Oh Brave New World…

Courtesy of José Afonso Furtado’s Twitter feed comes a blog post by PersonaNonData (PND) called, “Book Insurance.”  Don’t let the snoozer of a title turn you off.  It’s an offbeat but nonetheless thought-provoking piece on the future of electronic reading.  And it’s a future in which you better make sure your coverage is up to scratch.

PND opens by noting the book industry’s accelerating journey down the path of digital rights management (DRM) — this despite the recording industry’s growing realization that locking down content may not be the best long term survival plan.  She or he then goes on to discuss a significant problem stemming from publishing’s recent turn to DRM.  The latter not only forestalls illicit file-sharing, but it also “places limits on interoperability.”

So while I may have legally purchased Toni Morrison’s Beloved for my Amazon Kindle, there’s no hope of my ever reading it on whatever e-reader I may have purchased in the past or may one day purchase in the future — short of my hacking the e-book, of course, which is illegal under 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

PND poses a novel solution to the problem of interoperability.  She/he suggests creating an ancillary or derivative market for e-book insurance.  That way you can pay to cover yourself and your library should you ever decide that it’s time to switch e-reading platforms, or in the event that the model you’ve purchased gets discontinued.

It’s as brilliant an idea as it is chilling.

It’s enough that the marginal costs of producing e-books are next to nothing.  But now imagine adding on, say, a few cents per title — maybe more, as you can never anticipate just how deep the greed runs — to make sure that your content remains accessible to you in perpetuity.  Essentially you’d be paying for the privilege of retaining access to what is already yours.  Sadly, I suspect that many and perhaps most e-book readers would accept this type of arrangement, since micro-payments are astonishingly easy to swallow.  What’s a few pennies here or there?

The costs of the physical hardware notwithstanding, the benefit of e-books is that they are cheap (at least in theory).  But that’s now.  You can be sure that down the road, the business-savvy book industry or perhaps some outside entrepreneur will figure out some creative way to gouge e-book prices — book insurance or otherwise.


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