When you go to buy a comic book or a paperback novel at your local bookstore, there is a clear understanding of ownership. You simply pay for the title, take it home, and it’s up to you to keep it and lend it to friends as you see fit. When it comes to e-books and digital comics, the whole picture is more complicated, 99% of the time you don’t own the book you bought, you just license it.
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony or any other company with digital rights management clearly states in the terms of service or license agreement that the customer does not actually own the title. In 2012, a Norwegian Amazon customer identified only as Linn had her Kindle access revoked without warning or explanation. His account was closed and his Kindle was remotely erased. This caused all of his purchases to disappear.
Many online retailers like Comixology sell comics, but all purchases are stored in the cloud. If their servers ever went down or the company went bankrupt, more than 200 million people would be out of luck. JManga shut down last year and only existed in cloud and in-app content viewing. When they closed, anyone who bought comics couldn’t read them.
The obvious lack of ownership of digital e-books, e-textbooks, comics and manga is one of the barriers to further digital adoption. Encryption such as DRM (Digital Rights Management) puts barriers in place to discourage piracy but makes life a bit more difficult for buyers. Most companies don’t have an online lending program, making it impossible to lend titles to your friends. If you have a massive library and move to a new country, you run the risk of your entire account being shut down and all titles disappearing.
Some companies try to make people’s lives a little easier. The Harry Potter online bookstore, Pottermore, has ditched DRM and opted for watermark codes instead. The SCI-FI publisher, TOR, has also ditched DRM and allows people to download full copies of the books to their computers and can be read with any third-party e-Reader.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and The New York Times. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.