Book Bound – Of Ownership and the Kindle

Years ago, at a staff meeting at the public library where I worked, the director mentioned that she was looking into buying e-books.  The atmosphere chilled. “What will happen to books?” the collective silence seemed to say. But with the realization that an e-reader could carry the contents of hundreds of books, heads started bobbing up and down. “Yes!” thought these profligate readers, “an end to lugging buldging book bags for that week at the beach!” 

So why, 15 years later, am I still buying books? Cost is one barrier. But more profoundly, there is the question of ownership.  When I buy a traditional book, there is no question, I become the book’s owner.  It is mine to read, lend, sell, shelve, or prop open a window. I am the boss of the thing.   When buying an e-book, however, there is a subtle shift.  The purchase of an e-book is covered by the terms of a service agreement. What I am buying is not the book, but access to the book.  No longer the book’s owner, I am the book’s consumer.  In that small shift, I become more like someone who watches a television program, and less like someone who masters a text.  Suddenly that book bag doesn’t seem so heavy.

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