Is Apple Needling Amazon on George Orwell’s Page in the iBooks Store?

Go to the iBooks store on your Apple device and notice a curious thing: George Orwell’s picture dominates the front page. He is the first author featured in the store today.

ibooks front page

Unlike the other authors and titles featured, Orwell isn’t contemporary. Next in line after Orwell is Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which came out as a feature film on August 15. The following feature is Sandra Brown’s Mean Streak, out August 19. The list goes on.

The only reason Orwell is relevant right now is because of Amazon, Apple’s toughest rival in the ebook retail market. On August 9, Amazon launched, a website telling its side of the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute. In it, the company invoked George Orwell, alleging that he was against the innovation of paperback books and suggested in his time that publishers collude to stop their rise:

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.

In a letter to the New York Times two days later, responding to a piece that pointed out that Amazon may have quoted Orwell out of context, Bill Hamilton, a literary agent and the executor of the Orwell estate, accused Amazon of “doublespeak”:

This is about as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak: turning the facts inside out to get a piece of propaganda across.

Here, again, Apple gets cheeky. From the company’s author description on its Orwell feature page (emphasis added):

The cultural impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four remains particularly profound, introducing such concepts as Big Brother, the Thought Police, and doublespeak, referring to cloaking the true meaning of words to spread propaganda.

Some have disputed Hamilton’s interpretation of Orwell’s original meaning, saying Amazon was initially in the right. The reference is still clear. Apple has not yet returned request for comment.

orwell page on ibooks



3 thoughts on “Is Apple Needling Amazon on George Orwell’s Page in the iBooks Store?

  1. Michael W. Perry

    It’s also true that Apple under Steve Jobs always had an interest in presenting itself as an Orwellian rebel against repressive government. Their 1984 ad illustrates that:

    However, like much in modern culture, particularly in faddish California, that’s more posture and pretense than reality. Check out the cities list in the Clock app that Apple ships with iPads and you’ll find the company bowing down to repressive regimes and brutal territorial occupations while being indifferent to beleaguered democracies. It is not a pretty sight.

    * Jerusalem, clearly within Israel and with a majority Jewish population is listed without a country, unlike Tel Avi. Note too that Gaza is listed as a part of \Palestinian Territories.\

    * Taipei, the capital of Taiwan is also listed without a country. Does Apple really want it to be brutally annexed by China, become a one-party communist state, and lose its political and religious freedoms? In effect, yes it does.

    * In contrast, cities in Tibet, which has been under brutal Chinese occupation since the 1950s, are listed as a part of China. \Occupation, what occupation?\ That’s also why Apple pulled Tibet’s Dalia Lama from its \Think Different\ ads in Hong Kong. Apple only thinks differently when its convenient and profitable.

    Go through the list for yourself. You’ll find a consistent pattern. Every single time the nationality of a city is questioned, Apple supports the position of either a repressive regime or of terrorism. There are no exceptions. This isn’t accidental. In an app where almost every city has a country, a decision had to be made not to give some cities a country.

    And no, I don’t think Tim Cook or anyone else at Apple longs for a dictatorship in this country. Self-interest rules that out. They simply lack the strength of what convictions they may have and as a result corporate self-interest rules. Illustrations:

    * Anger China by putting Taipei in Taiwan where it belongs, and they may find the sales of iPhones restricted by China. Taiwan, a democracy, won’t do that.

    * Much the same is true of Palestine versus Israel except for the former its not size but the ready resort to terrorism. Apple doesn’t want a bomb-laden truck pulling up to that new glass building they are building. Israel won’t do that. Palestine’s supporters will.

    * The same is true of any other illustrations you may find. Tibet is small and brutally occupied. China is huge and repressive. The latter must be obeyed, even down to the fine details of little-used apps.

    I should add that that real issue isn’t that Apple is driven by profits rather than any genuine hostility to an Orwellian dictatorship. That is true of many companies. The real issue is hypocrisy. Apple should not pretend to be what is most clearly is not. Hypocrisy, I should add, is the universal sin. People may debate about the rightness or wrongness of a particular act. But we all agree that someone shouldn’t claim one sets of standards and live another. That’s Apple.

    Apple’s corporate policies owe far more the Neville Chamberlain, Britain’s appeasing prime minister in the late 1930s, than to George Orwell. Apple should quit trying to project an image that’s so at odds with their corporate practices. Orwell is not their patron saint. Chamberlain is.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (a young adult novel about genuine courage)



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