Tuesday, March 19, 2013

E-Readers: An Imbalance of Power

I love having a Kindle e-reader because I'm never without a book. I can pull into any sandwich shop or doctor's office and have something to read in an instant — something good, something I enjoy.

However, I understand the imbalance of power: I don't own the material on it. This is a small but very important point with me: I am "borrowing" the material for a price, and the very convenience of the current setup could be its greatest undoing.

I don't own the book. Or music. Or magazine. Even if I paid the agreed-upon price and downloaded it to my device, the distributor can remove it as easily as it was WhisperSync'ed on it. As a result, I often purchase books I already own in print: free classics in the public domain, cheap copies of my favorites on the shelf. I also plan to purchase the books I want to keep in perpetuity.

There are other drawbacks, too. Not all publishers have all books available in Kindle format. True, newer books are being published electronically these days, but not always immediately.

Also, I am beholden to the manufacturer of my device: may Amazon continue to thrive so my e-library can do the same. In all likelihood, someone would snatch up what I hope would be a valuable asset, should an unfortunate turn of events fell the giant Amazon's book-selling services.
However, in the wake of new ownership, there could be new rights and privileges for Kindle owners that don't equal their current ones. In other words, I could lose the very books I purchased. Remember Borders' free membership? Barnes and Noble, which purchased that service from the defunct bookseller, extended me a whopping three-month free membership; after that, I join the rank and file of its members. The "new" Amazon wouldn't have to keep its format, and we could have to re-purchase the books in a new format at the price we're given.

Plus, there's no guarantee that my Kindle will allow me to keep up with the electronic Joneses: technology advances at an alarming rate, and my young Kindle will someday be obsolete — heck, within months of my purchase, Amazon was selling a new, sexier version. Companies stop supporting hardware and software every day.

In the end, as much as I love having the convenience of the Kindle reader, I also understand its limitations. I've made e-book investments greater than I should, I am sure, and I'll live with those consequences. I'll also continue to value the printed page and its tactile ownership. I'm curious as to where we will travel with this technology, and I hope my greatest concerns are just that, and never realized. I suppose we'll just have to see.

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