The digital dilemma
By Adarsh Matham
30th September 2012 12:00 AM
Time and again I have been shouting from the rooftops about how much I love my Kindle. And how convenient e-books are to carry around and read. Every month I find myself buying four to five e-books for my Kindle. But when Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton came out, I went ahead and bought the hardcover.
There is a reason for this. For one thing, when I buy an e-book I feel like I have been robbed blind. That is because I am a layman who does not understand how a 600-plus pages book printed on high quality paper and beautifully bound can cost $16.11, and how an ebook, which is pretty much a proof read document being emailed to you can cost $19.77. But this swindle is not even why I am going for printed books, at least when it comes to quality books. My problem with e-books is that it seems I don’t own them.
This idea that none of us own the digital content that we buy started with a rumour, that some British tabloids gladly carried without fact checking. It was reported that Bruce Willis, the Hollywood super star, was planning to sue Apple over the right to pass on his £40,000 iTunes library to his daughter. While later this has been confirmed as just a rumour.
For example, imagine buying a book from Amazon. You download it onto your Kindle. Once you read it, you can’t lend it to anyone without giving them your Kindle. So the book once read, lies on your Kindle, or on your cloud account like an unloved object. And when you die, it dies with you because the rights to own that book are attached to your user account which dies with you. My father has in his library many great books that I read and re-read. When he dies I will inherit those books. My son will also enjoy them and will get them when I die. What he won’t get are the wonderful, expensive books that I have bought on my Kindle.
It is not just books. Music, films, apps, games. Any of these things I spend a lot of money on cannot be passed onto my son. That is because, as it turns out we are just leasing content from the companies which is unlike buying physical objects that can be passed on. And if you thought this was bad, just think of the streaming model where your right to enjoy what you buy is restricted by factors like time and the device you buy it on, which further erodes the sense of ownership of the content that we buy.
But this is not to say buying digital content is entirely useless. The idea of buying music easily picked up with iPod in 2001, and the idea of buying electronic books picked up in the last four to five years when cheap e-readers like Kindle became accessible. On the other hand we have been buying physical object for hundreds of years. Compared to those we are in the infancy of buying digital content. One hope is that the companies that are selling us this content will pull their stuff together and come up with rules about how we can pass on those books. Till then I will sit out the e-book revolution.
The writer is a tech geek.
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