New ‘Sensitive’ Editions of Roald Dahl Books Show Power of Big Tech

The new “sensitive” editions of the Roald Dahl books by Netflix has been caused by a lack of competition in the digital space, Australian MP Andrew Leigh has said.

This follows criticism of British publisher Penguin who was criticised for changing and rewriting Roald Dahl’s books. The changes were made to make them more suitable for the modern audience.

In his speech, which was delivered on March 17 at the Monash University Business School in Melbourne, Leigh, who is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, used the recent Dahl incident to highlight the imbalance in the digital space, where dominant platforms have used their power to exercise more power in the market.

It was previously revealed in February 2023 that new editions of Roald Dahl books by Netflix would have hundreds of words either changed or removed.

“In an attempt to make them more inclusive. Children are no longer described as ‘fat’. Some references to ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ have become ‘parents’ and ‘family’,” Leigh said.

“The Roald Dahl affair says as much about the power of platforms in the digital age as it does about the words we use to describe plus-sized children.

“But few noticed why it had occurred. Copyright in Roald Dahl’s books is now wholly owned by Netflix,” Leigh added.

Acclaimed British-American novelist Salman Rushdie was among the many who criticised the edits to the books.  “Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed,” said Rushdie in a Twitter post.

Future of Original Dahl Books

Even though Netflix is rolling out new editions of the Roald Dahl books, UK publisher Puffin announced on Feb. 24 that it would release The Roald Dahl Classic Collection with Dahl’s original texts in print; 17 titles will be published as individual paperback titles and will come under the Penguin logo.

The classic collection will sit alongside the newly released Puffin Roald Dahl books for young readers, giving readers the choice of which version of Dahl’s stories they prefer to read.

“At Puffin, we have proudly published Roald Dahl’s stories for more than forty years in partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company. Their mischievous spirit and his unique storytelling genius have delighted the imaginations of readers across many generations,” said Francesca Dow, the managing director of Penguin Random House Children, in the statement.

“We’ve listened to the debate over the past week, which has reaffirmed the extraordinary power of Roald Dahl’s books and the very real questions around how stories from another era can be kept relevant for each new generation.

“Roald Dahl once said: ‘If my books can help children become readers, then I feel I have accomplished something important.’ At Puffin, we’ll keep pursuing that ambition for as long as we make books.”

In 2021, Dr. Seuss books were also subject to a form of cancel culture when the company in charge of its catalogue decided to pull six titles from publication due to “offensive imagery.”

Collaboration Between Dahl and Puffin

A spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company told The Epoch Times in an email that the process started before Netflix acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company in 2021. The current review began in 2020, and was led by Puffin UK and Roald Dahl Story Company together.

“We want to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today,” the spokesperson said.

“When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details, including a book’s cover and page layout.

“Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”

Big Tech Influence On Digital Market

With digital platforms being fundamental to the modern economy, Leigh raised the issue that the right safeguards are needed within the digital marketplace.

Big tech digital platforms, software and online websites such as Meta, Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon—referred to as “MAMAA”—form the dominant platform with more than half the market, leading to considerable power over consumers and digital competitors. This has led to Amazon having control over the e-book market through the use of digital rights management.

Due to the scale and size of market concentration, there is less competition between competitors in the digital marketplace. Leigh said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) observed digital platform markets tend to have one or two platforms dominating a market, where users are often drawn to the platform with the largest number of users, making “market concentration is to a degree inevitable.”

“For a recent example of network effect, consider those people who responded to recent changes at Twitter by moving to the platform Mastodon—only to find it was rather lonely there, and return to Twitter.”

The ACCC reported in the Digital Platform Services Inquiry (pdf) published on February 2022, that digital platforms such as MAMAA collectively acquired 296 acquisitions between January 2016 and December 2020. The watchdog recommended a number of measures, such as a new competition framework, which will ensure codes are applied to service use while also prohibiting unfair contract terms that will encourage digital competition.

Digital platforms are also to mandate dispute resolution processes and obligations to prevent and remove scams, harmful apps and fake reviews.

Although the federal government has not locked in any decisions following the ACCC report, Leigh said the government supported targeted and practical changes and believes regulation is important in the digital economy but has yet to bring any change apart from introducing potential legislation laws for the concentration.

The Epoch Times reached out to MP Andrew Leigh for comment.

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