On ebook ownership and community

I love ebooks. I love that they don’t get dust, that they weigh nothing, are easy to take with me and move houses with, and that I can change the size of the text for my twitchy eyes. There is something I’d change if I could about ebooks, though: the ownership model.

On Amazon, ebooks are licensed, not sold. When I pay Amazon, they agree to let me ‘use’ an ebook for as long as I abide by their Terms and Conditions (which let me loan out some books once for a period of two weeks). If they think I am in violation of such (whether this is true or not), they may close my account, and I will lose access to the books I bought via them forever. While it’s unlikely that this will happen, I want to buy a book, not rent it indefinitely. Kobo allows me to download a book without DRM attached. I now have a file I can keep backed up. However, their Terms and Conditions say “Customers may not modify, transmit, publish, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the content of any Digital Content, in whole or in part.” Again, even though I’m not so worried about things being disabled due to bugs, I still have very restricted use of the book.

Sometimes I want to loan out a book or give it away. Lending a book to a friend is a way of making a personal connection, and something I’ve enjoyed doing for decades. It’s a way I can share something. It builds community. With the rental-purchase model, I give up that connection and say that ownership of books is all to be mediated by a company. Which I say is not a person. Why don’t you just buy print editions, you ask? Lots of books I like are not available in print! With Amazon and All Romance Ebooks, I can at least gift a copy of an ebook. Throw money at the problem, I guess. But it my objections about eroding community stand.

I don’t think it’s in authors’, publishers’, or distributors’ interest to let me give a book away. If I thought boycotting ebooks until they changed ownership models would be at all successful, I’d do it. I’m willing to pay more in exchange. In the meantime, I’m going to start buying print books of authors I like and put them in the Little Free Libraries about town and donate them to library book sales. Plus loaning them to friends. I hope one day someone else can share the love of books sent out into the wild.

I don’t think a boycott would be successful because I assume I’m in the minority for what I’d be willing to give up to get ownership of my e-library. Would you pay more to own your ebooks?