I have a book on my desk, The Consolations of Philosophy, it cost me £3.49 from the Oxfam bookstore, on Amazon it’s £7.36 paperback or £8.99 in the Kindle edition. So it costs more to have it digitally sent to the Kindle app on my tablet than to have it sent through the post.
I’ve often said that I prefer paper books and for that matter CDs and DVDs because of the sense of ownership, having a physical object in my possession but a recent problem encountered by a Kindle owner illustrates how with digital media the issue of “ownership” is less clearcut.
We’ve known for years that computer software is not owned but licensed and that when you buy a book you’re only buying the medium not the content but as the story outlined by Gizmodo shows an online book or music store can, as per their terms and conditions, remove your access to what you have paid to use and the term “buy” is not strictly accurate as you already own the medium (the Kindle, Nook etc).
Recently a Norwegian woman was, for unexplained reasons, locked out of her Amazon account and as her Kindle had broken she could not reload the books she’d paid for onto a new device, it was however eventually resolved following coverage on various websites. Amazon said that if a user’s account is closed then they still have access to the books on a device, but it appears that if you change devices you wave bye bye to “your” content. So it’s not really “yours” at all. Imagine if you opened up a novel you were half-way through and it had turned into an unlined notebook. Apart from having the opportunity to write your own ending you’d be a bit miffed.
Of course you could say, as the music industry has done for years, that this prevents illegal copying, that if you lost or damaged a physical book you’d have to buy a new one, and occurrences like this are rare anyway but it highlights a question that needs answering, the industry needs to either enable access to content you’ve paid for regardless of whether you or they have closed an account and promise not to arbitrarily remove content or say up-front that what you’re getting is little more than a long-term hire agreement.