At the moment, there is a big uproar because Amazon removed some books from users' Kindle devices (see also   ).
This means that all the reassuring talks by Amazon that e-books are just like books, but better is a load of absolute nonsense. You're not allowed to resell them, you're not allowed to give them away, and apparently, you don't even own them, as Amazon can delete them from your Kindle at any given moment. (Thom Holwerda, osnews.com)
But yes, of course. Excuse me for being blunt, but only highly naive technophiles would ever believe that anything other than the above is the case.
Okay, and innocent, trusting customers. But if somebody like David Pogue seems to be genuinely surprised by this development, it must be a case of naive technophilia.
An e-book is a virtual book over which the publisher retains full control at all times. When you licence an e-book, you do not buy a physical copy that remains in your possession, you are merely granted the temporary right to access data on a server that is beyond your sphere of influence. When the conditions that regulate the access to the data change, the publisher can easily disconnect you from the book.
Actually, the same principle also applies to printed books, it simply cannot be brought about as easily. Only the copies in the bookstores can be recalled by the publisher; the copies already sold to customers may now be illegal, but tracking them down and removing them is impossible. This is one of the most important differences between access to a data service and possessing a physical object.
To illustrate the point that the Amazon case is anything other than an exception, here are some things that happened at The Library in conjunctions with e-books and e-journals:
- Due to an oversight, a bill for an e-book servive was paid one day after the due date. As a result, access to about 1000 titles was denied for the entire calendar month.
- The Library subscribed to an e-journal for a few years, then cancelled the subscription. The publisher removed access to the entire journal; the Library could no longer access even the volumes that it had paid for.
- An e-book publisher went out of business; the Library lost access to hundreds of titles at once.
- Sometimes, technical/connection problems occur that make hundreds of titles (they are usually bought in packages) temporary unavailable.
Libraries have been dealing with problems like these for quite a while, and are as a result now taking extremely great care to check what the licence agreements and contracts say to avoid situations like these. After all, denied access can have dramatic repercussions for their users (10,000 journals gone over night -- that's about as dramatic as a library burning to the ground, and it only requires that somebody flicks a switch somewhere).
So what is the surprise here? The fact that Amazon did something that was perfectly legal, took advantage of its licence agreements and cut access to a few e-book titles? Or the fact that users believed that this would never happen?
Complaining that Amazon cut the access to some e-books is like complaining that your Kindle doesn't work when there is no electric power. It's a condition that is inherent in the medium, just like "real" books are not easily searchable, bulky and take up a lot of space.