by Paul Katz
I assumed I had book smarts in the Digital Age. Crammed into several shelves in my living room are 600 tomes of all shapes, sizes and genres, but slipped into the top shelf is a Kindle loaded with 100 titles. In my tiny Brooklyn apartment, buying a digital e-book reader seemed like a clever space-saving move. But according to Amazon, I don’t actually own those digital editions.
A brouhaha began three weeks ago when Amazon discovered that e-book versions of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (oh, the irony!) had been sold to customers by a company that didn’t properly own the rights. Amazon’s response: wirelessly delete the titles from each Kindle and refund the purchase price.
But Amazon never notified consumers before zapping the books out of existence. The move sparked a massive backlash, furious debate over the definition of ownership in the digital age and a promise from Amazon: “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances” (NYTimes.com 7.17.09).
The rules over content ownership in the 21st century are still being hashed out, but all companies can learn a lesson about transparency from the hubbub. In the online and offline world, consumers have the highest expectations of being kept firmly in the loop about any move that affects them. Businesses had best read that writing on the wall.