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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 12:30 pm (UTC)
I am a rereader of books. I had rocket ebook readers, which I used until I got my first Kindle two years ago, and was left high and dry when the company abandoned them. I still had the books on my own computer, and I transferred my library over to each new computer. Most of my books were from Baen and Fictionwise, so I didn't lose them. but there were a few that I lost access to.

So I use Calibre and plugins to keep archival copies of all the books I buy.
Jul. 8th, 2013 01:16 pm (UTC)
DRM is a really bad thing and I'm not in favour of it. It's a license for those big companies to make more money and little else.
And I'm sorry you had that experience with Rocket. As I said, for some reason I haven't made that transition to seeing e-books as quite as real as paper ones on some level. It's really interesting hearing how others relate to them. Thank you.

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