Apple may be a big dog in music and movie sales and rentals, but it’s definitely not a big dog in e-books. That’s what makes this note from Seth Godin particularly galling. In a post on PaidContent, Godin writes that Apple has refused to sell his new book Stop Stealing Dreams because it contains links to Amazon in the bibliography.
The reason cited is that there were “Multiple links to Amazon store.” This could be an overzealous Apple gatekeeper messing up, but they definitely messed up with the wrong guy.
Arguably, the Apple book store doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in this whole thing, especially considering you can grab an epub right here. And, arguably, Godin does add his own affiliate ID in the link, which will presumably get him a cut for the hot, hot hardcover technology books he references in the text. Arguably, as well, Apple is being dicks.
This sort of move is a slippery slope. Folks who have been following Apple’s draconian app guidelines will understand the impetus here – the refusal to allow commercial activity outside of Apple’s purview – but that doesn’t make it right. I could, for example, add a link to my cookbook (“Order crystallized stoat musk at the Village Stoathandler ($5 with the coupon code LOVESTOATMUSK)”) that essentially points a reader to something they would not normally know about. As Godin notes:
Books are books are books – until they aren’t. We can take this argument in either direction. First we can say that the book is a sacred space free of commerce and that Apple is correct in their refusal to pollute the written word as such (you can, incidentally, buy my book here. It’s tangentially related). Second we can say that Apple should have control over what is sold through their channels for various reasons, legal, ethical, aesthetic, and otherwise even if that sale is made within a book and even if Apple doesn’t sell that book in its own store. Either way – the effete artists route or the mercenary merchant’s route – turns this great e-book experiment into a more cynical place than it needs to be.
In the end, Apple has no right to check the insides of books but by gar they will. They will refuse to sell a book on school-marmish grounds, just as any bookseller can refuse to sell Henry Miller or that vapid slobber-fest that is Heaven Is For Real, but it makes them look like idiots. They can begrudge a dude for links, as well. Why not? It’s a free country and it’s their walled garden. Sure that’s like refusing to allow a band to sell CDs out of its trunk because it would undercut the tickets sold at the skeezy club they’re playing, but commerce is commerce and censorship is censorship is censorship – and this is both.