When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

The first time I heard the Jeff Bezos Apology story, it was from my big brother just the other day, and I immediately thought: No way.

There is just no way Jeff Bezos publicly apologized. And he simply could not possibly be dumb enough to do what he had allegedly apologized for.

A scene from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Not that he’s some paragon or guru or the Dalai Lama of Prime. Most of the bad things people say about his Amazon empire are true, and I kept rooting for the union drive at his Alabama warehouse right til the organizers drove off the cliff.

But this other story, new to me, was so ridiculous that it had to be one of those floating internet legends. Had to be.

I mean, sure, sometimes Amazon gets caught with its corporate pants down; or at least unzipped. Take its initial dismissal earlier this month of the charge that many Amazon delivery drivers are so driven that some have to pee in bottles to stay on their inhuman schedules.

The company first tweeted a disdainful denial of the reports, which were echoed by a Democratic Congressman from Wisconsin, Mark Pocan.

This kind of stuff is why I still think Amazon workers need a UNION.

But then a cascade of liquid yellow evidence in small containers flushed those denials right down the toilets the drivers couldn’t find.

So yes, there was an actual apology, just a few days ago.

But not from Bezos.
“Written by Amazon staff” says the bland byline:

First, the tweet was incorrect. . . . [W]e know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed. . . .

Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it. We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions. . . .

We apologize to Representative Pocan.

Okay. But about the tale I had just been told. Gotta clear this up right away, I figured, before I start spreading the myth.

Hello, google? (I’m still not speaking to Siri or Alexa.) Did Jeff Bezos really —

The early returns seemed to back up my skepticism:

One hit had a headline, “Amazon Apologizes for Shipping Ten Thousand Copies of [Trump-fired FBI chief James] Comey’s tell-all Book to White House” —

But it was too funny to be true: Yep: The New Yorker‘s master parodist Andy Borowitz wrote it as satire.

Then the search showed an “apology video” for inflammable Kindle Fire tablets — but that also turned out to be a spoof, from late-night TV comedian Conan O’Brien. (Nevertheless, their lithium ion batteries actually can explode or burn!)

Even Bezos’s ex-wife Mackenzie didn’t get an apology when he dumped her in 2019; she had to settle for $38 billion dollars instead.

Ex Mackenzie had to settle for a $38 billion non-apology.

So at first it seemed that the richest guy in the world didn’t apologize much.

But not never: soon enough, I learned I was completely wrong about the one I had just pooh-poohed. Bezos once really did blow it big time, and had to own up personally.

Orwell: I say, Jeff, old chap. you did WHAT??

But what else could he do when it involved George Orwell and “1984”?

That’s right. The New York Times story from July 2009 had the dope:

New York Times: Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle — July 17, 2009
In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.”
On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com.

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

You heard right: 1984, and Animal Farm had in fact been surreptitiously sucked out and spun down the Memory Hole.

Furthermore, when their vacuum cleaner got to the Kindle of one Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, it also took all his notes and annotations . “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he told the Times.

Well, paint me red and call me a fire plug.

This happened in the summer of 2009. When outed, Amazon first explained, earnestly but sheepishly, that they did it because they had just discovered the indy publisher who added those editions was a fraud, and didn’t have the rights to the books.

Hence, the copies were illegal, pirated. Amazon could get sued about that.

But still. To repossess them stealthily, and do it to THOSE books, by THAT author. That’s mega-stupid on a truly MAGA scale.

And not least because the news was almost instantly all over the net. The “optics,” as PR people call them, were horrible. Could hardly be worse. Which is why Bezos Himself had to face it, in a blog post:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

Amazon issued refunds, and offered legal substitute copies of the books. It even managed to find and return Justin Gawronski’s notes and annotations.

With that, the storm pretty much blew over, and Bezos went on, building his empire. And maybe I’m the last one to hear about this, twelve years later, and all you who are reading it are snickering at my provincial ignorance.

Go ahead.  I’m still gob-smacked about it. And I learned something else about ebooks too: they aren’t really “books,” like the physical ones on my home office bookshelves. Kindle Ebooks are actually licenses, to access computer files owned (or leased) by Amazon, and which Amazon still “owns”.

Amazon can terminate my license to access a specific book if they find out the main file is an illegal, pirated version — or, maybe more ominously, if a court, like those run by 1984‘s Big Brother, tells them to.

Could Amazon, or somebody else, under such an order, quietly come in and wipe my computer, or take all my books and other “intellectual property” from it?

Think about it.

And was someone at Amazon trying to suppress Orwell’s chilling masterworks in 2009?

I doubt that. Today both books are in their online store in many versions: hardcover, paperback, audio, movies, new, used, and soon a graphic novel. And a certain recent election put them back atop bestseller lists almost 70 years after publication, for a good many weeks, making Amazon and Bezos even richer.

These revelations don’t make ebooks evil, or mean Amazon is flimflamming us with every download. Instead, it’s a reminder that we’re in a different world. Stick to paper copies if you want to really “own” your books. Paperbacks are not ebooks, like apples are not oranges. Get used to it.

And I don’t really have a big brother. At least, I didn’t use to.

One more note: the text of Bezos’ apology was copied by numerous sites; but it seems to have disappeared from Amazon’s screens. Memory hole again?

But whatever.

Now that this is all cleared up, Jeff, how about those bottles filled with yellow liquid ?

You ask me, that’s some piss-poor optics too.

5 thoughts on “When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.”

  1. And yet – you sell your own books on Amazon. However – I have done the right thing and dropped ordering your new book at amazon. In the future – you will NEVER be corrupted by an sell at amazon.

    1. Dear celtsoul, I’m not sure what the last part of your comment means, but I get you don’t like Amazon. I dislike many things about the company too. I loudly supported the labor organizers who tried to unionize their warehouse in Alabama; their workers definitely need a UNION. At the same time, I purchase various items from them, and that’s happened more often during the pandemic. And maybe its paradoxical, but their support of micro-sized independent publishers (like me) has been a great, even revolutionary (and profitable) help to thousands of us, for more than a decade. I won’t deny or negate that fact, even as I continue to support efforts to clean up their labor relations act.

  2. What cant. At least what could be said (as example) for Elias Hicks was that when on his death bed he was pushing away an blanket until someone realized it was a cotton one, and got him an woolen one. He lived his views – people like you (all modern leftists) talk, but are quite happy to review benefit whether it fits the current rant or not.

    A former reader

  3. Labor issues are only the tip of the iceberg of Amazon horrors. Every book someone publishes with Amazon, especially ebooks, drives another nail in the coffin of free speech, privacy, and freedoms as subtle as thought and as basic as where we obtain what we need to live. People of conscience are boycotting the behemoth. Big is not better, and while we still have choices for publishing elsewhere it is up to civil rights advocates such as yourself to model behavior that cares for future generations not just author’s royalties.

    1. Can’t buy this story. I’ve done business publishing with Amazon/Kindle Direct for more than ten years, on a wide range of topics, and there has not been even the slightest twinge of pressure on my freedom of speech. In fact, A/K has offered me opportunities as an independent publishing platform that nobody else has. That’s my experience. To be sure, Amazon as a big corporation has many issues: antitrust, union-busting, etc. Yet they have not pressured me to back their position on any of that, even though I have loudly supported union organizing there. For indie authors and niche publishers, Amazon has revolutionized and freed the marketplace, and created huge opportunities for free expression and wide distribution. That’s both my experience and observation. If and when it changes, I’ll let you know.

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