e-readers in Dockray 2013
bout retail, manage fulfillment) but also - increasingly - they
hold the commodity itself - for example, the book. Digital book sales started the millennium very
slowly but by 2010 had overtaken hardcover sales.
Amazon’s store of digital books (or Apple’s or Google’s, for that matter) is a distorted reflection of
the collection circulating within the file-sharing network, displaced from personal computers to
corporate data centers. Here are two regimes of digital property: the swarm and the cloud. For
swarms (a reference to swarm downloading where a single file can be downloaded in parallel
from multiple sources) property is held in common between peers -- however, property is
positioned out of reach, on the cloud, accessible only through an interface that has absorbed legal
and business requirements.
It's just half of the story, however, to associate the cloud with mammoth data centers; the other
half is to be found in our hands and laps. Thin computing, including tablets and e-readers, iPads
and Kindles, and mobile phones have co-evolved with data centers, offering powerful, lightweight
computing precisely because so much processing and storage has been externalized.
In this technical configuration of the cloud, the thin computer and the fat data center meet through
an interface, inevitably clean and simple, that manages access to the remote resources. Typically,
a person needs to agree to certain “terms of service,” have a unique, measurable account, and
provide payment information; in return, access is granted. This access is not ownership in the
conventional sense of a book, or even the digital sense of a file, but rather a license that gives the
person a “non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy… solely for your personal and noncommercial use,” contradicting the First Sale Doctrine, which gives the “owner” the right to sell,
lease, or rent their copy to anyone they choose at any price they choose. The doctrine,
established within America's le
in stores. Such
contradictions are symptoms of the shift in property regimes, or what Jeremy Rifkin called “the age
of access.” He writes that “property continues to exist but is far less likely to be exchanged in
markets. Instead, suppliers hold on to property in the new economy and lease, rent, or charge an
admission fee, subscription, or membership dues for its short-term use.”
Thinking again of books, Rifkin’s description gives the image of a paid library emerging as the
synthesis of the public library and the marketplace for commodity exchange. Considering how, on
the one side, traditional public libraries are having their collections deaccessioned, hours of
operation cut, and are in some cases being closed down entirely, and on the other side, the
traditional publishing industry finds its stores, books, and profits dematerialized, the image is
perhaps appropriate. Server racks, in photographs inside data centers, strike an eerie resemblance
to library stacks - - while e-readers are consciously designed to look and feel something like a
book. Yet, when one peers down into the screen of the device, one sees both the book - and the
Like a Facebook account, which must uniquely correspond to a real person, the e-reader is an
individualizing device. It is the object that establishes trusted access with books stored in the cloud
and ensures that each and every person purchases their own rights to read each book. The only
transfer that is allowed is of the device itself, which is the thing that a person actually does own.
But even then, such an act must be reported back to the cloud: the hardware needs to be deregistered and then re-registered with credit card and authentication details about the new owner.
This is no library - or it's only a library in the most impoverished sense of the word. It is a new
enclosure, and it is a familiar story: things in the world (from letters, to photographs, to albums, to
books) are digitized (as emails, JPEGs, MP3s, and
Display 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 ALL characters around the word.