The End of Book Sharing

I got a Kindle when the international version came out in October. I like it. Or, lets be more precise – I like the reading experience. I find reading books off the Kindle very agreeable. It just mostly does not get in the way of reading. But it comes with a license agreement, and my reaction when I saw that was “there goes book sharing”.

I other have gripes. The “international” part isn’t very international when it comes to it (more about that another day, maybe). Putting my own documents on the Kindle is way too complicated. There’s privacy concerns, and Amazon potentially deleting my books. And so on.

Cory Doctorow wrote about the license issue on BoingBoing yesterday. Apart from DRM being fundamentally broken, there’s a problem here that, at least for me, there’s a huge disconnect between how I usually treat books, and what the license allows. Back when I first ran into these licenses, it was about software, and that was not too bad. Software I will get, use, and eventually scrap. Passing it on is rare. Then digital music came along, and there was a problem. Music I usually buy and keep – and use many times. But I also let people borrow my CD’s, and I get inspiration from things I borrowed, and that doesn’t fit with DRM.

Books are different. Many books I buy and read, and put on a shelf not to be read by me again. Some of these I will lend to friends, sometimes many times. Some I give away. A book I buy may be used many times, but unlike a CD, a book will be mostly used by others. Likewise, friends plop books down on my desk, to read and keep, or give back, or pass on.

Books are shared. The format, the physical package, the way I read all make books sharing items. The license for the Kindle books go right against that. I just finished reading Carr’s “Does IT matter”, but I can’t pass it on to people I think would like it. That’s a serious problem – and one that’s hard to solve without abolishing DRM altogether. I don’t want Amazon to break the culture that surrounds books for me. I don’t want Amazon to destroy the intellectual sharing of passing books around – just because they are trying to turn what is for me a sharing item into a service, and a personal service at that.

I realize most ebooks come with some sort of shared account option. It’s possible to establish a shared bookshelf, so that at least I can share my books with my family. But that does not solve the problem of not being able to circulate books freely.

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