Amazon Will Correct Your Error-Filled Ebooks, Nervously

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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:

Amazon will not remotely delete or modify such Works from Devices purchased and being used in the United States unless (a) the user consents to such deletion or modification; (b) the user requests a refund for the Work or otherwise fails to pay for the Work (e.g., if a credit or debit card issuer declines to remit payment); (c) a judicial or regulatory order requires such deletion or modification; or (d) deletion or modification is reasonably necessary to protect the consumer or the operation of a Device or network through which the Device communicates (e.g., to remove harmful code embedded within a copy of a Work downloaded to a Device).


I'm sympathetic with the argument against Amazon remotely destroying books customers have paid for and downloaded, but this seems like a bit much, no? Another question: Is Amazon issuing updates this indirectly because it wants to be cautious, or because it'd be difficult to issue update to Kindle books directly, and prompt the user on his device? I mean, it seems easy enough.

Update: To clarify, I'm taking issue with just how cautious they seem to have been forced to be. I wouldn't want stealth updates, but a direct, on-device update prompt—as with mobile and desktop software—would make more sense than a request for an email response, and seems to have been made more complicated in fear of a court order.
[Teleread via WSJ Digits]