The Horror of a World Without e-Books

I remember it like it happened yesterday.   I was having lunch with a friend about 12 years ago and when I asked her what was new she told me her husband had just bought her a kindle, and she was obsessed with it.

“A kindle?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

She pulled her little device out of her purse and began to show it to me.  “You can store hundreds of books,” she told me.  “When I go on a trip I don’t need a bag of books anymore, because they’re all here.  And no more waiting for books to come into the library, I just go onto Amazon and download them immediately.”

As a lifelong reader who’s usually reading three or more books simultaneously,  I was immediately curious.  Would the convenience of a light electronic device make up for the loss of holding a book in your hand, thumbing through the pages?  I had to find out.  I bought my first kindle, and the rest is history.  I’ve almost exclusively read ebooks ever since.

I love the convenience of reading ebooks.  I love that I can take every thing I am reading or think I might read with me in one tiny device.  I love that I can read the same book on my kindle, my iPad or my phone, whichever is most convenient.  I love that I can impulse buy books immediately without waiting to find them in the store or the library. I love that as my eyes get older I can make the font larger.   I love getting newsletters offering me the chance to try new authors for 99 cents. And I love that I can have hundreds of books at my fingertips without the clutter of shelves full of books.

So imagine my panic yesterday when I heard the news story that Microsoft was closing their e-book store. I didn’t use their ebook store, but it was the second part of story that caused me alarm: people who bought books on the Microsoft platform were losing them. When e-book retailers shut down, you lose all of your digital content.

I’m sure that I scarcely skimmed the terms of service when I first signed up to purchase books from Amazon on my kindle.  Which is why I didn’t realize until yesterday that on all these e-book (and music, movie, etc.) platforms when you purchase the book/movie/song you don’t actually own it.  You are actually just purchasing digital rights to access the item while it is accessible.  And it could become inaccessible at any time.

The reporter noted, for example, people have purchased songs on iTunes, then when iTunes lost the rights to them, they disappeared out of people’s song libraries.  Oh my god.  Do you know how many times I’ve looked for a song that I could swear I had downloaded and it’s not there? I thought it was me, but now I know I probably did purchase that song and it was later deleted when the license expired.  The money I paid to “own” the song was lost.

And then I really started to panic:  what if Amazon closed? I would lose literally access to over a thousand books I’ve purchased over th years.  And the thought of losing books makes me panic. I love my books.  I need my books. Sure, it’s unlikely the largest online retailer will close in my life time, but my books, my precious precious books, how is it I bought them but I don’t actually own them?

Have some of my books disappeared because the authors or publishers and Amazon don’t have a relationship anymore?  One day will I look to re-read one of my favorite books and find it gone, despite the fact that I purchased it?

Apparently ownership isn’t really ownership in the digital world.   I’d better get busy reading more of my ebooks while I can.



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