Why I Stopped Buying Ebooks.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while.  And this goes not only for ebooks, but anything bought electronically that doesn’t include tangible items being shipped to you.

On more than one occasion, Amazon has shown the true consequences of filling up your Kindle with ebooks.  You’re not truly buying books, you’re buying indefinite permission to enjoy the books.  That permission can be revoked at any time, at Amazon’s discretion, and there’s nothing that you can do but hope for a refund.

The first incident (of which I’m aware) happened in 2009 surrounding digital copies of 1984 and Animal Farm.  The company that sold those copies turned out not to have the copyright, and therefore shouldn’t have been selling them in the first place.  Unfortunately, this was caught after many copies were purchased, so Amazon was left with these books wandering around on customers’ Kindles, infringing copyright with their very existence.  What’s a company to do?  Reach into your Kindle and delete that copy without a word.

Customers found out about this move and reacted with a combination of panic and anger.  After all, if Amazon can do this so easily for an example of copyright infringement, what’s to stop them from exercising power for other, perhaps less legitimate reasons?  People realized then that Amazon had access to your entire library, and could do what they wanted with it regardless of whether your books were legitimately purchased or not.

Fortunately for Amazon, a few well-placed words of apology, a promise never to do it again (“in those circumstances”) and refunds for the customers who had their devices invaded made the public quick to forgive them and move on.  But people should forgive without forgetting.

In 2012, a Kindle user found herself locked out of her own account after Amazon determined that she had a connection to someone else who abused the company’s policies.  But what abuse took place, Amazon couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her.  The only information that said customer could get out of the company was that Amazon had the right to terminate or suspend accounts at their sole discretion.  At mere suspicion, or in this case guilt by association, Amazon can decide that you’re unfit to continue using their services and prohibit you from enjoying the books that you’ve already purchased.

Now, I love Amazon to death.  I buy things from the site all the time.  But most of them are tangible items: my most recent purchases include a replacement laptop battery and physical copies of books and CDs.  But after reading stories like this, I see no reason to trust such a large, bureaucratic company with access to my library.  They’ve made it clear by now that “buy this book” doesn’t actually mean “buy this book,” it means “buy the rights to read this book, understanding that the right can be terminated at any time.”

Physical books cannot be licensed, and the rights to read them cannot be revoked by a third party.  You’ll never have to open a book to find the pages are blank, save a line on page 1 that states “sorry, this book is no longer available.”  A bookstore employee can’t come over and take it off your bookshelf because they suspect your friend is a shoplifter.  You won’t lose them to power failures or software corruption, either.  The book is yours, period.

With these stories come a reminder that digital copies are never really ours, and there’s no reason why this would be restricted to books.  What about those songs you bought?  (Especially if they came from Amazon)  Bought any movies or video games lately?  You may not have ultimate ownership, but you sure as hell are accountable if your item touched the digital hands of anyone fishy.

Protect your purchases, your money, and yourself.  Buy physical copies or don’t buy at all.

10 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Buying Ebooks.

  1. If I may offer a different take: Buy direct from the publishers. Download the file to your computer. Connect your Kindle, and then drag and drop the file to your kindle. Your purchase is protected, and Amazon shouldn’t be able to get their grimy paws on your purchases. Plus, it’s backed up. Please don’t give up on eBooks! They are cost-effective and handy to have, plus many writers are only published electronically.

  2. Considering ebooks consist of 40% of all book sales (if I remember correctly), this would be a terrible loss for a lot of independent authors. It’s basically like saying because of these few isolated incidents, indie authors don’t deserve any income from their book “sales.” Say goodbye to Hugh Howey.

    1. There are other avenues for indie authors to make sales, and I’m not saying that anyone doesn’t deserve to make money besides the larger companies that seek to abuse their power. Calling them isolated incidents is just a way of sweeping them under the rug, and by pretending that they don’t matter in the long run you’re giving them permission to continue or even escalate their behavior.

      1. That’s true, though I have to wonder how possible the other avenues would be to make a decent profit and be affordable enough, especially for those who pretty much have no money to spend.

  3. Hmm, thought provoking. I hadn’t heard of either incident and they are worrying. I’m still mostly on paper books and a big fan of my local bookstore, but yes, buying direct from the publisher is often a good option for items (not just books) resold from Amazon.

  4. So don’t buy from Amazon. I have a NOOK but mostly I buy either from independent e-publishers or download from Gutenberg. I try not use Amazon at all. Even when I talk about a book I’ll link it to somewhere else like the publisher or Barnes & Noble.

    1. Sorry meant to add, if you buy from an independent press can Amazon remove that book also or can they just remove books that you purchased from them?

      1. I think if you’re using Amazon’s technology they can at least block access to your account, locking you out of any books you purchased. This is the problem encountered with the second article I linked. Amazon claims that account status doesn’t affect your ability to access your purchases, but obviously that isn’t the case.

        That one especially worries me because the woman affected didn’t even do something wrong – she was associated with someone who may have violated Amazon’s TOU. The one thing that comes to mind there is copyright infringement, and I do have quite a few friends who pirate books/movies/whatever. I don’t want the above to happen to me because Amazon wants to assume I got a book from one of my friends instead of forking over cash to them.

  5. Reblogged this on Elizabeth Rhodes and commented:

    For my Throwback Thursday I’m bringing up this old and relevant post. It was originally titled “I stopped buying ebooks, and so should you.” may have been the most controversial one I’ve made on this blog so far, and with good reason. It also seems relevant now because it begs the question: If I’m so anti-ebook, why would I sell Jasper on the Kindle?

    One, I’ll admit my view has changed somewhat in the past year. My recent publishing efforts went a long way to change this. Ebooks are definitely the simplest and most cost effective option for an indie author. In fact, I had a hard time picking out a price for the print versions of my book because Createspace had to factor in production costs. So I can see that side of the argument and certainly don’t want to wish hardships on authors who are already facing challenges in getting their book made. Should Amazon choose to abuse their power it’s not the author’s fault.

    Now, I do stand by my view of not buying ebooks for myself. But that’s a personal choice, for the reasons listed in this post and my own preference for physical copies. I still own a Kindle, it’s full of books that I want to get to in time. I see the appeal of the ereader. I understand that there’s a big draw for ebooks and I don’t want to limit others based on my personal choices.

    If someone wants to buy my ebook, that’s great. I’m thankful. But I’ll shell out a little more and buy your physical copy.

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