George Orwell estate criticizes Amazon's '1984'-style tactics against Hachette

John Hurt starred in the Michael Radford-directed adaptation of 1984 by George Orwell.

George Orwell's estate has blasted Amazon after the internet retail giant recently cited an Orwell essay in a defence of their tactics against the publisher Hachette.

Amazon and Hachette have been locked in a public dispute over a variety of issues, including disagreements over e-book sales terms, and accusations that the web retailer slowed their deliveries for Hachette releases and suspended the ability to pre-order the publisher's books.

Last week, a letter signed by more than 900 authors, collectively known as Author's United, arguing against Amazon's behaviour, ran in the New York Times this past Sunday as an advertisement.

A message "from the Amazon Books Team" was posted in response, arguing that the literary establishment of the past also kicked up a fuss when the invention of paperback books shook up the industry.

"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."

But Orwell estate literary executor Bill Hamilton has hit back at Amazon, saying he was "both appalled and wryly amused that Amazon's tactics should come straight out of Orwell's own nightmare dystopia, 1984."

Hamilton also pointed out, along with others, that the Orwell quote was taken out of context by Amazon. Indeed, the truth was more complicated. Orwell was actually praising the new line of Penguin paperbacks and his words were meant ironically.

"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," Orwell had actually written.

The author of the classics 1984 and Animal Farm certainly had concerns about how the paperback movement could introduce a "flood of cheap reprints" and "cripple the lending libraries," but he was by no means completely against it.

"In my capacity as reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as writer I pronounce them anathema," he wrote.

-With files from the Associated Press