Jeff Bezos's Kindle apology: please tell us what the Kindle can do

As Mark posted yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has extended a really heartfelt apology for Amazon's ham-fisted remote deletion of Orwell's 1984 from Kindles last week. The company offering the book for sale through Amazon didn't have the US rights (but US copyright law doesn't say anything about Amazon chasing down customers and taking unlicensed books back from them if it makes a mistake like this). I believe Jeff is sincere. I think he's a good guy, and I think that Amazon, is, generally, the best etailer around, with incredibly customer-friendly terms of sale and service for physical goods. Amazon is my first choice for everything from hard drives to CDs to electronics to small furniture items.

But when it comes to digital delivery, the picture is very different. Amazon won't even tell publishers, writers, or readers what kinds of mischief the Kindle can do — in the months since its release, we've learned that Amazon will shut off your Kindle account for returning physical purchases if it doesn't think you're sincere; we've learned that Amazon can remotely delete files from your Kindle; we've learned that Amazon has a secret deal with some publishers to limit the number of times you can download Kindle books; we've learned that Amazon can selectively switch off features on books after you buy them, such as the text-to-speech feature.

And what's more, we've learned this all the hard way, because it bit customers on the ass.

Further, Amazon won't say what else is lurking in the Kindle. Specifically, they won't say:

* Whether the Kindle EULA or other terms forbid moving Kindle's "DRM-free" books to competing devices

* Whether there is a patent or other encumbrance that would make it illegal to build a competing device that can read or convert the "DRM-free" files

* What after-purchase control Amazon can exercise on "DRM-free" files: can they be remotely deleted? Can they have features revoked?

This is basic stuff: if you're going to sell a product, you should tell the purchaser what she's getting. It's not a radical proposition, and the fact that Amazon, with its stellar, customer-oriented real-goods business won't disclose these basic facts shocks me silly.

I want to love the Kindle. It's my kind of gizmo. If Amazon comes clean about what it can and can't do, and offers a way to sell and buy books without any of this control stuff, I'll be their biggest cheerleader. In the last year, my Boing Boing book reviews sold 25,000 (real) books through Amazon — given half a chance, I'd start reviewing DRM-free ebooks here, too.

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

An Apology from Amazon

(via Make)