A couple of weeks ago there was this news item from Germany that a new German law makes ebooks fall under the fixed book price law. The strange thing about this news is that ebooks are considered books in this law and on the other hand they’re considered software and thus they do not fall under the low tax rate for books. This is interesting, because it shows the uncomfortable situation we’re in. What are ebooks? Are they books or not? It seems to me that the publishing industry wants to have it both ways and profit from ebooks in the best possible way.
Ebooks are considered software because that makes it possible to apply totally restrictive software licenses. You don’t own your ebooks, you’re only reading them and this license may be changed or revoked anytime. Also, higher taxes makes ebooks more unattractive compared to paper books and I get the feeling that is just what a lot of publishers want. On the other hand they love the fixed book price law as a tool to further frustrate the ebook market. At least that’s my not entirely objective impression.
To me, an ebook lover, all this seems terribly unfair and I would suggest it’s time for ebook discrimination to stop. I want equal rights for books and ebooks. Either you treat books and ebooks equal and consider them both to be books, or they’re entirely different species and then you should treat them as such.
Consider treating ebooks as books. That would mean licenses should be changed. Perhaps we should scrap ebook licenses completely. Isn’t it enough to have a copyright statement? Why not sell ebooks and let the buyers own the ebooks? Is that such a terrible thought? Would it change the economics of ebooks? Would it? I don’t think so. Piracy is here to stay? Watermarking is still a solution. Paper books are also still passed around and sold second hand. Will this ever change? I don’t think so.
I for one would welcome the idea that I own the ebooks that I bought. That I can pass them along to my kids in the future, just like my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did with their books. I still own many old books that have been in the family for over a hundred years. At the same time I think tax rates for books and ebooks should be the same. The idea behind low tax rates is that books are special products that have special value to a society because they spread culture, ideas and knowledge we are proud of. Why are ebooks different then? The only legal reason is because they’re not considered books. They’re software. So if we’d make laws saying books and ebooks are equal, that problem is solved.
The same goes for the fixed book price argument. I’m not going to list all pro’s and cons, but if fixed book prices are all about protecting diversity and recouping costs of difficult books by securing bestsellers are not sold at discount prices, there is indeed no reason why books and ebooks should not be treated equal.
What I do not understand and what is not fair in my opinion is that ebooks are only treated as equals of books when it suits the publishing industry. It feels deeply wrong to me that ebooks are considered books at one moment and not books a second later. My feeling is that ebooks are considered to be books by most people and the fixed book price laws that incorporate ebooks seem to suggest that politics more and more does so too. I think politics should take a good look at this situation and finally make up it’s mind.
And hen I look at myself, I would not hesitate to switch as a reader to an ebook platform that changes it’s license structure to selling ebooks to ownership. Equal rights for books and ebooks sounds like a good idea to me.