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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 03:11 pm (UTC)
Well, I've been a book addict for the last 43 years (and at the time books were the holders of truth for me, my own version of " Ipse dixit" was " The book said so!" until my parents managed to convince me that *people* write books, and if people can be wrong, books can too).

Since a few years I have transitioned to e-books and now the great majority of my reading is in e-format (in the last 6 months: 1 paper book, 67 e.books).

I am a compulsive re-reader and very short-sighted, the possibility to carry hundreds of books with me and the ability to change the size of the font are a godsend. Much to my surprise I realized quite early after going digital that to me e-books are just as real as physical books (definitely more real tham the new paperback that literally self-destroyed while I was reading it, the ink was coming off the pages as I turned them, the worst experience in my reading life).

I still love books as objects, I collect signed first editions and buy art books and cookbooks in paper, but I read digital.

I strip the DRM (if there's one) and store my e-books on my computer for safekeeping, as others have said it's more a matter of control than ownership.
Jul. 8th, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC)
That makes sense.
I had that attitude -- all truth is in books -- as a child, too.

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