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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.


Jul. 8th, 2013 10:35 am (UTC)
Your thinking about ebooks is different to my thinking about ebooks. I think of ebooks as being exactly the same as paper books except they take up less space and they're harder to read in the bath, and given the main reason I get rid of books is because I don't have the space to keep them, ebooks appeal because they solve the main problem I have with books. I do worry that if I buy an ebook with DRM then a company will take it away from me, but I don't think that's an anxiety brought on by a desire for property as much as by the fact that companies have a fine track record in doing exactly that, because it's a good way to make even more money. When ebooks cost roughly the same as paper books but I can't lend them to people or read them on a different ereader than I own now, I don't like it. If the ebook is £2 then I'm happier regarding it as a temporary license to read.
Jul. 8th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
I think DRM is deeply damaging and I'd like to see it gone. And I share the suspicion of big companies and how they try to monetarise everything. I'm beginning to see why other people have that sense of ownership, too. Which is one of the reasons I asked. thank you!

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