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On e-books and capitalism

It occurred to me this morning, in light of something someone said yesterday on twitter, to wonder about the anxiety some readers have about ownership of the e-books they buy. It's an anxiety that seems to cross all the boundaries of readers, from those who just buy happily from the big outlets to those who campaign against DRM and those who happily pirate. They are all concerned that they should actually, definitely, irrevocably own those pieces of data and they are anxious that someone -- especially the big companies -- might take it away from them.
Capitalist thinking pervades everything. This anxiety is all about property (even, in some cases, where it's expressed as an anxiety over freedom.) I find this interesting, even more so when you consider that many of these same readers are suspicious of the control exercised by big business, which is a valid concern in socialist terms.
Now, from the perspective of writers, a book or story is the product of their labour and their concerns are around the ways in which this is alienated from them, either by official middlemen or by unofficial ones. This makes perfect sense to me: workers need to eat, and in capitalist societies, they are dependent of the product for this, either directly or indirectly.
But the reader anxiety -- 'I paid for this, so I must own it forever' -- strikes me as both symptomatic of the pervasiveness of capitalist thinking and as slightly illogical, especially when it's on the part of those campaigning against big business. There's a disconnect in the thinking, there, somehow, because the radical ideas are underpinned by a deep-rooted attachment to, and anxiety over ownership. Indeed, on some level, the desire for freedom from DRM -- which I share, btw -- is closely entangled with the same desire for control over a perceived piece of property as fuels the supporters and inventors of DRM, though on an individual rather than a company level.

Capitalist thinking infects everything.
For the record, I discover I don't have a deep attachment to owning e-books. Most of those I buy I read once. In my head they're rather like library books. I don't know why this is. I need to think about that more, clearly.

Comments

pauldormer
Jul. 8th, 2013 09:52 am (UTC)
I bought an e-book reader just last month, mainly to make it easier to read the Hugo nominees I get sent. Easier than reading on my netbook, which is what I did last year. I bought the cheapest Nook reader and what I find interesting is stuff I buy from Nook, I can't copy to my computer (whereas I can copy stuff from my computer to my reader). I've been using an iPod for some years now, and there, music you download from iStore is copied to your computer, and you can back it up and all the other stuff you expect to do with files. (Really, I want the equivalent of ripping a CD - insert a paper book in a slot in my computer and you get a file you can transfer to your reader in a few minutes, and preferably not the Vernor Vinge method.)

So, so far I've only purchased one e-book and I've as yet no idea how many I might buy in the future. However, I have been investigating things like Gutenberg and found myself reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
la_marquise_de_
Jul. 8th, 2013 09:56 am (UTC)
I think I mainly think of my e-reader as a way to take lots of books with me when I go away, and yes, a way to access big heavy old books like Gibbon. I don't buy books I know I'll want to have forever and easily accessible in digital form.
Having digital and paper copies of certain books is useful, I can see, too.

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