Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos tendered an apology on his site for last week's deletion of two George Orwell e-books from users' Kindle devices.
Around July 16, Kindle users realized that copies of "Animal Farm" and "1984" had disappeared from their e-readers' archived items library. Around the same time, an e-mail from Amazon.com refunding the purchase price for the books appeared in users' in-boxes.
As chatter online erupted, with many commenting on the irony of the online retailer pulling a book that dealt with themes of totalitarian control and Big Brother, Amazon.com issued a statement on July 17 stating that the works by Orwell had been pulled because the Kindle publisher did not own the rights.
"When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers," Drew Herdener, a spokesperson with Amazon.com, told The New York Times.
However, customers still seemed disturbed that Amazon.com would reach into their libraries and remove a book, necessitating Bezos to step forward and offer something of a heartfelt mea culpa.
"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of '1984' and other novels on Kindle," Bezos wrote in a July 23 community-forum posting on Amazon.com's Kindle site. "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," the note concluded. "We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."
Further postings on the board seemed to suggest that the apology had, by a large percentage of readers, been accepted.
"Thanks. It wasn't that big a deal anyway," wrote one.
"I just got my Kindle today," another reported. "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."
Amazon.com has been scrambling for a dominant position in the potentially lucrative e-reader market, which could earn the retailer billions of dollars in coming years. Doug Anmuth of Barclays Capital recently estimated that the device could earn Amazon.com $1.2 billion in sales in 2010 and $3.7 billion in 2012.
However, Amazon.com also faces increased competition, including an e-reader from startup Plastic Logic that will be released in early 2010 and utilize AT&T's 3G network to download documents and books wirelessly. Plastic Logic, however, is angling itself more to capitalize on the mobile business professionals segment, emphasizing the device's ability to download and display Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents.