In today’s digital world, just because you buy something doesn’t mean it’s yours. If you have ever downloaded a song on iTunes or installed a piece of software on your computer, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t actually own these products. You’re just licensing them.
When Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) launched iTunes early last decade, it was a seen as a legal and respectable alternative to buying CDs in a store. But while CDs come with very few conditions for use, iTunes imposes strict requirements on what you can and can’t do with your purchase. According to the terms of agreement, “You shall be authorized to use the Products on five Apple-authorized devices at any time.” If you try to copy the song onto a sixth computer or portable player, or use it on a device that isn’t made by Apple, you suddenly are prohibited from listening to that track, even though you paid for it.
Despite these restrictions, users continue to spend good money downloading songs from iTunes and other online services. The same is true of e-books, except that the restrictions are even more severe, and consumers seem less aware of them.Digital books have quickly moved from a novelty item for hardcore readers and techies to a widespread phenomenon. In the beginning, the Kindle stood alone in the field, and now there’s the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad and even Google recently announced it will enter the market. Much of this is due to the rising demand.
Last year, when Dan Brown released The Lost Symbol, his follow-up to the hugely popular Da Vinci Code, it actually sold more digital copies than hardcover editions. Similarly, this past Christmas, shoppers bought more copies of e-books than regular books. In 2009, $313 million worth of e-books were sold, which was a nearly 200% increase from the previous year. In fact, digital books are becoming popular so fast that some have estimated they may generate $9 billion in sales by 2013.
We are at the point where many readers are considering whether they should build up their digital book collections either to complement the books they already have or to replace their collection all together. But would consumers be so eager to jump onto this new platform if they knew they couldn’t actually own those books?