Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

books owned and leased

Tim Spalding:

We used to own our books. With most ebooks we own them in name, but effectively we lease them. As Jane documents, the slide toward more and more attenuated concepts of ownership continues.

The process is gradual. Mental models change slower than technology. If the Kindle had debuted with an access-based “faucet” model, it would have failed. Consumers would not have traded true ownership for a tethered, metered and monitored product. But we’ll get there soon enough, as each step away from ownership makes the next step more acceptable. Once you realize your Kindle book is not fully yours, you’ll accept it being mostly not yours. Google Ebooks are a further step away from ownership. Eventually you get to a faucet model, as music has done, either low-price (Netflix) or free (Pandora, YouTube).

By itself, such changes might be culturally and economically neutral. Ownership of paper books wasn’t so much a consumer preference as a side effect of their physical nature, and law followed and solemnized that state of affairs. Maybe the faucet model will produce more readers, more reading, more good books, more paid authors, etc. Or maybe it will produce less. Who knows?

Read it all, because there’s more thought-provoking stuff there. And see some useful commentary here.


  • As a librarian, it's kind of an odd subject for me to think about. My profession is built upon an access-based model of book use. So there's something similar between a library that loans books to its patrons and an Amazon or Google server full of books that rents out access to subscribers.

    But these two models, though they may be similar in form, arise out of very opposite values. The digital book-rental model comes from the desire to preserve ownership rights as much as possible in a context of extremely easy digital access. The library model, on the other hand, originally comes out of a desire to expand access capabilities as much as possible in the context of the inherent ownership limits of physical objects.

    So it's kinda like Amazon and libraries are arriving at the same point from opposite sides. Like I said, it's a little odd.

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