Do You Really Own Your eBooks? Microsoft, DRM, and Licensing

Excuse me, just a moment, while I get on my soapbox. Thank you.

Back in April, Microsoft announced it would be closing its ebook store. I didn’t even know they had an ebook store until last week, which says a lot about why they’re closing it. Anyway, I’m guessing it’s in the news now (see this Wired article) because they’re giving refunds to those who bought books through them and that process is going to start sometime early this month (July).

It’s the refunds that got some people on The Passive Voice talking and they brought up a fact that should be very clear to all those who “buy” books on Amazon, and so on.

You aren’t actually buying books. You’re licensing them.

In other words, you pay to look at the book, to read it, to put notes in it, and highlight different parts of it. But if the bookseller decides, for whatever reason, to take the book from its shelves, it’s gone.

iTunes works the same, and the Wired article mentions the same problem is creeping up on those with smarthome systems and cleaning robots.

Even when you think you’ve bought something, you haven’t really bought it. You’re only being given permission to use it.

Here’s the thing, though, with my fiction, I want you to own it. I want you to be able to download my ebooks and move them from device to device. I don’t like knowing that the books you’ve purchased can be taken away from you at any moment and for any reason, without even a warning. It’s one of the things I really like about Smashwords, and it’s the reason I signed up with Gumroad, so that I could offer free downloads of my work if anything were to happen with Amazon or the other big retailers. It’s a big reason why I’m not exclusive with anyone.

In fact, I think that’s the way all ebooks should be. Once you buy it, it’s yours, same as if you’d bought a chair or a mirror or an actual print book.

I’m posting this so that any readers out there who were unaware that they didn’t own their books, might become aware, and start buying books from sellers that sell downloadable copies. Or at least be prepared if their books just disappear one day.

Getting off my soapbox now. Thank you.


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