Purchasing a book on Amazon doesn’t mean you own the book in the same way you would if you purchased it hard copy from your local bookstore. It could disappear right along with your money.
When you purchase music, movies or books from Amazon or Apple’s iTunes store, you might be under the impression that that material is yours to enjoy forever; that’s how CDs and paper books work, after all. Why rent You’ve Got Mail for $3.99 every few months when you can “own” it and watch it whenever, forever, for $9.99?
But you’d be mistaken. Anything digital is temporary, even if you clicked “purchase” rather than “rent.” One unfortunate side effect of that you won’t experience with a physical book or record: Your purchases may just disappear if licensing agreements change.
I knew this, and have always been fairly slow to purchase any book on Amazon for more than a couple of bucks because of it. If it costs me more than $5 on Kindle, I cough up the $10 -$12 and buy hard copy if it’s something I think I may want to have in my permanent library.
A lot of people, however, are unaware of the loose hold they have on digital books they thought they owned, so consider this a public service announcement:
“This wouldn’t happen in the physical world. No one comes to your door and demands that you give back a book,” Aaron Perzanowski, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, who studied these digital purchases, told the LA Times in 2016. “But in the digital world, they can just go into your Kindle and take it.”
It’s not like the companies are hiding this fact, though the “buy” buttons may confuse consumers.
For example, Amazon notes in the fine print that “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content.” You also can’t sell or redistribute your ebooks, as you might with a physical copy. Apple’s fine print states that the licensor “reserves the right to change, suspend, remove, disable or impose access restrictions or limits on any External Services at any time without notice or liability to you.”
As with all technologies, if you’re savvy enough, you can work around it:
There’s no simple way to keep the content you purchase from Apple or Amazon “forever,” though there are some shortcuts. For example, you could try converting Kindle books to PDFs (details on that here). You can also download music you buy from Amazon onto your computer.
At the end of the day, when it comes to books, Gutenberg is your best option.