On Electronic Ownership

April 20th, 2011 | brainjuice, researchmaterial

I got pointed at a story on Gizmodo yesterday, claiming that when your subscription to a magazine on Kindle expires, the back issues on your Kindle vanish.  The story seems to have been pulled.  I also saw another story claiming that the pulled story wasn’t true, but that one seemed to have a factual error or two in the mix.  On the other hand, the story’s been pulled, so, you know.  Right now, I’m looking at this Kevin Kelly piece, that says in part:

In the long run (next 10-20 years) we won’t pay for individual books any more than we’ll pay for individual songs or movies. All will be streamed in paid subscription services; you’ll just "borrow" what you want. That defuses the current anxiety to produce a container for ebooks that can be owned. Ebooks won’t be owned. They’ll be accessed.

I think I might actually be okay with that, for books.  I have a lot of books.  So many that I’m currently having to cull them and take the bodies to the local charity shop.  I just can’t fit any more books in my house right now.  Possibly only one out of six books I buy are things I’m going to read more than once or twice.  I’m okay with five out of six books living in my Kindle account at Amazon.  I am, frankly, okay with not “owning” them in any conventional sense.  Should Amazon have one of its occasional ethical hiccups and delete a few, I am not without resources, and would be able to easily obtain a replacement by other means.  (This would probably happen with the same frequency that I currently manage to lose physical books in my house.)  In fact, ten years from now, there’s a fair chance I will have exported those books to another device or system entirely.  Because I’m not still accessing things via the Treo I had in 2001.

There are a lot of things wrong with ebooks and epublishing.  A lot.  But, on a personal level, this isn’t one of them.  For some things, ownership is less important than access.  Paying Amazon (or someone else) to keep a book handy for as long as they’re around so I can access it when I need it?  This seems useful to me.


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  1. You can find Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis