I own and run one of the primary contributors of new public domain e-texts on the web: sacred-texts.com. I am (was?) in the process of converting all of the 2,000+ e-books at sacred-texts into Kindle editions. I use a homebrew preflight Kindle filter to construct the Kindle binary from my master files, which we have invested nearly a million dollars into creating. We spend thousands a month in-house doing legal clearance, scanning, OCRing, and proofing, often by domain experts. So we are hardly a fly-by-night operation. In fact, many of the PD texts floating around on the Internet and on the Kindle were originally done at sacred-texts at great investment of labor and time. Our Kindle return rate is close to zero.
I just received the following email from Amazon:
We're working on a policy and procedure change to fix a customer experience problem caused by multiple copies of public domain titles being uploaded by a multitude of publishers. For an example of this problem, do a search on "Pride and Prejudice" in the Kindle Store. The current situation is very confusing for customers as it makes it difficult to decide which 'Pride and Prejudice' to choose. As a result, at this time we are not accepting additional public domain titles through DTP, including the following:
The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ
Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Medieval Mysticism
The History of the Knights Templar by Nicolas Notovitch
If you believe that we have wrongly identified this title as a public domain title, and you are the copyright holder or are authorized to sell it by the copyright holder, then please reply to email@example.com with appropriate documentation of your e-book rights.
Thank you, Amazon.com
One key point is that Amazon has applied this ban completely non-selectively. Established publishers such as myself and others who have never had any quality control issues whatsoever, and give good value for the price, have all been tarred with the broad brush of "Public Domain Publisher — do not post."
By banning new public domain books from the Kindle, they are making an implicit decision as to which books people should read. You can argue that "you can get these texts anywhere," but by excluding high-quality Kindle books from the nascent Kindle marketplace, Amazon is implicitly deciding what is a valid part of our culture and what isn't. This trend does not bode well for the future of e-books.