Deletion a Minor Speed Bump?

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-10-03 Print this article Print

The controversy over the Orwell deletion represented a minor speed bump over the summer to's distribution of the Kindle, which until then had been greeted with much fanfare as the possible future of reading. In high-profile events in New York City, one of which featured a reading by Stephen King, CEO Jeff Bezos had unveiled successive iterations of the e-reader for media, showing off features such as wireless downloading.  

On July 16, a number of Kindle users reported that copies of "Animal Farm" and "1984" had disappeared from the e-readers' archived items library. This was followed in short order by an e-mail from, informing them that their copies of the works had been deleted and that the online retailer would refund the purchase price.

The irony of deleting two books dealing with themes of totalitarian control was lost on few. Rushing to defend itself, issued a July 17 statement stating that the works had been pulled because the publisher who issued them for the Kindle did not, in fact, own the original rights.  

On July 25, Bezos tendered a personal apology on his site for the deletion, two days after posting a similar missive on's Kindle site.

"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of '1984' and other novels on Kindle," Bezos wrote in that latter message, which appeared on the site's community forum. "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles."

Describing the wound to the company as "self-inflicted," Bezos added, "We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."

At the time, users of the Kindle site's community board seemed to largely accept the apology.

"I just got my Kindle today," one poster wrote. "I can tell you the issue possibly of deleting copies without permission was considered heavily. Thank-you for respecting what shred of autonomy I have left."

Despite the controversy, Kindle devices have been selling at a healthy clip. Bezos admitted over the summer that Kindle-related sales have brought in 35 percent of his company's book-related revenue, although he has declined to offer exact figures. Other companies large and small, including Sony and Plastic Logic, have either launched or plan to launch their own e-readers in order to capitalize on what many view as a growing market.

However, some analysts also feel that the e-reader industry will need to make fairly substantial changes if it wants to collectively make its devices as ubiquitous as possible. In a September research note, Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps suggested that will need to ultimately lower its price point.

"The cost of the display component is high and sales volumes are still modest, yet consumers demand and expect ever-lower prices," Epps wrote. "The bottom line: E-reader product strategists will have to educate consumers and innovate to bring prices down. Even if they are entirely successful at both these feats, e-readers will never be mass-market devices like MP3 players."

The latest-generation Kindle DX sells for $489 and includes a 9.7-inch screen. The original Kindle retails for $299. In August, Sony announced two new e-readers with price points of $199 and $299, seemingly designed to take's pricing structure head-on.

The e-reader market could also be drastically affected if Apple's long-rumored tablet PC comes with integrated e-reading functionality. This could introduce yet another robust competitor into the space, especially if Apple chooses to begin selling digital books or other media through the iTunes store. 

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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