NSA Scandal Sends Sales of George Orwell's '1984' Soaring on Amazon

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1984
Colin Dunn, Flickr.com
A complementary commercial winner-and-loser pair has emerged from the disclosure of the NSA's domestic data dragnet, one that would surely bring a thin-lipped smile to the face of Eric Arthur Blair, the English Democratic Socialist who wrote as George Orwell: While Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), the defense contractor that employed leaker Edward Snowden, has seen its stock plummet since the revelation of its connection to the scandal, Amazon's (AMZN) sales of "1984," Orwell's classic dystopian novel of surveillance and control, have skyrocketed.

The LA Times reports that sales of the book, which concerns a discontented propagandist working for the Ministry of Truth in a time of endless war, are up 5,771 percent as of Tuesday morning. From a sales rank of 12,507 in the days before The Guardian published top-secret government documents provided by Snowden, "1984" has risen to crack Amazon's top 200.

As of this writing, both the Signet Classics paperback edition and a hardcover volume, "Animal Farm and 1984," appear on Amazon's list of "Movers & Shakers: The biggest gainers in Books sales rank over the past 24 hours," as numbers 16 (up 139 percent) and 11 (up 274 percent), respectively. "1984" has of course gotten a lot of free advertising over the last week, as NSA opponents have compared the government's methods to the nightmarish excesses of the totalitarian regime Orwell imagined.

The LA Times notes that President Obama alluded to "1984" on Friday when speaking in defense of his policies: "In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance." Big Brother is the novel's Party leader, surrounded by a cult of personality and committed to rooting out so-called thoughtcrime, or inward deviations from political orthodoxy.

As The Washington Examiner observed, June 6 was the novel's 60th anniversary. Nearly 30 years ago, it provided the inspiration for one of Apple's (AAPL) most successful advertisements, a Super Bowl spot directed by Ridley Scott that likened the Macintosh computer to a rebellious heroine resisting slavish conformity. According to U.S. News, "1984" is a favorite read of the young Republican users of politically-inflected matchmaking service RedStateDate, along with the Bible and novels by Ayn Rand.

Strangely enough, while Amazon isn't one of the Internet companies tied to the spying program known as PRISM, the e-commerce giant has already tried to join forces with the national security state. In March, Federal Computer Week broke the news that Amazon was working with the CIA to build a cloud computing network in a deal worth up to $600 million. Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office sided with IBM (IBM), which had protested the awarding of the contract, and recommended that the agency reopen negotiations on the project. The CIA has two months to respond.


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