If a paper book contains an embarrassing error, publishers and authors just grit their teeth until the next edition comes out. If an ebook contains the same, publishers can just issue a correction, right? For Amazon, it's not that simple.
The pragmatic approach to error correction in ebooks would be to simply update the book. Amazon Kindles and B&N Nooks have constant access to the web, so sending out a minor patch just makes sense. It's how anything online works—issue an update, and notify readers or viewers that you've done as much. And that's apparently what Amazon is trying, sort of. Here's the email Teleread's Paul Biba was recently sent, via WSJ Digits:
An updated version of An Enemy of the State is now available. It's important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will lose any highlights, your last page read, and bookmarks made in your current version and the locations of any notes may not match the updated copy of the book.
Thanks, Amazon! But here's the interesting part: In order to get the update, Biba was told he would need to email back, and explicitly approve it. Amazon won't reach into your Kindle and fix that word transposition on your ebook's first page; they won't even prompt you to do it, directly. They'll ask you to ask for an updated copy.
The reason Amazon has to be so timid about ebook updates stems back to that mass-deletion fiasco from late last year, when Amazon remotely zapped copies of 1984 without asking its users. For this, they were sued. Successfully! And along with an $150,000 payout to the plaintiff, their settlement included this language: