Did the New Yorker Make Nicholson Baker Elitist?

Last year, the New York Review of Books had the bright idea of commissioning Nicholson Baker to write an exuberant essay about Wikipedia. Beginning with the simple sentence, “Wikipedia is just an incredible thing,” Baker’s piece went on to chart his participation and subsequent obsession with the well-known website. Baker expressed his genuine horror at cavalierly deleted articles and depicted the many communal surprises he found along the way. It was a journey of self-discovery that permitted many who had used Wikipedia to rediscover the collective pixie dust selflessly sprinkled in the pursuit of knowledge. The essay was widely cited and linked. Here was the man who had once tapped his life savings to preserve newspapers now mining unexpected nuggets from a rich digital deposit. And Baker, under the moniker “Wageless,” continued with his Wikipedia contributions for some months after the article had been published.

Fast forward to today, with The New Yorker — a publication that not a single writer can afford to say no to — commissioning Nicholson Baker to write about the Kindle. But where The New York Review of Books managed to subvert expectations, the New Yorker has applied a marketing team’s craven predictability, with Baker corrupting his voice in the process. Baker’s essay is laden with cheap shots and clumsy generalizations. He’s not interested in seeing the bigger picture, even as he attempts some slapdash journalism when talking with Russ Wilcox on the phone. I’ll defer to Teleread’s Robert Nagle for Baker’s gross technological oversights. The more troubling betrayal here — one I hope that is merely temporary — is that the man who once unapologetically expressed his passion about John Updike, Wikipedia, and the use of “lumber” is nowhere to be found in this piece. He has been replaced by a brazen elitist who — in this essay at least — is closer to Lee Siegel in temperament than the man who once wrote gently and eloquently about card catalogs, or the writer who has devoted his career asking us to find the magic within the quotidian. The man who has subtly beseeched us to commiserate with the lonely and misunderstood people toiling in offices and talking on phone sex lines has momentarily transformed into a cavalier ruffian who scoffs at regular people for having the temerity to express their enthusiasm on Amazon and who likewise suggests that all blogs are “earnest and dispensable.” (That last comment echos a regrettable stance that can also be found within an inexplicably meanspirited passage from Baker’s forthcoming novel, The Anthologist: “You have to hand it to those podcasters. They keep on going week after week, even though nobody’s listening to them. And then eventually they puff up and die.”)

For a writer who has been so careful with his sentences, it’s astonishing to see Baker capitulate like this.

I’d be willing to accept Baker’s assaults on Jeff Bezos and the authors who appeared in the Kindle promotional video if Baker wasn’t so fixated on kicking down the average Joe like this. If Baker is going to go after Michael Lewis, Toni Morrison, and Neil Gaiman, then you’d think that he’d cop to the fact that he’s betrayed his own endearing populism for the New Yorker‘s lucrative word rate and prestige. (It should be observed that this is Baker’s first appearance in the New Yorker in nine years.)

The essay’s apologists will probably point to Baker’s defense of the iPod Touch (via Eucalyptus, ScrollMotion, and Stanza) later in the essay as a pro-technology concession. But aside from Baker’s inherently subjective position (indeed, one that doesn’t seem to consider other viewpoints), there’s Baker’s more troubling elision of class. How many unemployed types can afford either a Kindle 2 or an iPod Touch (costing $70 less than the Kindle 2) right now? Oh yeah. Baker hasn’t bothered with that. I guess one of the deals you make when you now sign on to write for the New Yorker is to act as if any thinking or feeling individual making under $30,000 a year doesn’t exist. Or that anybody who puts long hours into a blog or a podcast, or who uses a Kindle to read, can’t possibly be of societal value.

That’s a far cry from the man who once celebrated the “strangers who disagreed about all kinds of things but who were drawn to a shared, not-for-profit purpose” and who marveled at the capacity for people to build grand things with merely a keyboard and a desire to help. I hope that the old Baker comes back. But this new guy who can’t be bothered to laugh at a wasp passage because it appears on a screen? He sounds like a guy at a house party who can’t laugh at the Seth Rogen movie because it’s not playing in a movie theater.

[UPDATE: I will let this article stand unmodified and uncorrected as a reflection of how I felt at the time. But after some thought, I believe that I jumped to several needless conclusions, some of which have been cleared up by Nicholson Baker himself in the comments. (This update, incidentally, is not motivated by Baker’s appearance. I should point out that I was all set to respond to several comments before he arrived. But propinquity being what it is, the timing has worked out accordingly.) The upshot is this: I suspect that the rather grumpy tone of this article came about because I wrote it just after coming off a particularly terrible six-hour bus ride spearheaded by an unpleasant authoritarian driver who was screaming at random passengers and who did not know how to drive. My girlfriend and I, both in the early leg of this rather hellish journey, had acquired the article through email and read it on a cell phone. Perhaps these reading conditions prove Nick Baker’s point that the medium and the circumstances in which one reads can indeed factor into how one perceives the article, I detected several sentences as troublesome, interpreting them in an emotional way. I presented my findings in rather persuasive terms to my girlfriend, who was somehow persuaded. (I have a regrettable tendency to be able to persuade people of things even when I am wrong.) And the writing of this post occurred not long after we finally decamped from the raving lunatic driving the bus. I still believe that Baker should have used his writing talent for more enthusiastic purposes, but it was wrong of me to suggest some Svengali-like collusion between Baker and Remnick.]

Sherman Alexie Clarifies “Elitist” Charges

As noted by Kassia Kroszer and others, Sherman Alexie recently expressed some controversial remarks in relation to the eReader. At a BookExpo panel, Alexie called the Amazon Kindle “elitist” and said that he wanted to hit a woman sitting on a plane who was using a Kindle on her flight to New York.

Now since I’m a man known to make extraordinary statements myself, I recognized Alexie’s pugilistic promise as the conversational theater he intended. Nevertheless, I was baffled by Alexie’s position. So I took it upon myself to contact Alexie to figure out where the guy was coming from. I didn’t believe the boilerplate message on his website was enough. Alexie was very gracious to respond to my questions.

alexieWhy do you consider the Kindle “elitist?”

I consider the Kindle elitist because it’s too expensive. I also consider it elitist because, right now, one company is making all the rules. I am also worried about Jeff Bezos’ comments about wanting to change the way we read books. That’s rather imperial. Having grown up poor, I’m also highly aware that there’s always a massive technology gap between rich and poor kids. I haven’t yet heard what Amazon plans to do about this potential technology gap. And that’s a vital question considering that Bezos wants to change the way we read books. How does he plan to change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have access to Kindle?

Have you ever used a Kindle? What has been your experience?

I’ve played with a Kindle. Didn’t emotionally connect with it like I immediately did with my iPod. That’s been the fascinating thing for me. I’m not even remotely a Luddite. I love all of my tech toys (and I love Amazon.com), but I have a visceral negative reaction to eBooks. I recognize that it is partly irrational and that’s why it was easy to be influenced by some of the powerful letters of dissent I read from Kindle lovers.

Several eReaders were introduced at BEA with a $249 price point. If your objections to the Kindle involve price point, would you consider the Kindle (or any eReader) to be elitist if everybody could afford it?

Is there an ideal price point? Capitalism decides that. But I do want to know about Amazon’s social commitments to literacy and other social issues. If eBooks do take over the market, then dozens more independent bookstores will close, and all sorts of communities will lose a vital social force. Does Amazon have any plans to fill the social gaps left by those closed stores?

If more people wanted to read your books in digital form than in print form, would you still refuse to make your books available in digital? Why?

I have to make my books available electronically. I have held out on the matter for as long as possible, but I have no author allies in this fight, so I have to submit. I have to sign contracts for eBook rights. I’m doing this in the blind because none of us know what’s going to happen. The last screenwriters’ strike in Hollywood was largely the result of this same issue. The legal issues regarding the Internet and copyrights and revenue are still unclear. And I don’t think I’m so crazy to worry that large corporations may not have my best interests in mind when they are offering me deals. I guess this is the thing that amazes me most. I am taking a very tiny stand against many large corporations. I am asking what I think are serious, tough questions and all sorts of people are vilifying me for it. When it comes to this, many people are taking the side of massive corporations over one writer trying to get answers. They’re treating me like I’m Goliath. It reminds me of the way people think of professional athletes and their salaries. All sorts of middle-class folks agree with the billionaire owners of sports teams that the millionaire players make too much money.

Isn’t it reverse elitism to be against those who use eReaders?

And I’m not against eBook readers. I’m worried about the eBook’s influence on the whole culture. And while I certainly insulted Kindle lovers, I meant to tease and razz the Kindle itself. I meant to razz Amazon.

What makes a digital copy of your book any different from a book on tape? Surely, a recorded version of your book is just as much of a corruptible form.

I am in control of my audio books. And, as you will notice, I have only done three audio books, and have not been happy with that process, either, for various reasons. But when it comes to subrights, it seems that the farther one gets from the original writer and publisher, the more likely it is that the subrights licenser thinks of the books as product and not as art. The author of the original work becomes less and less important. And at every step off the way, the original artist makes far less money and has far less power than any of the companies profiting from the work.

In what manner are you embracing digital media? What is your present familiarity with technology? Can you say anything positive about e-books?

I am also worried about what effect our video screen culture is having on us and our children. We all spend so much time looking at screens-TVs, computers, video games, cell phones, PDAs, and now eBooks-but we don’t know yet much about the negative effects of this technology on us. I seem to recall plenty of times when human beings rushed to use a certain technology because it was incredibly effective and convenient, and only later learned about the minor and major negative effects of that technology. A friend said something interesting to me and this is a paraphrase, “Those eBooks are like a gold rush, and people get irrational during gold rushes. Sherman, you’re being negatively irrational about the technology, but lots of people are being positively irrational.”

I love my iPod, my cell phone, my computer, and my HDTV. I have and enjoy a strong Internet presence with a great website and I have published poems and stories all over the web. In fact, I just published a poem that’s in the current online and print versions of the New Yorker. People are eager to portray me as being anti-technology, but that’s not the case at all. I think the iPod is as vital as the fork and wheel. So I’m not even sure why I have this strange, subterranean fear and loathing of the Kindle and its kind. I think it’s really about childhood. Books saved my life, Edward. I rose out of poverty and incredible social dysfunction because of books. And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste-come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric. An eBook will always be a gorgeous but anonymous box. It will also be just a tool–perhaps an amazing and useful tool-but I don’t want it to replace the book. And I’m worried that many people don’t care about the book itself, and see the eBook as a replacement. And I’m worried that Amazon and other eBook distributors will completely replace bookstores. The careers of nearly every successful writer are based on the amazing human interaction between bookstore employees and readers. I enjoy an amazing career because, over the last seventeen years, bookstore employees, librarians, and book lovers have handed a copy of my book to another person and said, “You have to read this.” That face-to-face interaction will become more and more rare. Sure, the Internet can launch careers, but there is a loss of intimacy that should be acknowledged and mourned.

Kindle Bloggers Become Amazon’s Bitches

This blog will not be distributed through Kindle. I cannot possibly give away so many of my rights for a mere 30% of the cut. To put this into perspective, even the Scribd General Terms of Use limits what you give up to “solely in order to publish and promote such User Content in connection with services offered or to be offered by Scribd.”

Not so with Amazon. Here’s the relevant section of the Digital Publication Distribution Agreement:

7. Rights Granted. You grant to us, throughout the term of this Agreement, a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right and license to distribute Publications as described in this Agreement, such right to include, without limitation, the right to: (a) reproduce and store Publications on one or more computer facilities, and reformat, convert and encode Publications; (b) display, market, transmit, distribute, and otherwise digitally make available all or any portion of Publications through Amazon Properties (as defined below), for customers and prospective customers to download, access, copy and paste, print, annotate and/or view, including on any Portable Device (as defined below); (c) permit customers to “store” Publications that they have purchased from us on Amazon’s servers (“Virtual Storage”) and to re-download such Publications from Virtual Storage from time to time; (d) display and distribute (i) your trademarks and logos in the form you provide them to us, including within Publications (with such modifications as are necessary to optimize their viewing on Portable Devices), and (ii) other limited portions of Publications, in each case on and through any Amazon Properties and solely for the purposes of marketing, soliciting and selling Publications; (e) use, reproduce, adapt, modify, and create derivative works of any metadata that you submit to us for the purpose of improving categorization, recommendations, personalization features and other features of any Amazon Properties; and (f) transmit, reproduce and otherwise use (or cause the reformatting, transmission, reproduction, and/or other use of) Publications as mere technological incidents to and for the limited purpose of technically enabling the foregoing (e.g., caching to enable display). In addition, you agree that Amazon may permit its affiliates and independent contractors, and its affiliates’ independent contractors, to exercise the rights that you grant to us in this Agreement. “Amazon Properties” means the website with the primary home page identified by the URL http://www.amazon.com/, together with any successor or replacement thereto (the “Amazon Site”), any software application that is capable of supporting the electronic purchase, display and/or management of digital text, graphics, audio, video and/or other content, and any other web site or any web page widget or other web page real estate or online point of presence, on any platform, that is owned by us or operated under license by us (such as http://www.target.com/ ), branded or co-branded Amazon or with any brand we license for use, own or control, and any web site or online point of presence through which any Amazon sites or products available for sale thereon are syndicated, offered, merchandised, advertised or described. “Portable Device” means any device that is capable of supporting the electronic purchase, display and/or management of digital text, graphics, audio, video and/or other content via wireless telecommunications service, Wi-Fi, USB, or otherwise.

Not only do you give Amazon “a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right and license to distribute” your blogging, but you also give this up to affiliates and independent contractors. So let’s say a major publisher decides to “independently contract” with Amazon. And they see a blog that they like. Well, guess what? They can take your content, publish it as a book, and collect the revenue without paying you a dime. Because Section 4 (“Royalties”) specifies that the blogger only gets paid for “Subscription and Single Issue sales revenues,” meaning any of the 30% revenue that you’re going to get with the Kindle. And I particularly love how Section 5 gives the blogger a mere six months to file a legal claim, which is “limited to a determination of the amount of monies” and not operational practices. You know, trivial concerns such as Amazon distributing your content to affiliates and independent contractors without the blogger’s consent.

I am extremely saddened to see so many of my fellow bloggers betray their interests. They have happily become corporate slaves, granting “a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right and license” to their thoughtful essays and carefully written posts.

I sincerely hope that any authors (and the agents who represent them) who appear on blogs distributed through Kindle are fully aware of what they are giving up here. The rights for any writing you publish on a blog go to Amazon. That goes for guest blog posts, excerpts of chapters*, interview excerpts, you name it. Thanks to Section 7 of Kindle’s Digital Publication Distribution Agreement, you effectively become Amazon’s bitch.

Well, I’m sorry. But I can’t do that for the authors who have been kind enough to take the time out of their schedules to express their thoughts and feelings in both text and radio form on these pages. In addition to the reasons eloquently provided by Kat Meyer and Megan Sullivan
I cannot in good conscience sell us out.

All this could have been prevented had the bloggers who signed up for this taken the time to read and study Amazon’s draconian language. Presumably, they thought Amazon would play nice.

But if you think that Amazon is benevolent, consider my investigations from November 2007, which demonstrated that Amazon was placing blogs onto its Kindle Store without obtaining permission. Consider also Techcrunch’s recent investigation, in which Amazon can steal any blog without the blogger’s consent. Yet many people continue to place their faith in Amazon. Even after Amazon’s poor response in last month’s Amazonfail scandal.

* — There’s some additional discussion about this aspect of the DPDA in the comments that you will probably want to check out.

Amazon Profiting Incommensurately Off Bloggers?

As I pointed out more than a year ago, Amazon has been offering monthly blog subscriptions to Kindle readers, but, in some cases, it hasn’t been paying the bloggers a reasonable cut of the revenue. And as my investigation revealed, in some cases, Amazon didn’t even bother to ask permission from the bloggers. While the monthly subscription cost has gone down to 99 cents per month, as Rebecca Skloot discovered on Twitter this afternoon, Maud Newton’s site is now for sale on the Kindle. (Maud has since revealed that a nonexclusive contract she signed with Newstex gives them the right to distribute her content through the Kindle.)

But there’s a big question here. If Amazon makes 99 cents per subscription, how much of this goes to the bloggers?

I am now in the early stage of a major investigation to determine, once again, if the bloggers listed on the Kindle store are collecting any commensurate revenue or granting their permission to Amazon to have their blogs distributed. And I will be updating this site with my findings. If your blog is listed on the Kindle Store, please contact me so that we can begin to hold Amazon accountable for seizing content generously offered for free and selling it to others on the open market.

There are currently 1,280 blogs listed at the Amazon Kindle Store.

Responding to Asher: August 13

Levi: It is always a good habit to admit when one is wrong. I am wrong about something or someone almost every day. This afternoon, I blushed when a quite beautiful woman seemingly flirted with me on the subway. Minutes later, her boyfriend arrived behind me. Through the power of mathematics, the woman’s gaze and the boyfriend’s position lined up almost exactly. And I was more than a bit embarrassed. But there was a great sense of relief in knowing that I was wrong. And I’m man enough to admit it. So apparently are you. Let us both establish a secret society.

Sometimes, my wrongs almost make me want to see how much blood I can draw upon repeatedly stabbing myself with a spork. It is indeed a maddening and all too human feeling to be wrong, but also quite liberating. (The answer, incidentally, to the spork scenario varies from person to person. You do have to be quite patient. But I’ve found that it takes approximately 136 downward stabs, all aimed at the same spot, before one draws a near microscopic, but nevertheless evident burst of red. Of course, the last time I carried out this experiment, it was more than two decades ago.)

But here are a few facts you may wish to consider. In a six month during 1975, Americans bought five million Pet Rocks. To cite a more apposite technological example, the Sinclair MTV1 is, to my mind, a sleek-looking device. I like its black rectangular frame and the way that you tune into the channel as if trying to pinpoint a radio station. Its inventor thought that it would become a commonplace form of watching television. Three decades later, who has one?

Of course, it’s just possible that the Kindle may prove to be of stronger stuff. But 240,000 units doesn’t represent a paradigm shift. Let us wait this out like gentlemen before offering lofty conclusions. And then we can begin a series of spork tests.

Cory Doctorow’s Kindle Hypocrisy

Cory Doctorow, one of the few bloggers who didn’t return emails during my Kindle investigations, has posted his thoughts on the Kindle at Boing Boing. Doctorow says that he won’t be buying it because “it spies on you, it has DRM…, it prevents you from selling or lending your books, and the terms of service are nearly as abusive as the Amazon Unbox terms….”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy. But it still doesn’t explain why Boing Boing is listed as one of the Kindle blogs. It would appear that Doctorow prefers profit over principle. If Doctorow truly wanted the information to be free, then why did he sign on for Kindle in the first place? Based on all the evidence dredged up, it appears that the participants had at least nine months to say yes for this thing. In one case, a blogger was able to negotiate a private agreement. Further, Boing Boing was in a very close position to determine information, seeing as how John Battelle, the founder and chairman of Federated Media, is also the “band manager” for Boing Boing. So it’s not as if Doctorow didn’t have rampant opportunity to examine the Kindle’s specs, much less negotiate an airtight agreement.

Further, Doctorow remains conspicuously silent about Amazon stealing content from other blogs and distributing it and selling it without permission from bloggers. You have to wonder how Doctorow would feel if the roles were reversed or if he weren’t collecting a small sum of cash. While it’s true that Doctorow hasn’t shrieked, “Thanks Amazon for all the cash!,” I still find his “contrarian” post diffident and supremely hypocritical.

doctorowtattoo.jpgA true activist stands by his principles. For the record, a few major publishers have offered me considerable money to advertise on Segundo, with the proviso that I only interview their authors. One even suggested that I could download leftover audio snippets of authors from their digital archive and I could edit my questions in. I found this to be quite unsavory, and I politely declined these offers.

Doctorow is clearly a technological enthusiast, and it saddens me that he would rather use his position in the blogosphere to uphold corporate hypocrisy. It seems that Boing Boing isn’t about looking out for the little guy. It’s about looking out for Number One.

(Thanks, Christopher, for the head’s up.)

More Bloggers Weigh In On Kindle

[For more on these Kindle investigations, see ten arguments against the Kindle, the initial query concerning blog content being redistributed without permission or compensation, the first wave of Kindle blogger responses, and the the second wave of Kindle blogger responses.]

New emails have arrived and this post serves as an addendum to the previous report. First off, I should note Kassia Kroszer’s quibbles, which led to this report from Joseph Weisenthal, who pointed out that the only way one can access blogs through Kindle is through the page-flipping option. There isn’t the ability to scroll. (There is, however, a built-in browser — something that Weisenthal describes as “fairly clunky and prone to error messages.”) Then there’s Levi Asher’s thoughts: “They have got to be insane.” Levi insists that nobody will buy the Kindle at the $400 price. And I suppose we’ll have to wait a month or so to see if the momentum breaks down faster than the Segway.

kindle2.jpgHoward Rheingold, the man behind Smart Mobs, was likewise a Federated Media participant, and insists that Amazon won’t be preventing anyone from getting the feed for free. He views this as “an interesting experiment.” John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing negotiated a private agreement with Amazon, but sees this as “integrating and creating without judgment. The market does a pretty good job of that.”

Kevin Aylward, the publisher of Wizbang, sees the licensing deal as “no different than the type that Yahoo has done for other blogs’ content. It’s specific to the Kindle device. As far as I know there is no other way to access our RSS feed from that device.”

Nevertheless, two additional bloggers have witnessed their content redistributed and sold with neither permission nor remuneration. Mr. Faded Glory, the proprietor of High and Tight, tells me that, “I have never been informed of what the Kindle system is.” Glory does not profit off of his work and he doesn’t “want others to do so at my expense.”

Then there’s Jason Avant of Dadcentric, who faced a different scenario. Avant had been with Federated Media, who, as we have established, had been approached by Amazon for the Kindle experiment. Avant signed off back in April, “then promptly forgot all about it, and thus was surprised to see DadCentric listed among Kindle’s syndicated blogs.” But Amazon did have his permission, albeit in backdated form.

I still was a bit miffed, as I had ended my agreement with FM about two months ago. I did contact FM about that, and they have informed Amazon that I’m no longer with FM, but am entitled to any revenues that are generated via DadCentric. I’m in the process of determining what that means, and frankly I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to continue with the whole Kindle deal.

Avant has no plans to endorse Kindle on his site, but he does “wholeheartedly agree that Amazon should be sanctioned if they have used people’s blogs without express authorization. There does seem to be a bit of that going on, and that is certainly going to determine whether or not I continue to do business with them.” Avant has requested Amazon to pull Dadcentric from their list of Kindle feeds. We will have to wait to see if his request will be honored.

So beyond Amazon angering bloggers by appropriating their content, consider how poorly such a tactic reflects upon them as a business. Consider how this great opportunity to present an alternative revenue stream is overturned by an inability on Amazon’s part to cross their Ts. When taken with the failure of Amazon to inform major rollers like Glenn Reynolds of the new developments, it seems that Amazon may very well care more about Amazon.

I have a few emails into Amazon to get their thoughts about all this, but, since it’s Turkey Day Week, I suspect I won’t be hearing back until next week. Nevertheless, I will determine who the primary contacts are, so that the four bloggers (and anybody else Amazon attempts to shanghai) who saw their content used without their permission can have some means of restitution.

[UPDATE: Jason Avant informs me that Amazon has removed Dadcentric from the Kindle directory.]

Responses from the Kindle Bloggers

[For more on these Kindle investigations, see ten arguments against the Kindle, the initial query concerning blog content being redistributed without permission or compensation, the first wave of Kindle blogger responses, and the the second wave of Kindle blogger responses.]

The upshot is that Amazon did indeed approach bloggers to participate in the Kindle Store. Mac Thomason tells me that Amazon approached him “either late last year or early this year.” Other bloggers, like Deane Barker, were approached largely because of their connection with third party outlets. In Barker’s case, it was Federated Media. (This is similar to what Glenn Reynolds told me about Pajamas Media.) In the case of bloggers who had a third party conduit, they don’t seem to be aware of the terms or even compensation specifics. The general consensus for high-traffic sites, however, is that advertising revenue will dwarf Kindle revenue. Thomason tells me that he’s “not expecting much.”

bezoskindle.jpgVinography‘s Alder Yarrow feels that “the fee covers the cost of making the content available via wireless access (since there is no monthly access fee). Yes it is a double standard, but some people are willing to pay for convenience.”

If the information wants to be free, at least one Kindle blogger has taken steps to remedy this. Bags and Baggage‘s Denise Howell, whose blog is licensed under Creative Commons, says that she generated “a separate, specific license to Amazon for their project.”

As to whether these bloggers see charging for a freely available RSS feed as a double standard, Barker notes, “I guess I don’t care if someone pays for my feed. I’d let them have it for free if Amazon would let me,” but expresses doubts that the operation will take off. Thomason suggests that because this is a different delivery system, these distinctions aren’t a double standard. “If someone were going to bind my postings up into a book, I’d expect compensation for that as well,” he said. And Thomason observes that his advertising revenue “basically only covers expenses.” So for bloggers in Thomason’s camp, Kindle may be an attractive option to boost revenue.

Howell, who hasn’t had advertising on his site in six years of blogging, begs to differ about this double standard. She wrote to me:

Your argument is like saying that simply because a musical artist makes some material available for free on the Web or as a “download of the day” in iTunes, it’s “a double standard” to ever charge for that work again. Doesn’t hold water. The creator maintains full control over uses (free or otherwise) of the work.

Howell likes the idea that “anyone who wants to can read it on the device.” And while the Kindle presents new possibilities for content delivery and revenue generation, the problem with Howell’s position is that Amazon has, in at least one case, screwed over the creator.

Daniel McGowan, the blogger behind Dan’s Take, tells me that had no idea that Amazon was doing this. McGowan tells me that he was never contacted by Amazon and that he was certainly never compensated by them. But there’s his blog at the Kindle Store.

So it appears, in at least one case, that Amazon has every intention of charging for content that they do not have consent for, and that, in McGowan’s case, they intend to leave him out in the cold while they collect 100% of the revenue. Apparently, not everybody can shout, “Thanks Amazon for all the cash!”

UPDATE: McGowan isn’t the only one being whose content is being sold through Amazon without his permission. Cork Gaines of Ray’s Index just responded to my email. He had no idea that Amazon was doing this until I contacted him. He had this to say:

Maybe two months ago, somebody from Amazon contacted me to tell me there was a problem with my RSS feed. At the time I ignored it, because my feed appeared to be working fine and had never heard any complaints (turns out it was just a quirk with Feed Validator). I wondered why Amazon would want my feed and just assumed they were going to integrate a feed reader on their site someplace in the future. I forgot about it and never followed up to see why. So to answer your question, NO, they never asked permission.

He says he isn’t gaining any revenue from Kindle, but he believes that it could generate new readers for his site, “but my thought is that the only subscribers will be people that are already familiar with my site.”

So that’s two bloggers who Amazon has left out in the cold. How many others are there?

Is Amazon Screwing Over Bloggers?

[For more on these Kindle investigations, see ten arguments against the Kindle, the initial query concerning blog content being redistributed without permission or compensation, the first wave of Kindle blogger responses, and the the second wave of Kindle blogger responses.]

On Saturday, Matthew Ingram noticed this about the Kindle:

The second thing that hit me was the part where Steven Levy says that users will be able to download books, newspapers and magazines, and will even be able to “subscribe to selected blogs, which cost either 99 cents or $1.99 a month per blog.” That one made me do a double-take. Pay a monthly subscription fee to read a blog? Either Levy and/or Bezos have been smoking something, or they have found some magical way to get people to pay for something that has historically been free.

So wait a minute here. Do any of these blogs get a cut here? I’m going to conduct some investigation and confirm if this is indeed the case.

[UPDATE: Here is a list of Kindle blogs. This blog does not appear to be listed, but Galleycat, Overheard in New York, Jossip and Boing Boing are. It appears quite likely that arrangements have been made with these respective outfits. But I will dig up more info and find out for sure.]

[UPDATE 2: Emails have been sent to many of the bloggers at the Kindle Store. If I find out anything for sure, I will post my findings here.]

[UPDATE 3: Jason Kottke has additional links, including the revelation of bloggers getting “a revenue share with Amazon, since it costs money to get those publications.” Nothing, as of yet, confirmed with anyone from Amazon. Hopefully, I’ll have some more answers later this afternoon about what’s going on.]

[UPDATE 4: Glenn Reynolds has emailed me back, telling me that his syndication rights are owned by third party Pajamas Media. He believes they cut this deal. I will follow up with them. Of being informed of the Kindle, he writes, “I’ve heard nothing from Amazon myself. I don’t mind being on Kindle at all, but it seems surprising that I haven’t even gotten a PR email from them.” I plan to assemble another post based on the responses I get.]

[UPDATE 5: Robert Scoble writes:

Because then I’ll get a few bucks back for each one you buy. If I read my email right, Amazon is paying bloggers $40 for each one sold. That’s pretty darn cool.

The price to you doesn’t change. But, if you don’t want me to get some money, then visit Amazon’s home page by typing http://www.amazon.com into your browser window.

It’s not the only way I’ll get paid, though.

If you buy a Kindle and you buy my blog. It looks like I get 30% of that fee.

Anyway, thanks Amazon for all the cash! (I’ll need it, cause I just bought my own — it will be here tomorrow).

“Thanks Amazon for all the cash” indeed. If Amazon is indeed paying bloggers $40 for every Kindle sold and many of the top technology bloggers are on board for this, can we count upon these bloggers to be critical of the product?]

Books for Me, Thanks

[For more on these Kindle investigations, see ten arguments against the Kindle, the initial query concerning blog content being redistributed without permission or compensation, the first wave of Kindle blogger responses, and the the second wave of Kindle blogger responses.]

Ten arguments against the Kindle (one against the promotional video):

1. A book does not require a battery. Let’s say you’re on the second to the last page and the battery goes out. Then you have to hunt around for the damn charger. But where did you put the charger? In the same time, you could have finished a compelling book.

2. If you lose the book, you can borrow it from a library or buy another copy or read it at a bookstore before they kick you out because you wore the wrong T-shirt or you slept with the wrong bookstore employee (but that’s a side issue). If you lose your Kindle, you have to pay $400. Oh sure, it’s always “backed up online.” But you’ll have to pay $400 to use it again. (I’m assuming likewise that the specific text use here is proprietary, meaning that you can’t view a Kindle text in another format on your computer. Hackers will almost certainly crack this and who knows? Maybe we’ll see a piracy problem for publishers.)

3. Thirty hours seems like a lot of battery life. (“You can read for days without having to plug in,” my ass. Thirty hours is thirty hours.) But let’s say you want to read Against the Day or The Recognitions in one long sitting. And what if you fall asleep reading? Will the Kindle stay on?

4. Can you really read with the Kindle in the bathtub? If you drop the Kindle into the tub, will it survive? Or will the LCD screen be toast? How durable is this little bastard anyway?

5. This whole business of flipping the page is rather arrogant of Amazon, isn’t it? In one fell swoop, Amazon wants to usurp the reading experience by having the page buttons on each side of the display. But what if you want to flip back? Well, that glorious sense of the index finger and thumb clutching the right corner of the page is now gone. You don’t feel that palpable sense of being one with a book. It’s more like a game of Bioshock.

6. What about those of us who enjoy looking up arcane words in the dictionary? Is the Kindle Dictionary an unabridged? Or is it one of those yuk-yuk high school dictionaries? OED plug-in? Can you highlight a specific phrase or just a line? (The video skips through the “highlighting” part quite rapidly, suggesting that we shouldn’t pay attention. But, dammit, it’s important.) How will this compare with highlighting or flagging a specific passage with a Post-It? All we get here is an option to dog-ear a corner. This is eminently unsuitable for reference. (I will say, however, that finding all citations of a word in a book is very helpful, although will this discourage people from memorizing poetry or specific passages?)

7. The font size option seems nice, but what of specific typesetting choices? How, for example, can a book like Only Revolutions or The Raw Shark Texts or even Alfred Bester’s enneagrams be enjoyed this way? And what of the juxtaposition of illustrations with text? There is sometimes a specific reason for why a photo or an illustration appears in relation to a particular page.

8. “The same wireless technology as advanced cell phones?” Great. Guess I’ll have to turn the Kindle off then during a transatlantic flight and waste twelve hours watching that shitty in-flight movie. Thanks, Amazon!

9. The ability to hold a mere 200 books for $400 (plus extra for books)? I can buy a 4 Gig Compact Flash card for $80.

10. This guy in the blue shirt looks like he sells insurance or some kind of corporate mercenary. I wouldn’t trust him to buy me a beer if I gave him the money. He’d pocket the Lincoln and then ask me for the five bucks I “didn’t give him.”