Do we Or Do We Not Actually Own “Our” Ebooks?

Do we or do we not own the ebooks we buy from companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble? This is a topic which almost all of us who follow the world of ebooks concern ourselves with, as the whole area of ownership of ebooks is such a mess of contradictory information.

When we pay our $15 for an ebook version of a book that would cost us perhaps $14 if we bought the paper version, we not unreasonably feel that we own the ebook, as we would the paper one, but this is absolutely not the case as has been shown over and over again by unfriendly acts on the part of the ebook sellers.

Mike Evans, owner of the wonderfully named blog Macfilos (link below), which logically enough is mostly dedicated to Apple topics, but he does wander to other areas too, has written a piece on this topic which is a model of clarity and gives a very clear picture of the situation.   so, with his permission I am reprinting it here to share with you guys.

So the word is now with Mike.

Just who does own your ebooks?

A month after Amazon was taken to task for trashing a Kindle user’s entire library we find Barnes & Noble refusing access to a library because the original credit card used to buy (or should we start to use “rent”) the books had expired. Online booksellers will argue that these instances are anomalies and will rush to put things right, but I am left with a bad taste.

If you contract to “buy” a book or a piece of music, that medium should be yours for keeps. In the old days, we downloaded the stuff we’d bought and, as long as we didn’t lose our data, it was safe for ever. Now, with cloud storage becoming the norm, it is easy for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple to cut the cord.

In the old days, books were books. We could put them on a library shelf and admire them, we could even lend them to friends, give them away or sell them. Now, our ebooks are supplied to us in golden fetters. Woe betide anyone who attempts to copy a book, even to give it to a friend.

The time has come for international regulation of on-line booksellers. We should know exactly where we stand. Either we buy a book and have access to it for life, without quibbles, or it is made absolutely clear that we are renting for a specific period.

I have no preference either way because, call me a philistine, I seldom read a book twice unless by my beloved Dickens. But if it is clear I am renting instead of buying, I am entitled to a very substantial discount on the store price of a printed book. Unfortunately, at the moment, we often pay more for less.

by Mike Evans, 29 November 2012


Thus his take on this troubled topic.  I agree with him wholeheartedly when he states that either we can actually own our ebooks, and thus pay a reasonable price for them, comparable to the price of a paper book, or if they insist on keeping the current situation, then we pay a damn sight less for our licences to read those ebooks we hire….

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So, if you hadn’t realised before now that you are not actually the owner of any of your ebooks – with the pleasant exception of any that you have purchased without DRM protection that is; what do you feel about the whole subject?   Do you agree that there should be an ebook rental price, as with DVD rentals?   Or should they scrap the whole stupid thing and simply sell the ebook to us 100%?

2 thoughts on “Do we Or Do We Not Actually Own “Our” Ebooks?

  1. Richard Adin

    I didn’t think there was much controversy any longer about whether we own or lease ebooks: We lease them, just like we lease software. Why are they leased to us rather than sold to us? Because there is more money in leasing than in selling. As to B&N’s recent public relations fiasco, that is what it was — a PR fiasco, but B&N was correct within the terms of the lease agreement.

    The fault lies with us consumers. Even though we are being shafted by the publishers and booksellers, we continue to buy ebooks, thereby depriving our shafters of any incentive to reform. I have made it a policy not to buy any ebooks that come with DRM. I buy mainly at Smashwords and what I buy at B&N is almost exclusively the free ebooks that are DRM-free. Even doing that, I have more than 2,000 titles in my TBR pile, so there is no need to buy an ebook for $8.

    Just to be clear: I will buy an ebook for $2.99 or $4.99 at Smashwords, where the book is DRM-free. I will not spend any money on a DRMed ebook.

  2. Tony Post author

    Both you and I, Rich, know what it is all about, but to judge from my mail box, most people who only read a few books a year, and are not particularly computer literate are under teh impression that they would own any ebooks they might buy, as all the advertising talks in terms of buying, not renting or some other word for licensing. The impressions is created that ebooks belong to us.. words like “buy” “own” and similar are always used. Is this a case of actionable misrepresentation on the part of Amazon and similar I wonder?

    Anyhow, it is because of this general perception that I posted Mike’s excellent article here. The word needs to be spread.

    Like you, I refuse to pay ridiculously high prices for ebooks that are not mine to do with as I choose, so I also use Smashwords, the free ebooks on Amazon and similar and am never without something to read.


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