Burning the Kindle


I'm not one to tell billionaires what to do, but Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and his confidants in the company's executive ranks ought to take a hard look at the increasingly disturbing ways they're undermining the honeymoon afforded the much-ballyhooed Kindle e-reader.

Amazon's hard-earned reputation as an e-commerce trailblazer is taking some hits of late, as pundits question the company's practices, most notably its gouging of publishers who want their content on the coveted device, and its regrettable decision to remotely delete "unauthorized" digital copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm that had been downloaded to Kindles and iPhones.

Not surprisingly, the latter move is not only the subject of a class action suit; it also has generated a petition from the Free Software Foundation that questions Amazon's commitment to privacy.

All of this, just months after the company was publicly flogged for removing gay and lesbian titles from its rankings, a move that couldn't possibly be helping with Kindle sales in the gay and lesbian community.

There are very few things Amazon can do to erode its dominance of the online book market, not to mention the online toy, media and electronics markets. But manipulating rankings, stealing back product and skimming more profits from struggling publishers certainly won't make customers--gay or straight--feel better about doing business with Amazon.

The company's actions reek of arrogance. Regardless of follow-up responses designed to achieve damage control, wielding power to control suppliers, authors and customers isn't a strategy that will serve it well. Amazon has basically been telling the market, "We're the only game in town, so we make the rules. Like it or lump it." It's a monopolistic tone that sounds an awful lot like another company in the Seattle area. (As a side note, IT departments availing themselves of the cloud computing resources offered by Amazon Web Services should keep an eye out for signs that this arrogance is spilling into that unit.)

As for the future of the Kindle, if Amazon's not careful, it could find itself following in the music industry's footsteps, its market usurped by a more savvy and customer-friendly Apple. Speculation abounds that the touch-sensitive tablet Steve Jobs & Co. is expected to announce next month could prove to be a Kindle-killer, much the way the iPod and iTunes have taken control of digital music, and the iPhone has redefined the mobile phone market.

I fully expect the Apple tablet to challenge the Kindle out of the gate, and most likely usurp its market-leading position in relatively short order. Then, once Amazon finds itself playing second fiddle, we'll see how much power it chooses to wield.


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