Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One More Reason I Still Don't Buy E-Books

Unless e-book and e-music purchasers have shopped very carefully, they do not really own the vast majority of the content they have downloaded to all those e-readers and mp3 players out there.  Rather, they own a license to use the products.  Unfortunately for them, very few of the benefits of true ownership come with those licenses, and that is precisely why I refuse to spend a whole lot of money on digital content.

Now, the Wall Street Journal, via its Market Watch page, gives me one more reason not to invest any money in e-books.  The article explains just what might happen at a collector's death to all the cash he has invested in digital content over his lifetime.  True, as the old saying goes, you can't take it with you, but if you are not prepared ahead of time it will all be gone with the wind anyway.

Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated.

And one’s heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.” “Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.”

According to Amazon’s terms of use, “You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content.” Apple limits the use of digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder.

“That account is an asset and something of value,” says Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, an estate-planning attorney at Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard in Parsippany, N.J.

But can it be passed on to one’s heirs?
Most digital content exists in a legal black hole.
 That's probably enough to make most of you at least a little nervous, but the article does go on to explain one or two reasonable workarounds to the problem.  Of course, the easiest fix is to pass legislation keeping digital content from being sold with all these absurd restrictions in the first place.  And until that happens, I'm not buying - especially at the crazy high prices some publishers demand for their books.

Thankfully, a few publishers have already come to the realization that it is bad faith to restrict usage of the books they sell.  They are out there.  Support them and maybe the rest will finally come around.

This is a good place to start looking for DRM-free e-books.


  1. Sam, this was interesting to read, as there is a problem with the rights to books on the e-readers, how the licence is handed out, or not. I think it's ridiculous that the books on an e-reader can't be passed on to a family member in a will! But then, no one has looked at if e-books are considered 'real' books, what the difference between a paper book and a virtual book are.....if there are any.

    I don't have an e-reader, and still like my books to hold and look at. I have Kobo reader on my cell phone, and checked out some titles in curiosity, and was shocked at the prices - I'd want the actual book, for those costs, not just a virtual copy that isn't real. See? even for us, the terms of what's real, is still confusing.

  2. E-book marketing is a mess right now, Susan. I can understand why publishers are concerned about selling unrestricted electronic copies of their books - very easy to duplicate them by the thousands - but I'm sick of having a retailer assume that I'm a thief every time I buy something from them. E-books are being pirated so much precisely because of the outrageous price being charged for them by the large publishers. Same thing happened with music until the price was dropped, removing the huge monetary incentive to steal them.

  3. Gosh, I wish I had someplace more healthy for my books than the basement. They might be gone with the wind too if I don't win the lottery and get a proper library!

  4. virtual book = virtual reality = not
    really there.

  5. No doubt, Harvee Lau, that print books deserve some care and attention if they are going to be preserved for future generations. But e-books have a way of disappearing, too, and that is forever and disturbs me greatly. Totally agree with you that a "virtual book" is not real.