Buy an Ebook, Own an Ebook

I’m about to step in from a limb, open myself up to almost no criticism and pretty much snub controversy by stating the following: if you buy an ebook, you should own it.

I know, me with my crazy ideas. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In the wake of the news that Amazon wiped a Norwegian woman’s Kindle and denied her access to her paid-for ebooks, plenty of people have complained that we should own our ebooks. After all, Waterstones aren’t busting down your front door and stealing back your paperbacks. But this isn’t a one-off. In a move so beautiful it might collapse under its own irony, Amazon secretly deleted copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from hundreds of Kindles. You couldn’t write this stuff.

But I’m not writing this to complain or demand reform or justice or what-have-you. Amazon are a business. If we don’t like the way they do business, we can only vote with our wallets. The reason I’m writing this is to make a recommendation to you.

Download Calibre.

Calibre allows you to backup your ebooks to a computer. So if Amazon decide you’ve been naughty and wipes your Kindle, you have backups. You haven’t lost what you’ve legitimately paid for.

Calibre is also useful because you can convert ebooks into different formats. Kindles, for example, won’t let you read .epubs, the format Apple and Kobo and a lot others sell. But Calibre can convert an .epub into a .mobi which the Kindle can read. The conversion might violate some terms of service, however. (The ethics of those terms is for another day.) I’ve also heard that you can download some plugins that let Calibre strip out DRM. But, if they exist, that would definitely violate terms of service and I can’t recommend you do that.

But the backup thing? I can’t recommend that enough.

I’m still interested in hearing your thoughts on Amazon wiping Kindles, though. Are they stealing back paid-for property or are they within their rights?

4 thoughts on “Buy an Ebook, Own an Ebook

  1. mlatimerridley

    I’m gobsmacked. I hadn’t heard about this poor Norwegian woman (I’d be going mad right now if I were her!!). On top of that, I didn’t know that Amazon had that kind of power, erase my ebooks?? Noooo!! *hugs Kindle tightly and starts rocking* Definitely never considered that realistically all I’m doing is ‘renting’ my ebooks. Really not happy with that idea, I’ve always considered them my copies, paid for fair and square! :^(

    1. James

      I know what you mean. When you click “Buy it now” you expect to be buying something, which implies ownership! But it’s right there in the terms: Amazon are only selling you a licence to the book, which they can revoke at any time.

      I think the woman is quite annoyed especially since Amazon didn’t give her an explanation! After all the publicity, though, they’re said to be discussing it with her.

      As a reader the idea that Amazon can take away my books is unpleasant. As a writer it’s abhorrent! I’d hate to think someone might pay for one of my books and then have it taken away from them.

  2. Elizabeth Barone

    Oh, let me count the ways that I love Calibre. :D

    I agree that we need to talk with our wallets. We already talked about this on Twitter, but I don’t usually buy from Amazon, and don’t plan on it in the future. Unfortunately, many authors only publish to Amazon. I think this is another example of why authors should distribute their ebooks to as many retailers as possible. I want to offer my readers as many options as possible, then leave it up to them.

    1. James

      Calibre should be bundled with every ereader! It’s a fantastic tool.

      I seem to hear from more and more writers that they’re publishing with Amazon exclusively and I utterly fail to understand why. Sure it’s a big retailer but it only has 55% of the market. If you only ever publish with Amazon you’re cutting out 45% of readers. Never mind that you’re also putting all of your eggs in one basket!


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