Financial News

  • 15 August 2014, 12:14

George Orwell Estate Rips Amazon 'Doublespeak'

George Orwell's estate has accused Amazon of "doublespeak" after the online retailer invoked the famous author in a battle over ebook prices.

Literary executor Bill Hamilton said Amazon had twisted the novelist's words, and compared the company to the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

Amazon has been delaying delivery of the publisher Hachette's books, preventing pre-orders and removing discounts, amid a bitter fight over ebook terms.

Nearly 1,000 writers, including Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell and Donna Tartt, co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop using them as hostages in a bid to increase its market share.

Amazon, which wants to drive down ebook prices, countered last week in a message posted on its website.

It cited an Orwell essay in an attempt to illustrate how mass-market paperbacks reinvigorated the book industry in the 1930s, despite some publishers' fears that such cheaper editions would ruin the business.

Amazon wrote: "The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.' Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion."

But critics swiftly pointed out that Orwell had been quoted out of context because he was actually writing in support of paperbacks, praising them as "splendid value". 

In his 1936 essay, the Animal Farm writer also said: "It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade."

Mr Hamilton said in a letter published in the New York Times that Amazon's move was "about as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak: turning the facts inside out to get a piece of propaganda across".

He wrote: "I'm both appalled and wryly amused that Amazon's tactics should come straight out of Orwell's own nightmare dystopia, '1984.'" 

It is not the retailer's first brush with Orwell.

In 2009, it erased the author's works from its Kindle ebook devices amid a publishing rights issue.

Advertisement