News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Friday, February 12, 2016

32 years later, Apple has become Big Brother

In 1984 Apple ran an ad during the Super Bowl that was stunning in its innovative approach. Directed by Ridley Scott, the ad borrowed from George Orwell’s novel 1984 with Apple presenting itself as the champion of the individual battling heroically against Big Brother. The villain was IBM, the monolithic giant with a stranglehold on the computer industry.

“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all,” Apple founder Steve Jobs said in a keynote address. “Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

Fast-forward 32 years. Today, the corporate monolith is Apple. As an author, I can attest to this firsthand.

Apple’s price-fixing
Writers and content creators were caught in the crossfire in the battle between Apple, Amazon and the major book publishers as they fought to wring every last penny of profit from authors and readers alike. Ultimately, Apple agreed to pay $450 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed Apple “harmed consumers by conspiring with five publishers to raise e-book prices.”

Draconian book submissions
Despite its setback in court, the market share of the Apple iBook was growing. So I decided to expand the offering of my third novel, PANCHO LAND, to the iBook format. That soon introduced me to the hard, cold face of a corporate monolith.

Before the book could be uploaded, I was forced to complete a number of financial and tax forms that required sensitive information. Reluctantly, I continued. After completing the surprisingly byzantine process (isn’t everything Apple supposed to be clean and simple?), I hit a stone wall. Turns out, I could not upload the manuscript from my Windows PC.

Frustrated, I decided to cancel the submission and let the publisher handle the upload through another distribution source. Most importantly, I was concerned about all the personal information I had provided and wanted it deleted. That’s when the irony of Apple’s 1984 ad smacked me in the face.

I received an email from the iTunes Store Legal Team that read:

We are unable to terminate your eBooks contract at this time. According to the terms and conditions of the contract, the contract must remain in effect for a full year.

I replied to the email and asked Apple to reconsider, pointing out that I had no intention of submitting a book.  I got a robot-like response that seemed the equivalent of a middle-finger salute.  

In order to upload books, providers must agree to the book agreement. As you have agreed to the terms and conditions of the contract, please contact us within 30 days of [one year after my submission date] to terminate your contract. 

In other words: Sorry about your luck, pal.

If that isn’t the voice of Big Brother, I don’t know what is. (I should point out here that no other eBook publisher that I’m aware of asks content creators to provide financial and tax information BEFORE they have uploaded their content.)   

Nonetheless, as Apple’s Super Bowl ad so powerfully conveyed back in 1984, individuals must fight back against the monolith.  

This blog post is my toss of the sledge hammer. I hope others will join me. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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