Friday, September 07, 2012

No Takebacks!

I bought a book last night at work. And I bought it in hardcover instead of for my nook. Why? Because I think it may disappear and I don't want it taken away.

NO EASY DAY by Mark Owen [Matt Bissonette] was supposedly vetted carefully by a special ops attorney before its publication this week. However, the Pentagon has serious concerns, and feel that the book releases classified information that affects the US national security.

It's entirely probable that the book will be recalled.

This isn't anything new. Two years ago, OPERATION DARK HEART, by Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer (ret.) was removed from shelves, purchased by the Department of Defense, and redacted of what DoD officials in several branches felt was classified information (though some news outlets questioned whether what was redacted ultimately posed much risk at all). It was returned from all the bookstores and distributors, and the publisher put out a redacted version, with all the black line redactions on the page.

Given that the DoD is concerned about the content of this book*, I believe that another recall is likely. So I purchased the book, knowing I was off work tomorrow and that the book may well be gone by the time I get to work on Saturday—either sold out, recalled, or both.

But here's the interesting part: I knew I needed to buy a paper copy. 

Since I own two e-reading devices, it briefly crossed my mind that perhaps I ought to look into buying an electronic copy.  But in 2009, in what had to be the most ironic move the company has ever made, Amazon deleted copies of Orwell's 1984 and ANIMAL FARM from readers' Kindle devices.

Readers were outraged, even though they were told that they removal was because their edition was plagiarized, and though they received refunds for the books.  Regardless of reason, the removal proved the additional power granted to the distributor of an e-reading device; unlike print, they can force an end-user return, even if the terms of service indicate otherwise. In print, there is no such ability; a publisher has no ability to break into your home to take your book away, nor can they require you to return it to the bookstore.

So this is still one major hurdle that e-reading needs to contend with. It is entirely possible for Amazon, B&N, Sony, Apple, or any of the content providers to yank all copies of a book which have been downloaded by their users. So far, this hasn't been used in a recall, for instance when Jonah Leherer's IMAGINE was pulled from shelves a few months ago for his own plagiarism, but the ability exists, and who's to say that a few years down the line, when e-readers are even more ubiquitous than they already are, that the idea that an ebook could be taken back becomes even more palatable?

Whether or not NO EASY DAY is pulled is yet to be seen, though I believe we'll have an answer presently. But what will be interesting is what, if anything, the e-tailers do with the electronic copies. Will they yank them and refund customers? Will they offer no time-limit, no-questions-asked refunds, as they did with Leherer?

And perhaps the more interesting question: should an e-tailer's ability to do a mass removal of an  e-book title ever be invoked?

For me, I'm not going to experiment. I bought a paper copy, and I'm calling "no takebacks."

*I do not in any way mean to downplay the DoD's concerns about the book's contents; I am not in the military and certainly not a Navy SEAL, and also have not yet read my copy of the book.  It is entirely probable that classified information has been divulged, and certainly clear that Bissonette violated the ethics of the SEAL community. I'm interested in this solely as it pertains to what I know, which is bookselling, publishing, and reading.


  1. This is such an interesting situation--eBooks seem to mean the reader buys the right to view and store the content, not a physical book. As a reader I would be upset if something I'd purchased was revoked, but as a publishing employee I can see why in some extreme cases that might be necessary.

    1. Exactly! And it's one of the big reasons I remain skeptical of ebook pricing getting anywhere near print pricing, even though I used to work on the business management end of publishing and know exactly how little of a book's cost is in the printing. But ebooks are a fundamentally different animal in terms of what you're getting, and I think that reduction in end-user privilege should be accounted for.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I have so many issues with the control Amazon and such have over their e-books you don't want to get me started. Let's just say I love my Kindle, but I think Amazon needs to be more forthright about their e-book practices.

    Great post! I'm a new follower!

    1. Thanks for the comment! And yes, Amazon really makes me scratch my head about the way they handle ebooks. Supposedly, the backlash from the 1984 thing was enough to scare them away from ever taking books back again, but they *can* do it, and who's to say, once people get more used to the idea that an e-book is basically a license, they won't do it again?

      It's a really interesting conundrum when you look at a situation like this. With the Leherer book recall, we (being B&N) were required to return the book to the publisher, and we offered a no-questions-asked refund to customers, but very few took advantage of it. You can't force a customer to bring back their product...unless it's on their device...

    2. Oh and thank you for the follow and welcome! Meant to put that at the end and then hit enter too soon. :)


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