Thursday, August 14, 2014

Orwell estate hits back at Amazon's corporate 'doublespeak'

Representatives of George Orwell have described Amazon's selective quoting of the Nineteen Eighty-Four author as "dystopian and shameless" and "as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak".
Amazon turned to Orwell for support in its long-running and public clash over ebook terms with the publisher Hachette at the weekend, comparing their battle over ebook pricing ("We want lower ebook prices. Hachette does not") to the fight Penguin had when it introduced cheap paperbacks in the 1930s.
"The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them'," wrote Amazon in a letter to readers. "Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion."
But the full quote from Orwell runs: "The Penguin books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them." The discrepancy has been pointed out by a host of websites. "It's clear that Orwell is praising the paperback, not arguing for its abolition," wrote TechCrunch. "Only a fool or a businessman would twist that quote so completely. But that's exactly what Amazon did and that's horrible."
Bill Hamilton, a literary agent at AM Heath and the executor of the Orwell estate, has now written to the New York Times to say that "Amazon is using George Orwell's name in vain".
"It quotes Orwell out of context as supporting a campaign to suppress paperbacks, to give specious authority to its campaign against publishers over ebook pricing; and having gotten as much capital as it can out of waving around Orwell's name, Amazon then dismisses what was an ironic comment without engaging with Orwell's own detailed arguments, which eloquently contradict Amazon's," wrote Hamilton in his letter, calling the move "about as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak: turning the facts inside out to get a piece of propaganda across."
Hamilton described himself as "both appalled and wryly amused" by the situation, and added: "It doesn't say much for Amazon's regard for truth, or its powers of literary understanding. Or perhaps Amazon just doesn't care about the authors it is selling. If that's the case, why should we listen to a word it says about the value of books?"
Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell prize, an award for political writing set up in honour of the author, was equally outraged. "That Amazon should manipulate Orwell against the interests of writers and their publishers is dystopian and shameless," she said today. "Orwell, before he had any money, gave a lot of it away to poor and young and struggling writers. Amazon has no interest in writers and wants to throttle publishers. It is marching towards becoming a monopoly book and consequently a monopoly ideas provider – in order to maximise its commercial interest. A world in which all thought has to be bought from one place is Orwellian."
This is not the first time the retailer has run afoul of Orwell. In 2009, Kindle users found that copies of works by the author had mysteriously disappeared from their ereaders. Amazon said the remote deletion was down to a rights issue with the publisher. One user said it "sounds ironically like Big Brother is monitoring our Kindle content".