By Robert K. Wilcox:


                       The latest issue of my Author's Guild Bulletin* spotlights the on going fight between publishers and e-Reader providers in its main article, “Amazon Takes the Gloves Off: Builds Kindle ‘Library’ Over Publishers Objections.” It’s a complicated issue still evolving which involves the good and bad of e-readers, publisher’s profits, author’s need for upfront money, and Amazon’s ability to monopolize and dictate in the marketplace. (Go to the Author's Guild site for more on this

                      But what caught my eye and enlarged the issues involved was an article at the end of the bulletin titled "Reading With a Crowd." In it, British journalist and author James Meek relates that while reading a freshly downloaded book on his Amazon Kindle e-reader he noted that a passage he was about to underline was already underlined.


                      How could that be? He hadn't yet done the underlining!

                      Digging into the mystery, he found that Amazon, through one of its hidden Kindle mechanisms, logs all such underlinings by users of its e-reader. Another Kindle user elsewhere had underlined the passage and by some mishap his or her underlining showed up in Meek's just-downloaded version.


                      "The book is no longer a passive surface," writes Meek. "It constantly checks in with all the other versions of itself and adjusts its surface according to the impressions the metareader has left on it." This, ostensibly, he found, is so "a much-noted passage will be recorded on Amazon's 'Most Highlighted Passages of All Time' chart."

                      But what really is going on here? Yes, it may be used for the chart. But it also could be used to note preferences of the reader, not only for future sales pitches, but political attitudes and personal inclinations the reader might want to keep private. In effect, Big Brother Amazon is learning more about you through your Kindle than you may want him to know. It could come back to hurt you.


                      I still don't know all the ramifications of the current fight going on between Amazon, publishers, and, by default, authors. Publishers are being bullied into complying with what Amazon wants. If they don’t do what Amazon can and will instantly erase their books from Amazon offerings. Authors aren't even considered or consulted in this debate except after the fact. The publishers will give them the scraps. Research and new promising fiction authors will suffer. The behind-the-scenes fight is changing the face and substance of literature.

                      This invasion of privacy is a new aspect of the conflict I had not realized – the kind of thing, like what’s in Obamacare, that only becomes evident after the fact.

                      Meek's emphasis seems to be on how most old style, hard and softcover books - and by extention bookstores - are possibly going to become extinct. "On the urban bookshelves of the crowded future only the loved and the beautiful will survive," he writes.

                      What should be added is that e-books, unmasked to their full potential for harm – as well as good - may be one more way to control that crowded future.

*Fall 2011/Winter 2012