George Orwell estate blasts Amazon for incorrectly quoting author in Hachette fight

By Daniel S Levine,

Amazon tried to defend its position in the battle against publisher Hachette over e-book prices by quoting one of the 20th century’s great novelists, the late George Orwell. However, the Orwell estate is now blasting the retail giant for incorrectly quoting the 1984 author.

The battle between Hachette and Amazon was ratcheted up by author Douglas Preston, who is now leading a group of over 900 authors called Authors United. His position is that Amazon is unfairly using authors’ work as pawns in the battle, delaying shipments of their work and even making them unavailable for pre-order.

Amazon responded with Readers United, claiming that it is taking the side of the reader by saying that e-books should be cheaper than physical books. They compared it to the price discrepancy between hardcover books and early paperbacks.

“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,’” Amazon said. “Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.”

However, as TechCrunch pointed out, Amazon incorrectly quoted the Animal Farm author. They only picked the part of the quote they wanted people to hear and what would fit their point.

The full quote read, “The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.” It was in reference to Penguin Books’ then-bold decision to publish cheaper paperback copies of classics and modern novels.

Since Amazon’s incorrect usage of the Orwell quote was publicized, The Guardian notes that Orwell’s representatives have complained. The estate’s literary executor, Bill Hamilton, wrote to the New York Times on Wednesday.

“As the literary executor for the Orwell estate, I’m both appalled and wryly amused that Amazon’s tactics should come straight out of Orwell’s own nightmare dystopia, 1984,” Hamilton wrote. “It doesn’t say much for Amazon’s regard for truth, or its powers of literary understanding. Or perhaps Amazon just doesn’t care about the authors it is selling. If that’s the case, why should we listen to a word it says about the value of books?”

Jean Seaton, the director of the Orwell Prize, also told the Guardian that the manipulation of an Orwell quote was “dystopian and shameless.” She added, “Orwell, before he had any money, gave a lot of it away to poor and young and struggling writers. Amazon has no interest in writers and wants to throttle publishers.”

So the next time Amazon wants to quote an author, it might want to read the entire quote. But they might have a hard time finding a living author they can sway to their side.

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