Burned by Digital Media

Amazon Kindle

Image by agirregabiria via Flickr

I am a fan of digital media.  I prefer my kindle to paper books.  I haven’t purchased a physical CD in a while.  I no longer have a CD-rom on either my computer or my wife’s computer.  I have whole-heartedly bought into the digital system of media.

In spite of this, I am alway frustrated when simple actions with physical media are no longer simple with digital media.

On the good side, digital media allows for cheap distribution, easy updates and a wide variety of creators.  I can upload a book to Amazon and sell it.  Someone can let me know a mistake, I can make a change and then send that change to Amazon and Amazon can send out updates to anyone that wants one.  On the whole I think that is great.

The problem is that sometimes publishers, instead of updating the file, remove the book and submit a new book.  The old book then gets orphaned.  Yesterday I went to loan a Kindle book to someone. When I tried, I just got referred to an Amazon 404 page.  Eventually after emailing and chatting with Amazon help I discovered that this is what happened for the book I was trying to lend.  It was a good book that I wanted to lend to someone.  After 30 minutes on email and chat and then drafting this post, I got a request to borrow a book from Lendle and again, another book I wanted to lend, that I have a legal copy to and I purchase with the rights to lend, had been orphaned by the publisher, and my lending rights removed.

Today is a good day to think about what we gain and lose from the transition to digital media.  Many people feel the physical loss of not touching a book or not having an entire album to listen to song by song.  But just as important, the transition to digital media will alway mean that you are not actually buying the book, or song, or movie, you are leasing it.  You may think you have some rights to use it as you think is appropriate.  But publishers, stores, authors and creators can change the terms after you have purchased the media and you can end up spending money on something you can no longer use.

Today is a protest about SOPA and PIPA.  We already know what media publishers have done in the past to protect their business model.  The continuous extension of copyright has meant that there are hundreds of thousands of books, movies and music that should be public domain, but are not.  There are tons of studies (here is one) that suggest that the extension of copyright hurts not only the economy, but artists and creators and consumers as well.

I am not a Luddite, I love my digital media.  But it is a good reminder that you will be burned, it is not a question, it is just a matter of when and how often.

By the way, if you get lots of free kindle book, be sure you look at your credit card statement.  This morning I had to request refunds for 8 books that should have been free, but were not and there was one more that I was a day late to request a refund.  Amazon’s deceptive pricing, showing a books as free for prime users or very quickly changing the prices, needs to be changed.

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