they do have a right to refuse since they can keep what they legally bought, but most customers, I believe, will be quite willing to let Amazon delete the book from their Kindles.

It’s somehow appropriate that this happened to “1984”, for Amazon truly acted like a Big Brother in this case. The other issue I have is the loss of privacy – think about it, if Amazon can remotely access customers’ Kindles, what else can it find out about them? Of course it knows what books they buy and read, it knows which book they are reading right now, right down to the page. It will probably know if they linger longer on a certain page, and so on.

Then, what else does that customer buy on Amazon – what kind of products, what kind of music? Can he/ she be steered towards buying more similar products?

This is not idle speculation – I already get emails from Amazon based on products I have purchased, or added to my cart, or saved. I will like these products too, I am told. They are on sale now.

So yes, Amazon is already modeling to become a Big Brother of sorts. But I think they have crossed the line with the way they handled the Kindle issue.

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11 thoughts on “Why I will never buy a Kindle

  1. Its fabulously difficult to build a reputation. And it can get ruined by few actions like these. I am not sure about this new technology.

    But the trust in Amazon..well, thats definitely been dented.

  2. I agree with #3. But not with #2: we shouldn’t be so obsessed with what we can or can’t do in the physical world: these are false analogies. Products (ownership) have become services in the digital world. And what was impractical in the physical world is not in the digital world. Let’s embrace the new world with all its possibilities instead of remembering what we could or couldn’t do in the physical world.

    That said, the Terms of Service agreement should state that clearly (you are renting a service that sooner or later could become obsolete) and, accordingly, the price should be lower than that of a physical book (ownership, resellability, etc.). And of course Amazon should never delete the annotations of a reader (as it has happened in this case).

    • Services carry the same issues of trust and getting end-user permission, right? And as you said, the Terms of Service should state clearly what the provider can/ cannot do – in this case, they did not include the right to delete unilaterally.

  3. When I first read about this, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept re-reading, to make sure that I had understood correctly. Amazing that a company like Amazon – that one associates, for whatever reason, with modernity, progress, openness, etc – should make such a major gaffe.

  4. I have never been able to digest e-books and so never paid attention to the Kindle.
    However, the fact that Amazon has actually remotely deleted the books seems to be enough to steer away from it…thinking that they can monitor my reading habits just because I have bought a product from them is scary
    What next! Advertisements flashed to the Kindle based on your reading pattern with sale notifications? (Something like, CR, see the latest in the category of Erotica and chump magazines, or Did you know that intellectuals do not read Georgette Heyer? (something a stranger actually came up and said to me at an airport) )

  5. A seriously disturbing incident. I am an Amazon customer, and I find these to be very appalling. I agree with your point about contacting customers in advance and asking their permission to recall this particular book. Amazon would face a serious loss for this mishaps. How many more or this or anything else, only God knows. Thanks for this eye-opening piece. I never liked Kindle anyways 🙂

  6. While I have only had my Kindle 2 less than a week I felt I had to write a review as I am so impressed with it. I am not much for reading instructions, I am one of those that needs someone to show me along with the written how to’s. So sometimes when I get something like this, I might not touch it for days until someone can “get me through” on how to operate it. I opened the Kindle, turned it on and read as far as what the different buttons were for. I started playing around with it and believe me, if I say something is easy to use, it is. I am going on 62 and very technically challenged, so I can get into so much trouble with something like this. I know that when I do get around to reading the “manual” for it, I will probably discover it does the dishes. But for now I am very happy with just being able to read a book on it. It does exactly what I bought it for, everything else will be icing on the cake. I can take it anywhere and no matter how many books I have downloaded onto it, when I put it in my purse, it still weighs only 10.2 ounces. LOVE IT!

  7. lekin your an idiot. They gave all the money back plus some and then gave the books back to you for free. I love my kindle. I spend hours in the cancer ward waiting and all the other doctors visits for my son that has terminal brain cancer. I got tired of lugging books all around. Besides LOOK AT THE GREEN you are saving and I do not mean money. Less books+less recources used. Plus it’s good on the wallet books a quarter of the price.

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