If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

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6 comments

  1. There are bookshelves throughout my little flat. I do re-read the fiction… sometimes many times… and the rest of the books are in constant reach to be dipped in and out of for reference. I know I could do most of that on a screen… but I remember things in books. Like what the page looks like, where I’ll find a particular passage. I can’t do that on a screen.

    I know too that owning anything is only temporary. Music bought on vinyl or on cassette has long since gone. I just ‘caretake’ the books, many of which have been in the family for several generations now…and which may one day find a home with my grandchildren.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sue.
      I don’t know, I never liked defacing books to the extent that I wouldn’t even bend a page corner to mark a place, never mind underlining or writing notes in the margins. But you can make notes in kindle, and I do, or highlighting favourite passages or clever turns of phrase. Then they’re saved in a personal index.

      I think it’s good we have a choice and there’s no right or wrong way with either forms.

      Do you see actor Sheila Hancock telling about preparing to hire a skip for when she dies? She didn’t want to burden the kids with all her stuff. I thought it funny and sad in a way too. My mum collects china owls. 😬

      Like

      1. No, I didn’t see that… but I have downsized as much as I can. There is more in the School’s ‘wardrobe’ than in my own 🙂

        No, I don’t write in books…or bend corners either. But I recognise pages… and there are notes in other hands in many of the reference books too. Those not inherited were usually rescued from bargain bins and second hand shops.

        I do appreciate the choice now available, but I still prefer to read a printed book.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s definitely that way in the major cities, but I’ve been a suburb gal all my life. We own our cars, intend to own our house (the interest rate was really good, so we’re not paying it off early), and like owning movies, games, and books.

        I’m bothered that so many companies are going with annual rental fees instead of outright purchases, like with Microsoft Word.

        Liked by 1 person

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