We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.
George Orwell, “In Front Of Your Nose”
Amazon is losing it. Answering the open letter from 900 authors asking them to stop strong-arming publishers into lowering book prices, its publicists twisted the words of George Orwell, of all people, in a bit of selective quotation worthy of marketers trying to find review quotations for the world’s worst movie.
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.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.
It must take an extraordinary amount of self-delusion (and/or a terror of questioning Jeff Bezos) for Amazon to claim with a straight face that Orwell would have supported their blackmail. What he actually said, in a 1936 review of several new Penguin paperbacks, was
The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.
Yeah. He’d be right there supporting Amazon, were he alive today. Especially after they deleted all copies of his most famous novel from Kindles a few years back. Amazingly, their screed remains uncorrected as of this writing.
Orwell’s point in the article was actually that cheap books are good for consumers, but bad for writers and publishers. So, not only did Amazon twist his words around, they took those words from an essay arguing that it was foolish to keep driving the cost of books down:
[I]n my capacity as writer I pronounce [paperbacks] anathema. …[T]he result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries (the novelist’s foster-mother) and check the output of new novels. This would be a fine thing for literature, but it would be a very bad thing for trade, and when you have to choose between art and money well, finish it for yourself.
I am an Amazon customer, but I am becoming increasingly ashamed of that fact. I was angry enough at their extortionate behavior, but when they lie outright to our faces and tell us they’re on our side, they can’t be ignored any longer.
At the end of the same essay I quoted to start this piece, Orwell answers another question ("Why bother writing these things?):
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events.