Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Next Victim of Kindle’s Big Brother

I’ve spent the summer finishing up a YA book that my agent will, with any luck, be able to sell after I finish up the third and final draft. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it later, but for the sake of taking a break from the wonderful world of revision, I thought I’d take the time to write a blog about something very curious that I’ve seen happening in the Kindle store.

By now everyone is probably familiar with the big Kindle hiccup that happened at the start of the summer with George Orwell’s 1984. It wasn’t all that odd since the book was still in copyright. In the past couple weeks, Amazon started doing something that is a bit odd: pulling public domain books from the self.

Public domain books by Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Jack London, Aldous Huxley, and literally hundreds of other popular public domain books mysteriously vanished at the end of August.

Yesterday, Amazon announced that it will begin removing all duplicate Public Domain titles, which at least solves the question of the disappearing eBooks.

People who have Kindles are probably aware that publishers by the thousands have uploaded works that are in public domain and sold them for profit. Most of these titles are likely just books that people took off Project Gutenberg and reformatted for Kindle.

They claim the reason for the new policy is to make things less confusing for the consumer because there are too many copies of one work by different publishers. I don’t think it’s confusing at all, which is why I think there’s something else behind it.

My guess is there’s going to be some bigger announcement by Amazon regarding public domain by the end of the year. Which begs the question: what happens if I want to re-download a book that was removed because of this new policy? And further isn't this make a little bit too much of a monopoly for the company? Publishers big and small have successfully republished public domain works with new covers and different authors providing introductions for the past hundred years. A larger percentage of the publishing industry is made up of this kind of practice. For Amazon to say that they will only let one publisher sell something like Huck Finn seems a little odd, and frankly illegal to me.


Andrys Basten said...

Scott, I left a reply at lisnews.org which reposted your story. Here's what I wrote, thinking I was writing to you.

Let's not get carried away.
The Project Gutenberg books are directly downloadable to the Kindle and have been for some tme. That's 30,000 books. The steps for doing this are on my site and others'.

Those who Kindle can get books direct to the Kindle from feedbooks.com, manybooks.net ( use mnybks.net to actually download the books to Kindle) and even fictionwise.com now owned by Barnes & Noble.

Amazon will not, after '1984gate' be deleting any books you've purchased which were uploaded to Amazon... mainly because they'd lose their entire Kindle crowd if they did that again and they know it.
And they certainly won't be deleting material you got elsewhere.

On the Amazon forums there is a popular and humongous thread of about 1200+ posts from which many learn about how to get books from everywhere else, and how to quickly convert them, as needed, for the Kindle.

And I've written a piece on how to quickly convert any of the million free Google books so you can read them on the Kindle.

As for the public domain books, we can get them from just about anywhere. What customers have complained about is the never-ending proliferation of public domain books on Amazon, some of which have no table of contents, are badly formatted, have all kinds of errors, because Amazon had let everything up in the digital-publishing upload area, within a day.

They are now, from what I read on Amazon forums, doing 5-day reviews of uploaded material. Harry Potter books were uploaded almost daily - but the author refuses to make them available for the Kindle and those are then obviously illegal uploads. Amazon customers reported lots of occurrences of such things.

If Amazon will have only one version of a public domain maybe they'll choose only those with working Table of Contents hyperlinks and correctly formatted etc. My guess is they'd have two or or most three Amazon chosen ones for the free-option. If it were only one and the best in their minds, for free, then that's their prerogative and we have less work to do when trying to get a book. I had to download and check out samples for about 12 versions of the Devil's Dictionary and most were missing essential things like working Table of Contents.

As it turns out, the best one I found came from an individual posting at Mobileread forums and was free. So that's what I'm using.

Remember we can read MOBI or PRC files on the Kindle and rights-unprotected documents will be converted by Amazon (for free if you send it to [you]@free.kindle.com] and then move the converted copy to the Kindle yourself. Many of us just run it through a free converter ourselves.

- Andrys

Andrys Basten said...

By the way, Scott - thank you for letting us know about the announcement. It makes sense to me due to the many customer complaints on forums about duplicates, and they say they'll review an edition important to customers when requested.

Scott Douglas said...

Hi Andrys,

Thanks for the comment; you are correct, there are plenty of places to get PD books. I get them from Amazon just because of convenience--it is, after all, only a buck for a work of art, which is a bargain.

But I do disagree about having only one PD book; it leaves Amazon to police what book is best, which I don't think is wise.

Let's say some publisher wants to post an edition of a PD book with illustration; to some that would be important, to others not so much--the consumer should get to pick what they want. Or maybe someone gets a big author to write a intro to the work--I'd like the chance to read that.

I think Amazon has a problem with PD books, but I don't believe wiping out the books almost entirely. I have some MOBI books that were recently taken off the Kindle store (I'm assuming because of this policy), and I find there's better than a lot of what's out there. I don't think they're going to review each book to find the best book possible (that's too time consuming).

If they really wanted to be kind to the consumer, they'd just offer quality books for free; the Guttenberg ones free on the Kindle store are horribly formatted.