The perpetual movement of cultural capital is indebted to the digital era; the world we now live in largely revolves around our ability to share information with one click or tap of a screen. What does this type of accessibility mean for the readers and writers who have welcomed (for the most part) the use of technology to access content?
There are many factors involved in this debate over the ownership and ability to access purchased content, which could be part of the reason why the US market has yet to take a stance either way on the issue of ebook interoperability. Copyright law, business practices, and the very roots of capitalism itself —freedom of choice and competition—are among the challenges facing the ebook industry today as we aim for a more user friendly future.
From a taxation perspective, the US faces similar issues to the European Union; tax on the purchase of ebooks varies from state to state when purchased through certain ecommerce aggregates, and it also varies from country to country within the EU, as we discussed in an earlier post. This may not seem like too big a concern if taken at face value, but the implications of further government involvement in the regulation of the publishing industry is something that should not be overlooked.
Last year’s case between the US Department of Justice and Apple, as well as several of the world’s largest publishers, including Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, highlights what could be the first of the many battles over ebook terms and conditions. While this debate over the Agency Pricing Model is one of great concern, the issue of interoperability is one that will surely take center stage as publishers attempt to meet the needs of consumers who demand full access to the books they purchase.
In a report on the Digital Rights Movement and the Emerging eBook Environment conducted over ten years ago, the Association of American Publishers predicted that interoperability was not likely for some time. In 2013, it’s safe to say that the AAP were spot-on with this theory, as technology providers continue to fear the adoption of a uniform ebook standard in the US.
While interoperability seems to resolve many of the average consumer’s problems with the current ebook industry, what could such standardization do to the US ereader market? One possibility is that the less-successful ereaders will no longer survive. When and if consumers are presented with the ease of access that interoperability allows, the need for additional electronic devices to host content will cease to exist.
According to a survey by BISG, eBook consumers are already shifting away from ereaders and towards tablets that serve several purposes, so this sort of consolidation of the market might be inevitable regardless of government involvement. Will the digital book industry adapt to the needs of the consumer without the US government stepping in to make sure business is handled accordingly? Or will decisions made overseas set the precedent for ebook standards in the US?