Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Amazon fanning the Kindle(ing) flames?

I've been following the Kindle with some interest for a while. I *really* want one, but not as long as it's as closed a model as they are currently pursuing. I want to get e-books from other places, and I'd like an RSS reader please... which really means an open development platform so that RSS readers can compete... which quickly leads to other ebook retailers, and you see why they aren't that interested in it.

Anyhow, Amazon got themselves in a pickle when they had a licensing issue with a number of books from a publisher, which in turn led to them reaching out an disabling them on users Kindles out in the wild - something the users didn't know Amazon could do.

Kind of like coming down to your kitchen in the morning, seeing the toaster missing, and finding a note from Sears saying "Sorry, we decided we shouldn't have sold this to you, so we took it back. Here's your $20. Hope you weren't expecting toast this morning. Might we suggest oatmeal?"

A kerfuffle took place on the intertubes, and Amazon went on to issue an apology:
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.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO,

Sounds really good. I beleive he think's doing the right thing. He is.

Except he's doing the right thing about the wrong problem.

One problem is that some people had their books taken from them post-purchase, and yes, it's good to apologize for that.

However, this problem is only symptomatic of the REAL problem, which is that people bought a device which comes with hidden restrictions, unclear terms of service, and the capability to change behavior and functionality at any point in the future. (Cory at BoingBoing has been on a bit of a crusade to get answers on exactly this)

So, kids, what have we learned?

1) There's a lesson here in the growing awareness of, and intolerance for, DRM in all it's forms. Every story about a consumer being burned by DRM adds to that awareness and intolerance.

2) While it was good for Bezos to publicly apologize, he's created another problem: He's shown that he's aware of the situation and therefore what was a puzzling silence on questions around the Kindle's functionality and DRM now seems like a deliberate silence.

In the meantime, I'll stick to dead trees. They tend to not disappear from the nightstand while I sleep.

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