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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

autopope
Jul. 8th, 2013 10:04 am (UTC)
I've been reading ebooks since 1997 or thereabouts.

I have been burned -- twice -- by ebook storefronts which switched off the DRM servers when they went bust/were absorbed by someone else with an incompatible platform. At this point, a book I'd paid them for became inaccessible and no longer readable.

For me, ebooks are more like paperbacks than library books: while 90% of the time I don't re-read them, I like to know that I have the ability to do so without having to pay for them all over again.
la_marquise_de_
Jul. 8th, 2013 10:13 am (UTC)
That makes sense. I think I don't buy books I think I'll want to keep as e-books, because they don't somehow register as real with me. Or something.
Also, my experience has been that books are fairly easily to replace. The only ones I really hang on to are some of my academic books -- ones that are long out of print and hard to find secondhand -- and particular books with specific associations (usually gifts). I'm aware I may well be an outlier on this.
autopope
Jul. 8th, 2013 11:25 am (UTC)
I've gone 100% ebook-only since 2007.

Reasons:

1) Out of space. I have far too many books and live in a top floor flat with no room for expansion. (I really ought to get rid of a load, but that means boxing them up, finding a rare short-term parking slot outside the front door, carrying boxes down 4 flights of stairs, driving to a second hand bookshop and parking ... and hoping they'll take them.)

2) Tendency towards a bad back. It's not too bad most of the time, but walking around with a shoulder bag weighing over 2.5kg or a backpack loaded with over 3kg for more than an hour hurts. A typical hardback weighs 0.7kg, a paperback weighs 0.2 to 0.3kg. So, when travelling, carrying lumps of dead tree is deprecated. And I don't like having to stop/start a given book when I go somewhere for the weekend. Hence: keep everything on the e-reader (weight: 0.16kg).

I'll make a rare exception for second hand/unusual books, but in general I'm ebook-only these days.
la_marquise_de_
Jul. 8th, 2013 12:55 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. And it's a good reason for a sense of ownership, too, because it ties into life needs.

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