Corey Doctorow talks about the insanity that overtakes Amazon every time they try to sell downloadable content:
Whenever Amazon tries to sell a digital download, it turns into one of the dumbest companies on the web.
Take the Kindle, the $400 handheld ebook reader that Amazon shipped recently, to vast, ringing indifference.
The device is cute enough – in a clumsy, overpriced, generation-one kind of way – but the early adopter community recoiled in horror at the terms of service and anti-copying technology that infected it. Ebooks that you buy through the Kindle can’t be lent or resold (remember, “when someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book…Everyone understands this.”)
The insanity is twofold really, because the content companies want to apply real-world metaphors only when they work in their favor. “Copying is stealing” only works as an idea when you compare digital content to the real thing, but once that content is in our hands they’re terrified what we might do with it.
As Doctorow points out, in Amazon’s case the personality disorder is even worse, since it’s such a good actor when it comes to physical goods.
It’s not just the Kindle, either. Amazon Unbox, the semi-abortive video download service, shipped with terms of service that included your granting permission for Amazon to install any software on your computer, to spy on you, to delete your videos, to delete any other file on your hard drive, to deny you access to your movies if you lose them in a crash. This comes from the company that will cheerfully ship you a replacement DVD if you email them and tell them that the one you just bought never turned up in the post.
If businesses become frozen with panic the moment they step into digital content they’ll be overtaken by a business model that doesn’t rely on a combination of fear and oppression to make a sale.