On a dark and stormy night, an employee of your local bookstore strolls into your home, starts tossing books you’d purchased over the last few years into a box, and – despite your protest – takes them all away without saying a word.
Thankfully that’s not what happened to Linn Jordet Nygaard. Well, not exactly. The Norwegian woman found herself on the wrong side of bureaucracy, but the outcome was much the same (without as much mud on the carpet): Amazon turned off her Kindle account, blocking her from her own books. And they wouldn’t tell her why.
“Two weeks ago my Kindle started showing stripes on the screen and I contacted Amazon support,” Nygaard told NBC News. “Someone immediately found the Kindle in the system and told me they would replace it free of charge. They could only ship the replacement to UK because it was originally purchased there, and I told them I would find an address the next day. (I live in Norway, but have a friend who lives in London.)”
Nygaard was pleased with Amazon’s prompt service, she told us, even though this was her second Kindle to fall victim to “stripes” on the ePaper screen.
But when Nygaard attempted to log into her Amazon account the next day, her account was suspended – and with it access to her library of 43 books.
Those friendly phone-based customer support folks couldn’t access Nygaard’s account either, and she was passed on to “account specialists” who only communicated via email. That’s when things took a Kafkaesque turn (as documented by her friend, Martin Bekkelund, on his blog). A man named Michael Murphy with Amazon UK’s “Executive Customer Relations” told Nygaard her account had been determined to be “directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.” Which policies? He wouldn’t say. What other account? Murphy wouldn’t share that, either.
Instead, Murphy would only pass on this shrilly authoritarian boilerplate:
Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.
Please know that any attempt to open a new account will meet with the same action.
Now just to spoil the story, I’ll skip to the happy ending for Nygaard: After taking her story public, Amazon saw the error of their ways and restored her Kindle library. She’s still waiting on her replacement Kindle, but in the meantime has access to her library through the Kindle iOS app on her iPad.
But Amazon doesn’t get off the hook so easily. When we reached out to the company Monday, their PR representative would only send us a canned response they’d dropped into their customer forum: “We would like to clarify our policy on this topic. Account status should not affect any customer’s ability to access their library.” (Amazon loves copying-and-pasting, it seems.) Our follow up question – “Why wasn’t [Nygaard] told why her account was cancelled?” – hasn’t been answered yet.
And it probably won’t be. Nygaard’s little dust-up with Amazon isn’t, in and of itself, a big deal. But it serves as a bitter reminder that we don’t ever truly own the digital goods and software we buy online. Instead, we rent them, or hold them in a sort of long-term lease, the terms of which are brokered and policed exclusively by the leaseholder.
As Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow put it in a blog post yesterday:
This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your “purchases” (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labeled with words like “Buy this with one click” – I suppose “Conditionally license this with one click” is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.
The core issue might actually be a simple matter of semantics: when we click a digital button that is labelled “Buy,” we expect that we’re actually buying something. But we’re not buying anything, we’re licensing it. Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the first-sale doctrine does not apply to software – or e-books. Or apps. Nor pretty much everything you “Buy” online that doesn’t get shipped to your home in a cardboard box.
Those long End User License Agreements you have to read before you use a new piece of software? Those are are legally binding, because you’ve clicked a button labeled “Agree.” But for some reason, online retailers can label their buttons “Buy” when they actually mean “Rent,” and there’s nothing we can do about it save filing a lawsuit.
You could call Nygaard’s experience a tempest in a teapot, a matter of a few hundred dollars worth of goods that, after a little public outcry, were fixed without issue. But you’d still be pretty angry if and when it happens to you. (It is worth noting that despite Amazon’s stated policy that customers can still access their previously purchased Kindle library even if their account is suspended, Nygaard couldn’t download her books to a new device because her account was suspended.
As she explained to us, “Before I started emailing Mr. Murphy, I could not log in to my account from Web or iPhone. And my Kindle screen was broken so the fact that the books were still there didn’t help me much.”
I was curious if there was any merit to my idea of attempting to hold retailers to these “Truth in Buttons” terms, so I asked Intellectual Property attorney Seth Greenstein, who wrote about about case law for reselling e-books a couple years back, if the notion held water. As Greenstein explained in an email to NBC News, it’s not all completely settled:
In the patent context, the Supreme Court this term has granted review of a case to determine whether first sale privileges are defeated by a purchase “with conditions.” Typically this arises where the seller marks products “single use only.” The question is whether that is enforceable only under contract law, in which case it applies only to the purchaser; or, as a matter of patent law, against anybody. Why does this make a difference? Take a case I litigated in which Lexmark placed a “single use” type of restriction on its cartridge boxes attempting to prevent its aftermarket competitors from refurbishing and refilling cartridges and selling them for far less than the price of a new cartridge. If the restriction is upheld under patent law, Lexmark could claim these aftermarket companies infringe its patents. If not, the aftermarket competitors may be lawful. The courts found that the first sale doctrine (called “patent exhaustion”) trumpted the single use restriction. Now the Supreme Court will have the last word.
If the world’s governments determine that customers don’t have the same right of ownership over digital goods as we do over our material goods, the least they could do is force companies Amazon to be truthful about what is sold, and what is actually just rented. And it will probably take a lawsuit or legislative action to force Amazon to speak truthfully about the transactions, if only because it changes the perceived value in a customer’s mind: $15 to rent a file that contains a book that can be taken away from you at any time, without explanation or recourse, starts to sound a little expensive.
In a Santa Monica Airport hangar on Thursday, Amazon announced its latest round of Kindles and related services. Overall, they look pretty impressive.
After a big corporate self-hug as CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage, Amazon focused on three key items: new Kindle Readers, new Kindle Fires, and enhancements to the Amazon ecosystem tying them all together. (For more analysis on the new products and services, see What The New Kindle Means To Amazon.)
The New Kindle Fires
Amazon’s Kindle Fire line is getting a much-needed hardware boost designed to help it compete with Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and, to some degree, the iPad (more on that later). The entry-level, 7-inch Fire tablet is now priced at $159 (down from $199), with double the RAM and a claimed 40% speed boost.
But the real story is the Kindle Fire HD units.
The 7″ Kindle Fire HD is a massive upgrade for $40, and is aimed squarely at the Nexus 7. It comes with 16GB of storage (with an optional upgrade to 32GB), a 1280×800 HD screen, dual-antenna dual-band Wi-Fi, Dolby Digital Plus audio, front-facing camera, stereo speakers and a zippy TI OMAP4 4470 Processor. Amazon estimates the 7″ unit’s battery life at 11 hours. Pre-orders are available now, and the Kindle Fire HD 7 is due to ship on September 14.
But wait, there’s more. Amazon also debuted a larger 8.9″ version aimed squarely at the Apple iPad, with prices starting at just $299. This 8.8mm thick, 20 oz. unit sports a 254 pixels-per-inch display with 1920×1200 resolution. It’s battery life should be somewhere below that of the 7-inch model when it ships November 20.,
Then there’s the Kindle Fire 8.9″ HD 4G, starting at $499. This model boosts the default storage to 32GB and adds a custom 4G LTE modem. Even more intersting, thought, Amazon’s base 4G data plan offers 250MB/month for just $50 per year – plus a $10 app credit. Power users will want to upgrade to more expensive 3GB/month or 5GB/month plans from AT&T, but the base package might be enough to let you download books and surf the Web when you’re not near a Wi-Fi connection.
Bezos opened the event by saying that “people don’t want gadgets anymore. They want services.” And he explictly described the Kindle itself as a service.
There were also plenty of actual services announced, too, as Bezos tried to showcase an integrated Amazon ecosystem:
He showed Whispersync for Games, which saves game progress in the cloud so you can pick up your game on another device.
He demoed Whispersync for Voice, which lets you listen to an audiobook and then pick up where you left off in a regular e-book.
He showed X-Ray for video, which pulls content from IMDB and suggestions from the Amazon store when you pause a video on a Kindle Fire HD.
He got a round of applause from parents for Kindle FreeTime, which allows parents to set user-based time limits on different types of media (for example, unlimited reading, but only x hours of gaming).
No single service will be reason for most users to buy a Kindle, of course, so Bezos also pressed what he saw as Amazon’s most potent weapon in the tablet wars: content.
No vendor other than Apple can offer a closed-loop ecosystem with as much content as Amazon has. If Bezos can bring that content to bear in a complete, high-quality system at an atttractive price point, Google will have a lot to worry about… and Barnes & Noble should be very, very scared.
The Kindle Reader
The big news for e-readers was the Kindle Paperwhite, a new device with a higher-resolution, front-lit screen. Amazon has upped the pixel density to 212 pixels per inch, and text really does look crisper than it does on previous generation readers. As a result, the Paperwhite offers greater font flexibility, and in a moderately well-lit room, even the smallest font size in a number of different fonts was perfectly readable at arm’s length.
Unlike backlit screens, which project a light from toward the user, the Paperwhite’s front-lit screen mimics ambient lighting and creates 25% greater contrast than previous Kindle screens while using less battery power, the company said. Amazon claims eight weeks of usage with the light on between charges.
In theory, this should reduce eyestrain. Without time to test the unit under a variety of conditions, it’s impossible to confirm, but ad hoc tests of the demo system looked promising. There’s also a new feature called Time To Read, which estimates a running total of the time left in a chapter or book based on your reading habits, and X-Ray, a hyperlinked meta-glossary that allows readers to track characters, concepts and other information. For example, a user could jump from a passage to a character’s biography, then skip to each of her appearances in the book. This feature could be especially useful on textbooks.
The Wi-Fi Paperwhite starts at $119, and the 3G version will retail for $179. Amazon also announced a refresh to the previous-generation, $79 Reader, with upgraded fonts, faster page turns, and a $10 drop in price to $69.
It looks like Amazon will be revealing more than just a refreshed version of its Kindle Fire tablet next week. An updated Kindle Touch – or possibly a completely new e-reader – with a new kind of ‘Paperwhite’ display may also be on the way.
The rumors surrounding forthcoming Apple products somehow feel a little flat this time around; there’s a strong air of inevitability about what the Cupertino company will be unveiling next month. We kind of know an iPhone is about to be unveiled; we’re kind of certain an iPad Mini will be revealed.
So it actually makes a welcome change to see another company, Amazon in this case, at the center of a few rumors regarding upcoming products.
Pushing in ahead of Apple’s expected September 12 event, Amazon recently announced a press conference for September 6 in Santa Monica.
Besides the likely launch of a new Kindle Fire tablet, a rumor (a rumor!) has emerged relating to the possibility of new line of e-readers from the online retail giant.
The Verge got hold of some promotional images – though it makes no mention of how it came by them – of what it says appear to show a refreshed Kindle Touch e-reader. The button at the bottom of the device has been taken away, and the bezel has been noticeably darkened when compared with the current Touch model.
According to text accompanying the images, the device will come with “higher contrast, high resolution, integrated lighting, and eight weeks of battery life.” The integrated lighting would put the device up against Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, which made its debut in May.
The photos also reveal a new ‘Paperwhite’ feature, which suggest a different kind of display is on the way, replacing or improving upon the Pearl E Ink display used with Amazon’s current e-readers. Whether Paperwhite refers merely to the display, or will be the name of a new e-reader, isn’t altogether clear at this stage.
In other Kindle-related news, Amazon issued a statement on Thursday announcing that its Kindle Fire tablet had sold out. The company thanked “the millions of customers who have made Kindle Fire the most successful product launch in the history of Amazon.” Hang on a minute, there’s another strong air of inevitably wafting around here – that’s right, alongside any new e-readers, we can also expect to see the launch of Amazon’s next-generation Kindle Fire on September 6.
Between clients for the PC and Mac and functionality on mobile devices, Amazon’s got no shortage of methods for helping users get content onto their Kindles. Just in case you still weren’t happy with the available options, however, the mega-retailer has extended the list to include a Send-to-Kindle Chrome extension that lets users send posts, stories and various other content to their e-readers. The extension lets users preview content and limited it to selected text, as well. Amazon’s also promising similar functionality for Firefox and Safari “soon.” Check the source link below to download the offering.
The filing shows what appears to be a 10-inch tablet, which falls in line with rumors that Amazon has plans to launch a larger version of the Kindle Fire.
Amazon is also expected to update the 7-inch Kindle Fire with a better screen. It’s also likely its line of black and white e-readers will get an update.
The whispers and smoke and noise about the rumored iPad mini—an iPad that would be 7.85-inches in screen size—are definitely getting louder. It’s by no means real yet, but the iPad mini could very well be an actual thing. But what would it look like? Tweeter TrojanKitten points outthat unlike the twinsies nature of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, the iPad mini would house a different form factor from its 7-inch contemporaries, with a different sized screen.
The rumored iPad mini would very probably definitely share the same 4:3 aspect ratio of the current iPad, which (among other reasons) would call for a 7.85-inch screen as opposed to the flat 7-inch screen of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. So though in name the iPad Mini might be a “7-inch tablet”, the rumored dimensions of it have it as nearly 40% larger than 7-inch tablets and two-thirds the size of the original iPad. That means the iPad mini is still a pretty decent amount bigger than the 7-inch tablets Google and Amazon have been clamoring to make. Is that small enough or would that still be too big? Only Apple knows for now. [TrojanKitten Yfrogvia Daring Fireball]
We knew that there would be another Kindle Fire at some point, but we didn’t know when it would arrive, or exactly what it’d look like. If the latest report from the China Times is true, however, we can expect Amazon’s new slate to ship around August 7th. Like the first Fire, this new version will be built by Quanta, with a metal chassis and displays provided by LG and Panasonic. Other details, like its size or the contents within said metallic frame, are still nowhere to be found. What we can tell you is that the new tablet can’t get here fast enough for Amazon given the Fire’s declining sales numbers and its freshcompetition from Mountain View.
Update: Looks like something was lost in translation — it turns out the China Times report actually states that the new Kindle Fire is set to make its appearance in July or August, not specifically on August 7th.
Amazon is said to be working on the next version of the Kindle Fire with more premium materials, including some type of metal casing. But perhaps even better (depending on your size preferences), the long-standing rumor that Amazon is allegedly working on a 10-inch tablet have resurfaced.
BGR reports that “Amazon is finally ready to move forward with the [10-inch] tablet.” General rumors include a quad-core processor and a higher quality screen than the original fire, along with the obvious size bump. But the original 7-inch Fire is also due for a revamp, and the same source reports a “chrome-look rib” in the brand new metal casing on the device’s back (which will replace the plastic soft-touch shell on first-gen models), and a thinner profile.
There is also talk of a front-facing camera, microUSB and HDMIout port on the 10-inch model, with no buttons to be seen on either device. BGR’s report claims that the tablets are “thinner versions of the iPad”, and if true, this could eventually ignite a patent war on a new front for both companies.
We’ve also recently heard that the new Fire will cost the same as the original, despite the spec bump, at $199, while the original Fire will get cut to $150. This is good news to both consumers and Amazon, as the ecommerce giant can afford to take a loss on hardware as long as it’s outweighed by digital content sales.
Rumors suggest that Amazon will announce the new tablets in late July, but that’s still unconfirmed.
Put down War and Peace for just a second. If you’re a Kindle user on iOS, Android or Amazon’s Cloud Reader, a new update brings children’s books, graphic novels and comics to your virtual library. The children’s titles will support Kindle Text Pop-Up to help boost the size of the words and spare your little one’s eyes. Comics, however, get the Kindle Panel View treatment — on supported titles — that’ll keep that analog format’s frame-by-frame style. An iOS-only tweak adds title- and author search of your library, plus smaller margins on the iPad. Android tablet owners and Cloud Readers, on the other hand, can now enjoy a two-page view. The updates are available starting today, so fold the corner on the source links, or head straight to the next chapter.
If it’s the end of a financial quarter, there must be another chronicle of the iPad swelling Apple’s money pile and its tablet competitors trying in vain to chip off more for themselves. And with 11.8 million shipped by Cupertino out of 18.2 million slates total, that’s pretty much the case — with a minor shuffle of those “other guys” the only other tidbit. To wit, Amazon’s Kindle petered into third spot only a quarter after trumpeting its ascension to number two, and Samsung displaced it as distant runner-up with sales of 1.1 million tabs. The most wide-eyed in the Korean maker’s camp might point to Apple being topped in the rate of 3G / 4G tablets sold, but with eight times the sales of WiFi models, we doubt Apple’s number-crunchers are losing any sleep over it. Per usual, the full report can be seen in the source link.