Between the covers

What’s really going on in the world of books

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Clever old Amazon is now mangling George Orwell in its increasingly bizarre bid to sell to readers as wholly reasonable its bid for complete world domination.

In a new open letter to book lovers, Amazon compared the publishing industry’s incalcitrance over ebook prices to the days of the dawn of the paperback. Then, Amazon accused Orwell (below) of “collusion”, for writing that if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against [paperbacks] and suppre

ss them”. Of course, what he really said was: “Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence. So splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.” Ah.

Our own D J Taylor, the author of Orwell: The Life (a bargain £12.99 from all good bookshops) says: “I think we can take it that Orwell was being ironic. Amazon are being disingenuous when they say they are on the side of the reader. What Amazon really wants is make a lot of money and run its own cartel.”

Of course, it is not unusual for subtlety to be lost on Amazon. Nor is it surprising that they don’t understand what Orwell was on about. After all, in 2009 Amazon reached into customers’ Kindles and remotely deleted some (paid for) digital editions of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

Since Amazon is so keen on quoting Orwell, let’s share some of his insights from “Shooting an Elephant”. The 1936 essay is about political writing, but many of the points it makes apply equally well to, say, 21st-century writing about retail. For instance: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely in the defence of the indefensible.” Or: “Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

In its open letter, Amazon also gave out the personal email address of the CEO of Hachette and encouraged readers to email him to complain. We would retaliate by printing the direct line for Amazon’s press office, but there’d be no point – they never answer the phone, anyway.