A few weeks ago Microsoft closed their digital bookstore and customers lost access to all of the ebooks they paid for. Microsoft is just the latest in a long line of companies that have shuttered their ebookstores and left readers in a larch. This includes Blinkbox Books, Parable Books, Diesel e-books, Scholastic Storia, Sony Reader Store, the Barnes and Noble Nook UK store. These digital bookstores have completely closed their doors and concerned customers when their apps stopped working and their library was gone.
Microsoft’s closing is a big deal as is an established giant (not a small startup) and the fact that they failed at ebooks proves that Amazon dominates the entire US market and it is impossible to compete against them.
The closing of the Microsoft digital bookstore has also proved that customers do not have true ownership of an ebook, they are merely licensed.
The vast majority of ebooks from major online retailers have digital rights management (“DRM”) from Adobe or have developed their own DRM solution. If you buy an ebook Amazon, it is incompatible with your Kobo or Nook. The only way you can get around this is to illegally strip the DRM from your book. DRM basically is a matter of trust – you are trusting the company to send you the book and that you will obtain access to it.
So, how do we trust a retailer to not close shop overnight and disappear with all our ebooks? You have to wonder if you’re spending thousands on books just for them to disappear one day. Microsoft is at least offering refunds, but most other retailers are there one minute and gone the next.
A recent study published in the journal Electronic Markets found that the vast majority of people felt a constricted sense of ownership of ebooks versus physical books, based on the fact that they don’t have full control over the products. For example, they expressed frustration that they often could not copy a digital file to multiple devices. Along similar lines, many study participants lamented restrictions on sharing ebooks with friends, or gifting or selling the books, saying this made ebooks feel less valuable as possessions than physical books.
So, it’s easy to conclude that readers’ sense of psychological ownership is affected by three primary factors: whether they feel as if they have control over the object they own, whether they use the object to define who they are, and whether the object helps give them a sense of belonging in society.
Who of us hasn’t heard, “I don’t like ebooks – I want to hold the physical book when I read!” ?
Digital bookstores may continue to rise and fall and thousand of customers will be left with nothing to show for the money they spent.
This is likely the reason why every year, ebook sales slightly fall and print is on the rise.
Print is trustworthy, ebooks are not.