You don't buy ebooks

Feb 16 2011 Published by under information policy, publishing

Let me say that again: You don't buy ebooks. You license them.

You don't buy ejournals, you license them. In most cases, you stop paying, you no longer have access.  Ebook collections in the library? In most cases, you stop paying, you no longer have access.

Unfortunately, David Dobbs just learned this the hard way. iBooks you licensed disappear if your phone has been unlocked or jailbroken and you do the update. You broke some aspect of the license so they stop their part of the license - providing the content.

Remember when Amazon pulled back copies of Orwell books from Kindles? It didn't matter if you held up your part of the license in that case, they found that a third party had broken the law.

Libraries are trying to write licenses to have "perpetual" access but in many cases this only applies if you license individual books, not collections. We also like schemes that provide a backup like LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, or Portico. AND we do everything we can to make sure we hold up our end of the license (no bulk downloading, only the people who are supposed to have access do, etc.). This is why we sometimes seem like the watchdogs for the publishers.

Just get your stuff from a library, then when it goes poof you can just check it out again. Or if not, maybe a third party (like B&N or Amazon) would prevent the iBook issue (if not the other issues).

7 responses so far

  • No I don't. And this is one of the reasons why.

  • Mark says:

    What you state is true for cloud-based ebooks; however, not correct for all ebooks.

    I have purchased and downloaded three ebooks from Baen. These ebooks are on my computer's hard drive. I also made copies for backup. Therefore, I own the copies. I also purchased an ebook from Google, and I was able through their instructions, to download it to my hard drive. Once again, I made backups.

    Moreover, I can read them all on my computer, my Nook Color, and my Android Incredible.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      The important part is not that you downloaded them - in each of these cases the books were downloaded. It matters whether there is DRM (digital rights management) or TPM (technological protection measures) employed. If there are, you still have licensed and not purchased.

  • Of course, you're right, DRM ebooks are licensed. But I think this particular response to jailbreaking is a bad decision from Apple.

    Especially since jailbreaking is explicitly legal in the U.S., and especially since there's no way to buy an unlocked iPhone in the U.S. (unlike in Europe). AT&T adamantly refuses to do a carrier unlock on phones under any circumstances (even if you're leaving their coverage area, even if you have fulfilled your 24 month contract).

    I certainly don't foresee buying from iBooks anytime soon!

    What's less clear to me is what *other* options readers have for these DRM'd iBooks, beyond using them on a phone or iPad: can they download them again? Can they read them on another platform (e.g. a laptop)?

    • Christina Pikas says:

      Yeah, I'll bet if they get enough notice, they'll backpedal somehow. I don't know about what those people can do. Maybe read on their laptop in iTunes?

  • Not surprising given all of the other stuff Apple pulls with digital rights management- it just sucks that most people have to learn this the hard way.

  • Paul says:

    You are confusing buying and leasing. When you lease a book, the material has to be right protected so that it can be returned. Remember a service is not allowed to copy materials, they can only rent what they own.