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In Amazon’s Bookstore, Orwell Gets a Rewrite (nytimes.com)
71 points by newest 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments



Conflating reviews of different editions is the straw that makes it impossible for the shopper. I was looking to buy a translation of 1001 Arabian Nights. Some reviews warned of scams, some spoke positively of the quality of the translation, but they were the same reviews on every translation and every edition. I gave up. That much seems like a simple change too... simpler than conflating them. The only explanation I can think of is to deceive the customer into thinking a product is more reviewed than it is.


It's not just the reviews. They conflate the different editions themselves (making it "logical" that there's only one set of reviews -- after all, there's only one product!), which usually gives absurd results when you go to view the kindle version of a book that exists in more than one edition.

I'm not sure who's supposed to benefit from this. Fudging the editions seems like you're going to a lot of extra trouble just to hurt your customers.


This annoys me on Prime Video reviews when you see people rating a title poorly because the DVD comes in a cheap case or lacks extras.


I've stopped looking at Amazon reviews (on physical products) for more or less this exact reason. They too often don't apply (something along the lines of "Picture quality isn't up to modern standards", then I realise I'm looking at a review of the DVD version from a decade ago rather than the UHD release I was _actually_ considering), mention features the product simply doesn't have (because they have combined two barely related products in one listing), or are misleading ("this fits over a two-gang socket", when in fact only one of them does, and it's virtually impossible to notice as the only difference is opaque model codes / "this battery is also known as XX" when in fact it's one of the other types on the same listing).

Even when the reviews do technically apply, they are often useless (multiple 1-star top reviews: "I tried to use it for HDMI to DisplayPort, but it didn't work"; description: "From DisplayPort to HDMI only (not bi-directional)").

I've also noticed that as I'm going off-site to find accurate information about the product anyway, I'm more frequently buying off-site. Looking around to save 50p or so usually isn't really worth it, but when I'm off Amazon _anyway_, it is. I can think of at least three orders in the few weeks to other sellers that in the past would have gone to Amazon, either because I was wanting the information from the reviews or I'm just in the habit of not going to Amazon first.


A few months back I was looking for an introductory book for a course I am going to teach. I picked up 10 books based on their reviews on various sites, but they were all terrible. Basically they were $15-40 poorly written versions of what you could get for free in the official tutorial and documentation. In the end I ended up looking up authors I knew from previous books to see if they had one covering the content, one of them did. It had mediocre reviews, and deservedly so because the editing isn’t great and there are flaws I needed to correct for my courses, but it was still miles ahead of any of the 4.5-5 star reviewed books.

This is very anecdotal of course, but it did get me wondering. I have never written a customer review myself, but I always put that down to being busy/lazy and never saw myself as representative for that. But I asked around among my peers, people I would have wanted to read a review from, and it turned out I wasn’t the only one who’s never written a positive review. A lot of them, it turned out, write negative reviews for poor services quite frequently, but almost no positive reviews had ever been written.

All completely anecdotal, but it seems to correlate with what other people on HN have experienced. Maybe we shouldn’t have outsourced book reviews to the anonymous population of the internet?


At least the good news is with 1001 Arabian Nights is you don't have to buy it. Project Gutenberg has at least one good version.


This is a complicated issue.

Modern translations (written in the last 30 years, say) are way way better than the public domain editions, not least because they don't have puritanical Victorians editing out all the "scandalous" bits.


See, for example, the troubles the noted explorer and translator Sir Richard Burton had. His translations of the Kama Sutra and 1001 Arabian Nights were considered scandalous in Victorian England.

He was an undaunted explorer and traveled widely and spoke 29 languages. He wrote extensively, but sadly his widow considered some of his papers too explicit to be published after his death and instead destroyed them.

His search for the headwaters of the Nile are the basis for the film Mountains of the Moon . See [1].

[1] Historical Badass: Explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton


What were the scandalous bits?


Sex (especially homosexulatity), drug use were major things


Those parts were definitely not in any version I read, so I should consider finding a modern translation myself.


Were Victorians Puritan?


Historically speaking, the puritanical have never really been all that hindered by a lack of Puritanism.


This is my number 1 problem when buying books on Amazon especially the classic books (e.g. Meditations or Enchiridion etc.) that has many different translations and editions from various authors. All having the same reviews making it almost impossible for me to choose the right one.


There is indeed a problem that the article describes: book pirates with very little oversight selling books on Amazon and making a profit for both. A result of this practice is that people get substandard copies of books with typos.

The headline suggests that these typos are sinister ("newspeak"). If that were true, that would be an entirely different and also disturbing problem. I did not find any mention of these errors to be so.


I think the disturbing problem lies in the proliferation of sources of misinformation, not in the motivations of said sources. We live in an age where information distribution is so cheap and convenient that everyone has ended up bombarded by noise, and few have the time and education or luxury to sift through it all. In the end, maybe Orwell was wrong about the source of the corruption of society: it's not controlled by an oligarchy or big brother; it's an epiphenomenon of a burgeoning, hyperconnected, disorganized collective.


Implying, so far, all that's lacking is the motivation to create sinister disinformation, not the means.. which this article demonstrates now exist.


> What unites all these books is that none of them paid the author anything

He's dead. None of the copies do that. I understand that the main point here is about counterfeiting, but perhaps copyright shouldn't last more than 50 years either...


People have a way of believing that the law -- whatever it might be -- makes terrible ideas into good ideas. From the bottom of https://www.kansas.com/news/state/article234237337.html :

> Last year, a Chinese national who was a research professor at Kansas State University was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for stealing valuable American rice seeds — a trade secret — that can be used to treat gastrointestinal disease, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, hepatic disease, osteoporosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

God forbid someone release rice that cures various gastrointestinal diseases into the wild. Someone might be cured!


This is a different thing than copyright and is ironically far shorter in time limited for anyone to use.


Paying people for their work incentivizes them to do work. You can read about in the US Constitution.


> Paying people for their work

This whole thread started with

> He's dead.

The point being that they're not getting paid for their work. Perhaps their descendants are, or far more likely these days, their employer.


That's because we're talking about two different cases.

Copying without paying a >50 year old book: no real negative consequences

Copying without paying a seed that was developed in the last few years: significant negative consequences

(Obviously there are significant positive consequences to pirating that rice. But limited-term IP strikes a reasonable balance between getting more done and also releasing it to the public.)


The US Constitution explicitly allows slavery...


Previously posted this week here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20738152 .



Amazing how a site that started by selling books now does an awful job doing just that. Another reason Amazon et al should be broken up.


I'd be fine with them simply being made directly liable for all piracy and counterfeiting on any of their platforms.


Why isn't this considered more seriously? The pirate bay wasn't selling torrents ffs, but they were targeted to hell and back.


The Pirate Bay wasn't run by the worlds richest man. Bezos could fully fund any primary challenger he wanted.


Especially annoying is seeing paperbacks listed for a book that only exists in hardcover


> Especially annoying is seeing paperbacks listed for a book that only exists in hardcover

Not quite as annoying as ordering a book listed as a hardcover and receiving a cheap photocopied paperback. (Has happened several times here).


To be fair, they have always done an awful job of selling books.

edit - 'Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle' - https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18am...


How would Amazon being broken up stop people from selling illegitimate copies of books?


If Amazon the marketplace was solely responsible for the upkeep of the marketplace, they'd be more inclined to actually maintain it in a working manner. Not to mention it'd be easier for publishers to sue them to compel compliance.


How would this actually work in practice? Do you expect regulators to break out just the book store from the other ecommerce stuff?

Would the whole shipping network, fulfilment, and distribution centers be repeated across all of these companies or would that be a separate company? What about the vendor marketplace and ecommerce code and massive analytics systems they built? Plus customers will have to go to multiple different websites depending on what they want (babystuff.com, bookstore.com, etc)?

These companies can't simply be divided geographically and regionally like oil and telecom companies can, that's counter to how internet companies work. So it'd have to be business unit / divisional.

It's easy to throw around anti-trust laws as a panacea for all the stuff we don't like by tech companies but we seem to be missing the whole concrete picture of what that actually means in practice.


I’ve shopped at a Barnes and Noble and a smaller local bookstore for many years. Guess what... somehow they manage to find a way to not sell counterfeit or greymarket shit.

All of these technical issues are problems of Amazon’s creation. Amazon wrote a bunch of software that doesn’t provide a supply chain that can maintain the integrity of what they sell. Sound like their problem.


Amazon is both a bookseller and a book publishing platform. Those should be split. Just because it's inconvenient for Amazon doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. That's kind of the whole point of antitrust law. The market is not necessarily better when it's efficient because it's controlled by a single entity. Do you all imagine yourselves as future robber barons with mustaches to twirl?


It's not about what's inconvenient. It's about what still makes sense as a single business...

Amazon's publishing platform is only a relatively small part of their wider business and doesn't answer any of my questions.


It does get a bit absurd. Prime Video has excellent content but having to access it through Amazon.com makes me feel like a theater is forcing me to walk through a gift shop to get to my seat.


So, like every theater, which is primarily funded by its concession booth?


Yes. Hence me visiting a movie theater perhaps twice a year instead of every weekend.


> If Amazon the marketplace was solely responsible for the upkeep of the marketplace

Who else is responsible for the upkeep of the marketplace?

The "break them up" argument works if there is an inherent conflict of interest that would get resolved if they were separate entities, but that isn't true in this case.


Amazon claims that the opaque sellers on their platforms are liable for what's sold on their platform, yet does no real verification on sellers, doesn't eliminate outright fraud, and allows known counterfeiters on their platform. Amazon provides no legal redress for harms caused by their platform and doesn't give you an address to go after since they comingled all the items that claim to be a single SKU. Amazon claims that they are completely unable to be held accountable for anything sold on their platform and has maintained this in court cases.


FBA was borderline fraud from the beginning — it was a scheme to evade sales tax.

The inherent conflicts of interest are everywhere. It commingles inventory, competes with its partners and encourages an auction like atmosphere for constrained product. Retail Amazon and marketplace Amazon need to be segmented for consumers to understand who and how they are buying products.


As I wrote in the previous HN thread:

>If you're wondering about some weird social ill plaguing society from the tech industry, 99% of the time the root cause of it is Section 230.

Which is also relevant to the big WSJ story today about Amazon's problem with fakes and unsafe products.


"On Sunday, Amazon said in a statement that “there is no single source of truth” [...]"


I see what you did, but taking that quote out of context is a bit ironic, given some of the points made in the article.

Which may be why you did it, to be fair. Is it?


Someone should make a start up that is the original Amazon idea and just sell books.




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