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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 12:59 pm (UTC)
That makes perfect sense. And it's a useful insight into this, too: thank you.
I wonder if one could create a collectivist model -- a sort of virtual library, available to subscribers (ideally with a low subscription within reach of everyone, and with authors deriving something equivalent to public lending right?).
As I said, I don't like DRM: I'm not a fan of Big Capital at all or of large companies that dominate everything for their own profit. I suppose I'm wondering if there's a stage beyond DRM free, which would open ebooks up to an even wider audience without leaving authors without any income at all.
Jul. 8th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
Some libraries now do lend ebooks. In fact I believe that ours does and I keep meaning to investigate, but haven't managed to get around to it yet. Presumably the authors get the public lending right payment in the same way that they do when a physical book is lent.
Jul. 8th, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
Ours does too.

Love, C.
Jul. 8th, 2013 06:01 pm (UTC)
I hope so, too!
Jul. 8th, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC)
I really hate DRM; Lois McMaster Bujold oddly enough has some really aggressive DRM on some of the stuff she's put out recently and it's definitely something which I find off-putting to the point that whereas I've paid hardback, day of issue prices for her in the past, I'll not spend 1.99 on her DRM'd ebooks.

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