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Why I Don’t Buy Digital Media

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[Caution, I'm going to get on my soapbox for this post. If you are not interested in soapboxes, I suggest you avert your eyes]

Yesterday, I touched on the Legality of IPodMeister's digitizer service. Bringing up the First-Sale doctrine opened up a can of worms in my mind.

I love digital media, but I won't pay for it (or steal it obviously). I have never purchased a song from the iTunes Store. For too many years, all the songs were looked up so that they'd only play on certain Apple products. There were workarounds, but they were less than convenient for this Lazy Man. The iTunes Store is heading in the right direction making it so their songs do play everywhere (or so I've read). You could burn a CD of the songs you bought on iTunes and then rip that to MP3. There was some software that was a little more direct, but it just seemed to be a gamble. If I could spent money and get something without restrictions, why spend money and get restrictions? It's no problem to sell a CD to someone, but have you ever tried to sell a song you purchased on iTunes? Good luck with that.

I like the idea of the Amazon Kindle. I was very close to saying that I love it. After all it's a nice way to carry pile of books with you while traveling. However, when I looked at the Kindle in depth, I saw too many drawbacks. People aren't likely to steal a book at the beach if you go for a swim. If I like a book, I can't lend it to a friend. And like the iTunes Store, you can't sell the books you bought to others.

Amazon gets around this by stating in their End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), that you aren't really buying the book, but the rights to read it. You can read more here. Okay, I can play ball with that restriction, but you need to give me something else in return... like a much cheaper price. Of course as CNET's Rick Broda points out you often don't save much money on eBooks. You would expect a lot of savings considering that eBooks eliminate the need for: Paper, ink, shipping (gasoline, trucks, and drivers), warehouse storage, shelf space, sales staff, etc. but that's not the case. When you give up the rights to sell the book it's looking like a worse deal.

I don't want to pretend that there are no advantages to eBooks. There are features like search and digital annotation in addition to the aforementioned portability that are quite nice. In the end though, I think it comes up to be a wash or regular paper books having the advantage. This disappoints me, because I think we should be making moving forward with innovation and eBooks could be a large part of that - except that arbitrary restrictions hold them back.

It's that right of first sale that I don't understand. It would be technically easy for Amazon (and others) to implement one of two things

  • Credit an Owner's Account a Percentage for Deletion of the eBook - In this scenario, you are essentially selling the book back to Amazon. Why would Amazon buy the book back? Simply because they know you A) are more likely to buy a book in the first place knowing that you can sell it back and B) will use the credit to buy more books hence making them more sales.
  • Allow People to Sell their eBooks - It's easy to transfer the "Amazon license" from one account to another. In fact, Barnes and Noble's new Kindle competitor, the Nook allows you to lend eBooks to others, as long as you only do it once per book for a maximum of 14 days. It is a baby step in the right direction.

Some say that publishers don't want this digital media transferable because it's simply too easy and would cut into sales. People might just buy the first hundred thousand copies while the cheap guys (like myself) wait for them to finish and then buy them for the lowest price. I don't know why publishers fear this so much because that already happens. You can buy used books on Amazon. You can use PaperBackSwap.com to get books for free. And then there is that library system.

The Best Digital Media Solution

The RIAA should maintain some kind of huge database that notes the digital rights that everyone has. As long as you paid for the rights, you can get the music in any form you wish for a nominal free (downloading for free, a mix CD for a buck or two, etc.). Sure it's a privacy nightmare. However, I think consumers would buy into it. There are a lot of consumers out there who are fed up after buying Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic in 5 times (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, iTunes). The RIAA says that a lot of the cost is paying the people producing the album, but if you paid those people with your vinyl purchase, why do you have to pay them again for the cassette version? If my CD gets scratched, it should be replaceable for the cost of the CD as all the parties are already properly compensated. If Toys in the Attic gets remastered or if we are talking movies with DVD extras, it's fair to charge the consumer a bit more to upgrade their license. However, the consumer should get the choice to keep the license for the previous work which they've paid for.

This solution would work for all digital media. If I bought a book on a Kindle and later decide that the Nook is a better device, whatever organization that binds book publishers should transfer over that license for easy downloading.

It's inevitable that we get there, it's just going to take time for media publishers and owners to realize that this is the fair way to make sure that everyone gets compensated fairly.

Posted on November 19, 2009.

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14 Responses to “Why I Don’t Buy Digital Media”

  1. I think the RIAA has a world-wide monopoly and anti-trust exclusions that should never have been granted. I can’t think of another organiztion who has treated artists and consumer more unfairly than the RIAA.

    I don’t believe consumers should steal artist’s music. But, I also don’t believe consumers should be forced to pay $17 for a CD with one good song on it. I also don’t believe artists should be forced into contracts that bind them for longer than allowed by anti-trust laws.

    I see the RIAA as more of a problem than a solution to the issue of digital rights. Fortunately, technology has bypassed their
    cozy little cartel and soon they will be dis-intermediated. Hopefully, they will be replaced by something that sends the lion’s share of profits from the consumers to the artists. Maybe, there should be a non-profit clearing house for payments and royalties.

  2. craig says:

    As long as their is illegal downloads and piracy there will never be a clear but solution. There are so many ways around and it seems that the digital ownership can be confusing. I respect your points, but I have no problem buying digital.

  3. Soo-Young says:

    Like Craig, I am a (mostly content) digital media buyer, but I definitely feel that there are cracks in the system. I use iTunes (unfortunately) and have lost songs after reformatting my HDD or upgrading my iTunes. The first time this happened I went back to re-download the songs I lost and was told that I had to pay $0.30 to download them. That’s right, I had to pay money to download songs I already paid for. Something is wrong here! I won’t get my panties in a bunch over $0.30, and it’s my fault for not making careful backups, but the fact that they recharge for something that I should already own is really silly.

  4. Michele says:

    I will never buy a Kindle or anything like it that gives the manufacturer control of your media. You buy a paperback, you own it, you can sell it or loan it to someone, its yours to keep or do with what you will.

    Recently on Consumerist there was an issue where people purchased a book, then amazon went in and removed it from the purchasers kindles, you can read about it here:


    Whats to stop them from putting in built in time limits that will delete your music, books, programs, etc. How would you like to license your favorite song, only to have it disappear off your ipod because your rights have expired. Its coming. Believe me it is.

    When you get a new phone, all those ringtones cannot be transferred to your new phone (who really pays $2.49 for a 20 second clip of a song?). Soon DVDS will be gone and you will down load movies with time limits. The days of owning music, movies, etc are going away with every bump in technology. I can’t say I like it.

  5. LazyMan – The kindle will be HUGE, as it is a undeniable trend.

    I suggest folks look at investing in companies the produce the Kindle.

  6. “If I could spent money and get something without restrictions, why spend money and get restrictions? ”

    Because you don’t have to buy the entire album. I can select a relatively obscure non-hit from an album and pay a buck for it, rather than paying $10-$15 for a CD.

    I’m really not a fan of the Kindle, though. I guess maybe it might have a place in academic or technical setting where superseded information could be instantly replaced with a newer version. But for casual readers? What’s the point? There’s a high startup cost and you’re not really saving any money (paying more than I pay for gently used months-old handcovers in most cases).

    Not to mention the fact that I prefer the interface of a book. After all, when’s the last time you had to stop reading a book because the battery died?

    @ Michelle – Wasn’t it deliciously ironic that 1984 was one of the affected books? :)

  7. Lazy Man says:

    I wouldn’t come across obscure non-hit from an album without buying the album first :-). Or at least, I can’t think of an example.

    In the Apple iTunes case, I think buying just that one song does make sense, but that’s a rarity. You don’t get an advantage of buying a chapter in a book or a scene in a movie.

    Soo-Young, was it $0.30 per song, or for as many as you want to reload. If it’s just the 30 cents, that’s trivial. If costs you $30 to get 100 songs back, that’s kind of ridiculous.

  8. A couple of years ago, you could re-download any purchased iTunes music for free to any of your 3 “authorized” computers. It has been a while since I tried to do that, though.

    They might have changed it at some point though. As mentioned earlier, I typically only download obscure non-hits :)

  9. Jim says:

    I like digital downloads to a degree. Its much more convenient and gives me better choice. I can download 1 song that I like for 99¢ instead of paying $18 for a CD. So I do pay for music downloads, but I also make copies of them and I don’t like the digital rights protections much, though I understand they’re meant to thwart piracy.

    I don’t care much for the Kindle. I think its overpriced and the books for it are over priced. Its a neat gizmo. Maybe things will go that way eventually but the book is hardly dead or close to it.

  10. Soo-Young says:

    Lazyman, unfortunately it was $0.30 per song. I just went through my iTunes, hoping to get a screenshot, but wasn’t able to come up with anything. I then tried re downloading a song I already purchased just now, and was given a popup that read something along the lines of: Are You Sure You Want To Buy This Song again? It didn’t give me the option to pay the $0.30 but charged me a dollar. Nothing to fuss about, but now this is weird, I snooped around iTunes and couldn’t find that $0.30 option, but I know it exists. Here’s some proof:


    Anyway, there’s something wrong obviously with the way iTunes handles their DRM, but … well, there are always “other ways” to get music online.

  11. @Financial Samurai,

    I think the Kindle is toast. It’s going the way of the Palm Pilot or the Newton, which were replaced by smart phones.

    Why would anyone buy a proprietary single-purpose gadget to read a book, when you could buy a Netbook for the same price and it does 10 times as much?

    If the publishers are serious about selling electronic books, they are going to have to format them for PCs and Macs.

  12. Lazy Man says:

    User Experience… A netbook’s display leads to eyestrain where Kindles and Nooks have E-ink which is much better. Also the battery life for a Kindle is around 2 weeks… quite a lot longer than Netbook. I think they have two different markets at this point, and probably won’t converge until backlit screens catch up with E-ink in terms of readability and energy consumption.

    You can get PC software to read Kindle books if you want. I think there might be Mac software, but I’m not sure.

  13. Thanks for the explanation Lazy Man. I forgot about the E-ink. I did think about the Kindle’s vertical screen though.

  14. t says:

    It’d be nice if there was a Netflix or Zune subscription like programs for books.

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