Amazon screwed the pooch a half-dozen ways when it deleted those books from customers' Kindles, but its biggest mistake was not admitting it had done anything wrong. That just got rectified. Jeffrey P. Bezos himself logged onto the discussion on Amazon's user forums and posted the following mea culpa:
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.
How about a nice merlot to wash down that crow, Mr. CEO? Still, kudos to Bezos for finally sucking it up and doing the right thing.
How should Amazon have reacted when it learned people had purchased books that technically should not have been available to them? How about sending an e-mail to the users affected, asking them to voluntarily delete the books, and offering not only a refund but some kind of make-good (like a free e-book, or $10 off their next purchase)? After all, it was Amazon who screwed up, not its customers. And if the people decided to keep their 99-cent books? Well, not much harm done there, ultimately. I'm sure George Orwell's descendents would have survived the loss of income.
Now Amazon needs to clearly define how its going to handle situations like that in the future -- not with some vague promise that "we won't make that mistake again," but something that draws a line where they believe customers' rights to own the stuff they bought actually ends, and what Amazon will or won't do as a result.
You'd think folks as smart as those at Amazon -- which defined the state of the art in e-commerce and continues to kick everyone else's heinies at it -- would realize this. But it's not a lack of intelligence that's the problem; it's a surplus of hubris. Too bad it took something this egregious for Amazon to learn some humility.
What's the best way to handle digital rights problems? Post your thoughts below or e-mail them to me: email@example.com. I might even end up quoting you.