Ebooks for materialists

A small part of my excessive CD collection.

A small part of my excessive CD collection.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I love music. I have bought over 650 albums over the last 15 or so years and my collection is still growing fast.

Almost every one of those albums I have bought on CD. And yet, the first thing I do when I get a new CD is rip it so that I can listen to it in digital format on my iPod.

I’ve often thought about why it is that I hold on so tightly to the physical medium, even though music is readily available and easier to acquire as digital downloads. I think it’s because I’m a massive materialist. An album doesn’t really feel like an album unless I can touch it. I like being able to flick through the album artwork and liner notes. I like the craft involved in packaging. And I like displaying it on a shelf. None of these things are quite the same with a digital download.

With a CD I can have the best of all worlds. I can have my physical copy, but I don’t have to carry it around with me for whenever I want to listen to it.

And this brings me onto books. Books are heavy. Books are awkward. Books are difficult to hold while I’m reading them in bed. Books are hard to search. All these problems are solved by ebook readers like my Kindle, and I love these things about it.

Pretty books on my bookshelf. A Kindle does not look like this!

Pretty books on my bookshelf. A Kindle does not look like this!

But books also look pretty. Books make great presents. Series of books look amazing when they are positioned together on a shelf. I can’t do any of those things with ebooks and, although I’ve had a Kindle for years, I’ve been reticent to actually hand over money for anything I could get in paper form.

What I really want is some way to acquire a digital version of every paper book I own. I want to be able to rip my books into digital format so I can get the same value from them that I get from my music collection.

Of course, books are not naturally in a digital format, so actually ripping them is a far-fetched idea. But there are alternatives that could be explored. iTunes Match is a service available for music, that allows you to listen to Apple’s copy of any song you own, any time, for an annual fee. Amazon and other ebook stores already contain digital copies of many of the books I own. Couldn’t one of them offer me a similar service? For example, if I can prove I own the physical copy of a book, I can have the digital one for free or as part of a subscription.

There are obviously various challenges involved in setting up a service like this (and one might argue the environmental issue with buying paper books just for display) but if Amazon, or someone, started a service like this I’m sure they would find their sales of books increasing. At least to materialists like me.

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