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Amazon CEO apologizes for removing digital books

Bezos calls the move 'stupid, thoughtless'

July 24, 2009 09:45 AM ET

Computerworld - In an era when corporate CEOs are urged by consultants to quickly apologize for mistakes, Amazon.com's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has taken that advice to heart.

In an extraordinary blog posted yesterday, Bezos apologized for Amazon's handling of illegally sold copies of George Orwell's 1984 and other novels on the Amazon Kindle e-reader.

"Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles," Bezos wrote. "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."

He signed his missive with the comment, "With deep apology to our customers."

Customers praised his statement on the same Kindle forum Bezos used, with one post from Bryan Wheeler saying, "that took a lot of courage ... Still a very loyal Amazon customer here."

Others were less trusting, with LASoundCrafter adding, "Thank you for your mia culpa.[sic] Now it will be interesting to see how Amazon handles future (possible) illegal downloads and potential license holder's lawsuits." That poster added that maybe Amazon should search out ownership before a posting is allowed.

On July 16, Amazon removed the novels from its Kindle e-book store, as well as any digital trace of the books. That meant the e-books were stricken from users' digital lockers as well as Kindle devices. Some commenters noted the irony of Amazon's pulling the novels 1984 and Animal Farm, calling the move Orwellian, referring to the totalitarian state depicted in Orwell's dystopic novels. They also used the comments as an opportunity to compare buying a physical book, which can't be taken back, to buying a digital one.

Amazon refunded the price of the books, 99 cents, and sent e-mails to its affected customers explaining that the deleted books had been added to its bookstore by a third party using Amazon's self-service platform. The third party did not have the rights to the books, Amazon said. The online retailer also said it would no longer delete books in the same manner.

"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," Amazon said in an e-mail statement to customers. "We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances."

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