An Open Letter to E-Book Retailers: Let’s have a return to common sense
October 26, 2012 | 9:45 am
By Joanna Cabot
I’ve read so many wacky news stories this week that my head is spinning.
There was the Random House thing—the idea that a publisher actually had to explain to its paying customers whether they owned their bought books or not just boggles my mind. Then there was the Norwegian lady who had all her books deleted, then un-deleted, by Amazon. And the assertion by a Kobo tech support person that accounts belong not to households but the one sole individual whose name is on the credit card …
Please, can we have a return to common sense sometime soon? I am not advocating piracy. I am not advocating some kind of content free-for-all where it’s the high seas and people swoon about with swords and treasure maps and stomp over rightful owners in their quest for gold. I buy my books (except when I read library books, which I pay for via taxes). I reward content creators for their labors, which I make use of. But in return, I am asking—pleading—to be treated in return like a real person, and given the trust to use my purchased content sensibly, and with some allowance for real life.
1. DO I OWN THE BOOKS, OR DON’T I?
On this issue, I think it should be clear. If the button said ‘buy now’ and I clicked on it and I paid anything remotely resembling full retail price, I should own the book. And therefore, I should be free to read it on any device I choose, with no limits—no ‘only five devices,’ or ‘only Amazon devices,’ or any such nonsense. Do away with DRM, or make it a non-interfering social DRM like a watermark or something. But it should be mine. If you don’t want me to own it, then call it a rental instead, charge me a rental-level price, and I will stop complaining about DRM, I promise. My library books expire after a set number of days. DRM enables that. I am perfectly fine with that system. I am not fine with DRM limiting my fair use on books I pay full price for.
2. A QUESTION ABOUT THE REGISTERED USER ISSUE
We need to get realistic, too, on the whole ‘registered user’ issue. If retailers are saying that only the user who owns the account can read the books, then isn’t it a contradiction that they’re also selling picture books intended for little children who don’t have credit cards with which to purchase those books? The idea that I am committing piracy if I buy a picture book from Amazon and load it onto a device to read with a little child (who gets to read the book, therefore, without paying) is simply absurd. People are not criminals if they want to purchase a book to read with their mate or their child. There is a difference between ‘loading it onto a BitTorrent network for all the world to see,’ and ‘I am the household tech person so everyone uses my account and my computer to load their stuff.’
3. OWNERSHIP ISN’T READERSHIP, EITHER
We also need to get over this idea of the ‘lost sale.’ Just having the book doesn’t mean you’re going to read it. Consider again the example of my household—we currently have two e-book readers, one for me and one for him, both registered to my account. We could potentially get more devices later, for ourselves or for the future children or whomever. And odds are, they will treat it the same way he does: They’ll hand it off to me, tell me what books they want and wait for me to get them. The strict letter of the rules would tell you this is not permitted because if we all share an account, we’re buying only one copy, whereas if we all have separate accounts, we’d buy more than one.
But how true is that? Of the 15 or so books he’s read on his Kobo so far, I can think of only one that even remotely interested me. Just because I have his books on my account doesn’t mean I’d care to read them, and it doesn’t mean I would buy a second copy for myself if he got to the point where he cared to download his own stuff. Similarly, people get books for their kids all the time, and maybe they glance through a book to make sure it’s appropriate before they give it to the kids, but clearly, it doesn’t mean they would buy another copy for themselves if the kids were getting their books some other way.
Let’s be real here. Parents buy for kids. Couples share computers, but not necessarily reading tastes. It doesn’t mean they are ‘pirates.’
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Please, retailers: Let’s have a return to common sense. If you want people to buy, let them buy. But then be reasonable about how you let them use their purchases. If you don’t want to be reasonable, and you want to control every eyeball, don’t let people buy. Turn the whole thing into a rental system and adjust your prices accordingly. But you can’t have it both ways—you can’t charge people buying prices and then treat them like renters. If you do, they will simply revolt and take their entertainment dollars elsewhere.
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