Can Book Lovers Stand Up to Amazon?

When the content is worth way more than the device.

April 29, 2014

How should book lovers think about Amazon.com?

On the one hand, Amazon has been the best thing that could have happened to book geeks. Amazon’s development of the Kindle and Audible ecosystems has ensured that we can get new books in digital formats, at prices closer to what we used to have pay for paperbacks.

On the other hand, those of us that buy into the Amazon/Kindle/Audible book ecosystem are permanently locked-in.   We cannot take our books to new platforms because they are DRM’d to only work on Amazon platforms. We cannot (easily) give our books to others once we have read them, and we cannot re-sell our “used” digital copies.  There is even a question about if we really even own the books that we buy, as Amazon has the ability (and apparently the right) to remove books from our digital collections.

I am the one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to selling my book loving soul out to Amazon.

Every book that I buy is either a Kindle e-book or an Audible audiobook.  Increasingly, due to Whispersync (which keeps the Kindle and Audible book together), I am buying both.

And I buy, and read (or listen to), lots of books. Audiobooks and e-books have dramatically increased the amount that I read, as I will listen to a book while doing something else (driving, walking, exercising, washing dishes, cleaning, etc.). And I’ll read a Kindle book (on a Kindle Paperwhite reader or an iPhone) rather than surf the Web or watch TV (which I don’t have), as reasonably priced Kindle books equate to always having a book that I’m excited to read.

Even though I’ve fully drunk the Amazon book Kool-Aid I remain uncomfortable with this choice.  

This discomfort is less about a worry about the decline of the bookstore (although I love bookstores), and more about the concentration of book distribution power in a single entity.  

Amazon’s power to determine what I read, and the form and quality of my reading experience, is only growing.

The books I buy are overly determined by what Amazon chooses to offer in digital formats, how these books are are highlighted or presented on Amazon/Audible sites. My ability to choose how I want to share, or even read, the books that I’ve purchased from Amazon are largely in Amazon’s control.

Are there ways to that book lovers can stand up to Amazon?

Can we have it both ways with Amazon?  Lower book prices in digital formats that we want, while retaining some measure of autonomy and control over our book buying, sharing, and reading behaviors.

I’m not so sure, as mostly I’m not quite certain about the rules.

Here are two ideas that book lovers can stand up to Amazon:

1. Give Your Old Kindle To Friends or Family:   

The least expensive part of the Amazon e-book reading experience is the actual e-book reader.  The terrific Kindle Paperwhite with WiFi (with ads) is $99.  The state of the art of of the Kindle readers is improving, pushing me to update every couple of years.   

I have an older Kindle Keyboard device sitting around.  This weekend I got the idea of passing this Kindle on to a family member.  But first I want to load it up with all the Kindle books that I’ve ever purchased.   The Kindle has plenty of room. 

The gift would be all the books that I bought, not the device.

Is this legal? Is this ethical? Would this violate some form of Amazon’s terms of service?  Could they cut-off my Amazon account?  Take all my books away?   

2. Give an iPod with Audible Audiobooks to Friends or Family:

This is the same concept as the give away an old Kindle loaded with books away idea.  This time, however, you buy a new (or used) iPod - and load it up with all the books that you’ve purchased from Audible.

The cheapest part in all this is the gadget - the iPod. You can get a 160GB iPod Classic new for $249.  Plenty of room to hold all the books that you have been buying since you became a Platinum Audible subscriber way back in 2004.

Again, the question is is this a good idea?   What are the legal and ethical implications?  What are the risks?

These are books that I have bought and that I have read.  I’m not talking about freely sharing copies.  I’m talking about sharing a digital copy of a book with one other person, a copy that I am no longer reading.

What would Amazon think about this plan?

What do you think?

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Joshua Kim

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