While I was returning the e-reader my friend lent to me today, I was showing her the one that I ended up buying. At that moment, I noticed a stark difference between her and I. All the books that she had on her Kindle were actually purchased, whereas all of mine were downloaded (either legally or illegally). In truth, I doubt it really matters to her, but for a moment I felt a little guilty. After all, was I not depriving the artists who created all this content from their rightful earning? With these feelings in mind, my thoughts drifted towards memories from long ago.
Does the image above seem familiar to you? I don’t quite remember what impression the interface had on elementary school me, but I’m certain it had all the charm a Windows XP application could possibly have. Limewire was a game-changer. As a kid, what you can buy is ultimately left up to the whims of your parents. In my case, while I had a lot of leeway as to what I could ask them to buy for me, it’s not as if I could just have whatever I wanted. I had purchased some music from iTunes with money from gift cards, but it was unreasonable for me to purchase all the music I had wanted to listen to. YouTube was growing rapidly, and so were my listening habits. Who knows what my parents would have thought about me spending so much time (and possibly money) listening to edgy songs. From the moment Limewire was released, I embarked on my journey as a pirate. Movies, music, games, books, software – all forms of entertainment available in the world were suddenly attainable, so long as you could find another person who would generously offer it up. The only cost was the occasional false positive (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” comes to mind).
Overtime, torrenting became more sophisticated. Private trackers, new clients, and innovations of platforms changed the landscape. Steam was one of the first platforms which caused significant disruption, at least for video games. It became clearer that torrenting wasn’t so wildly successful because people simply wanted things for free, but rather people wanted the convenience. Previous models gave us two options. The first option was that content would be curated before being placed in front of us. Radio and television stations dictated what type of content they’d show and at what times. The advantage of this is that the content was available at one subscription price (or even free in the case of radio). The second option was that we could buy the content that interested us. While this gave much greater flexibility, it was also more cost-prohibitive course. The choices in this second range were rentals versus outright buying the product. In either case, the costs scale directly with the amount of media consumed.
Platforms today give us the best of both worlds from the comfort of our own homes. There are so many platforms that offer subscription models AND allow us to pick and choose what we want to consume. Think Netflix / Hulu / HBO / Disney+ / Apple TV+ / Spotify / Kindle Unlimited / Kobo Plus / Crunchyroll / Funimation. I’ve just listed the ones that I could remember off the top of my head. For merely a small monthly fee, you could get access to all the content in the world! Unless, of course, the content is licensed by another platform in which you would merely need two/three/four small monthly fees. Still, acquiring content illegally ends up being inevitable in some cases. For me, hard-to-find anime comes to mind. I’ve actually got subscriptions to both Crunchyroll and Funimation but content unlicensed in Canada still leads me to scouring sketchy sites. Have you seen the prices of Blu-rays in Japan, by the way? It’s insane; publishers end up selling a couple of episodes for somewhere close to $70 CAD. Imagine wanting to check out some shitty isekai just to find out that the only way to see it is by first shelling out $280.
I’ve personally lived a two-sided existence. I’ve got bookshelves full of books, CDs, and DVDs that I’ve purchased over the years. Spotify, Crunchyroll, and more recently Funimation have served me faithfully. At the same time, I’ve also got hard drives that are full of anime, movies, PDFs, and music. The tendencies of Millenials, from my perspective, have steered towards minimalism and I am no exception to that. I’ve gradually purchased less and less physical goods, opting for content that’s easier to move around. From someone who has become accustomed to physical ownership, however, digital ownership is incomparable. Nobody can deny that the convenience is fantastic, but there’s something weird about purchasing something that you don’t really own. The concepts of ownership have changed dramatically where even buying a game on Steam doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s yours. That’s what causes me to hesitate when buying e-books – the fact that I don’t truly own it at the end of the day.
Ownership aside, I do want to support the authors who have made such amazing works for us to enjoy. If anything, these thoughts I have are irrational. If I wanted to share something I enjoyed, I can easily just strip the DRM from an e-book and transfer it to my friend. In those terms, buying books is a much more liberal affair compared to buying games on Steam, which imposes much greater barriers if you wanted to share them. I ought to try and buy more e-books going forward. My friend made me realize that whether I spend money or not, it’s ultimately meaningless, but I should still try to spend money on the things that I enjoy because they deserve the money. The last thing I haven’t made up my mind on, however, is that would I buy an e-book over a physical book if they both costed the same? Both my intuition and romantic feelings towards books tell me no, but realistically speaking, there are only so many books that I can store.