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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

dougs
Jul. 8th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC)
My concern here is fraud.

When I buy something, I (foolishly?) imagine that I've bought it, particularly if the vendor gives every impression that they're selling it to me.

When the DRM leaps up and bites me, it's evident that I haven't bought the thing at all, all I've bought is the right to use the thing until the whim of the DRM-issuer (or their loss of competence) says otherwise.

So they're claiming to sell me something, while they're doing no such thing. Which is fraud, with which I will not cooperate.

If they said, clearly and distinctly, "we are selling you the opportunity to read a book until we revoke that opportunity, or fail to continue to facilitate it, for a fee" rather than using terms like "buy" or "price", then I'd consider doing business with them But while they don't, they're fraudsters and will not earn my business.

This is not capitalist thinking on my part. It's a wish for consumer protection, in which capitalist thinking plays no part.
dougs
Jul. 8th, 2013 01:30 pm (UTC)
By contrast, I'm very happy to buy paper books, or download out-of-copyright material in open formats, and do so all the time.
la_marquise_de_
Jul. 8th, 2013 03:13 pm (UTC)
As I've said, I think DRM is stupid, and mostly about corporate profit. And I can see why you would see that market in that light.

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