Long gone are the days of rummaging through second hand book and record shops for that oblique cultural item once referred to by a friend of a friend in a late-night bar conversation. Nowadays, you just wake up, sit down with your hangover and buy the record on iTunes or the book on Amazon.
And while pajama-shopping is just too convenient and becoming more and more popular because it hits the weak spot of human laziness and immediate gratification, there are serious ramifications to this brand new world.
You Don’t Own Your Music Or Books
Imagine you visit a book shop around the corner, buy a book, carry it home and after a few weeks it refuses to open or mysteriously disappears right from your shelves. What sounds like a surreal fantasy is a sad reality in the world of digital book and music purchases.
Whether it’s the stories of Amazon wiping users’ Kindles or of Bruce Willis suing Apple to transfer his iTunes music library to his daughter posthumously (the story has been discredited by Willis’ wife, but the fact that it became widely spread speaks for itself), there’s an underlying concern about the fact that purchasing music on iTunes or books on Amazon doesn’t mean that you actually own them, instead you merely purchase a license for temporary access which can be revoked at any time.
I’ve read an article once that said this is actually a good thing because it teaches us not to cling to material possessions, but all piousness aside, if I bought something I want to have at least some control over it, not even for my own sake but just for being able to freely share it with my friends. So why can’t I give my iTunes music library or Kindle books to a friend just like I used to give them a record or a beaten paperback?
DRM: Artificial Limitations
DRM is the reason why you can’t share your Kindle books with your friends. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management which just a fancy term for copy-protection. Many Kindle books come with DRM (the publisher decides this, not Amazon) which locks a purchased book to a specific customer account and unique device. By nature, ebooks are digital files, just like an Office document and therefore can be copied infinitely without loss of quality. Some publishers don’t like this, they are afraid that they will lose sales from people who just copy instead of buying, so they DRM-lock their books (paradoxically it’s often these locked books which get most pirated). Not only does DRM prevent you from making backup copies of your purchases but if there’s ever a problem with your user account, you might lose all your books.
Pricing and Monopolies
Another reason why people are getting wary of buying through iTunes or Amazon is because with each purchase they are contributing to huge companies which make it increasingly difficult for any competitors to survive. In a way, each time you buy an ebook from Amazon or a song from iTunes you are bringing the world one step closer to a state where there are just a handful of monopolistic companies. If you want to keep on supporting authors and musicians but don’t want to feed The Man, what can you do?
Another World Is Possible
The irony of all of this is that it’s neither impossible or terribly difficult to implement an entirely different model. The problem is not about technological solutions but changing consumer habits. It’s so easy to buy books and music the corporate way and many people aren’t even aware of the limitations, until something goes wrong.
We recently launched an experiment with which we want to challenge these habits. Since Hanukkah is coming up soon we are giving away a whole bundle of Hebrew learning ebooks on a “pay what you want” basis, without DRM (no copy and backup restrictions) and instead of letting Amazon take a bite, we’ll donate 10% of each sale to a local charity for disadvantaged children.
This is not about making huge profits (although we certainly don’t mind if we do) but simply about showing that “another world is possible and we pledge to make it real”.
If you like this idea please take a few seconds to share this blog post or our Hebrew bundle with your friends. Thank you.
img: concocted out of clker items