As its battle with “Big Five” book publisher Hachette rages on, Amazon released an open letter urging people to email Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch arguing that lower e-book prices are good for everyone.
In its letter, Amazon uses a quote from George Orwell, the famed “1984” author — but takes the line out of context and gets its meaning totally wrong.
Amazon starts the letter by explaining that when paperback books were first introduced, the industry thought that they would ruin literary culture. Amazon’s Books team quotes Orwell in an attempt to show how brutal the backlash against paperback books was:
“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.”
Amazon referenced the Orwell quote again later in its letter, writing that Hachette was “perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion” in regards to a recently settled anti-trust case against Apple for e-book price-fixing that Hachette was involved in. However, as The New York Times points out, Orwell wasn’t actually promoting an illegal alliance of publishers.
Here’s the actual, full quote from Orwell’s essay in The New English Weekly about Penguin books:
“The 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.”
In Orwell’s essay, he was reviewing a selection of sixpence Penguin books, which he said were a great value for readers. Although he did argue in the piece that cheaper books are bad for the book trade overall, he was not literally calling for publishers to use collusion to fight paperbacks.
People were quick to point out Amazon’s error, including The Magazine editor Glenn Fleishman:
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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