Pipe dream: format shifting books for free

I have, of late, been embarking on a huge program of minimalism. I have too much stuff. For the past twelve months, I have been getting rid of a lot of it, although probably not as ruthlessly as I’d like. Everything from old PC hardware, clothes, to computer and electronics magazines have been dumped in recycling bins. I do rather hope that the broken Mac SE/30 which I left out the front of my house, and then disappeared before the hard-waste collection came around, was turned into a fish bowl.

It’s amazing just how much useless paraphanalia is accumulated just from attending conferences. All my LCA t-shirts are going into a Brotherhood bin; I don’t wear them. It would be nice if, in future, LCA registration had a discount option without these. I realise that it probably wouldn’t come to more than about $5 saving, but it’s the principle of the matter – I don’t want resources wasted creating a t-shirt that I’m never going to wear. The same goes for the bags, although these tend to be of much higher quality, and I’ve really liked most of them, but it’s got to the stage where I have enough laptop bags and backpacks to last me a couple of lifetimes, and I just do not need any more.

I lived for fourteen months just travelling, with nothing more than a netbook and a backpack with a week’s worth of clothes. I’d like to get to the point where if I decide to disappear overseas again, I can rent the house out in a furnished state, and have just a small amount of personal possessions that can be left with family. I believe the economic rationalist side of politics would call this “labor mobility”, although I have no desire to pull up stumps and work in Western Australian mines, as they seem to expect everyone else to do, regardless of where their family and support network live.

One of the issues that I haven’t yet tackled is books. Last year, I bought a Kindle, and Amazon DRM annoyances aside (which can be easily worked around), I love it. I do not ever want to buy a hard-copy book again. I do, however, have a library of books that I would like to keep, but not in a form that takes up several cubic metres of space. Given that I’ve already paid for the books, it seems unreasonable to have to pay again for a digital version. Obviously, I could probably find digital versions of most of the books on torrent sites, but then if I were to ever be audited (and given that ACTA has provisions for searching laptops at borders, we can never be sure that such powers won’t be extended into homes) how can I prove that I actually owned the books, after I throw them out?

It’s a shame that Amazon (or someone) doesn’t provide a service where they take back second-hand books, provide a replacement digital copy and then resell the book to someone who does actually want a hard-copy, with a royalty to the author. Probably not cost-effective, I guess. But if there were some way to make it economically feasible, everyone would be a winner; I get to keep the content I paid for, the author gets another sale and a good book doesn’t get pulped.

O’Reilly have an interesting $5 ebook upgrade scheme, but it doesn’t cover all books, and I still bristle at the idea of paying more for an electronic copy of something that I already own.

The same goes for music. I have a CD collection, probably small by most standards, that nonetheless takes up space. It annoys me, because I haven’t played a CD in years, have no interest in the cover art or reading the acknowledgements on the inserts. My two dedicated CD players – one, a 15 year-old portable, and the other, a two-decade old hifi-style component, are both scheduled to be given to my nearest charity shop, if they even want them. Unlike books, the CDs can easily be format-shifted, legally, but if I were to then throw out the physical media, I have no way of proving that I ever actually legitimately acquired them. The only thing I can think to do is sell them, at the heavily marked down prices that second-hand music goes for, and then buy all the albums again from iTunes, which will likely cost more than the CDs sold for.

I do envy future generations. The idea of building up a physical pile of stuff that weighs you down is going to be totally unknown to them, at least from the point of view of books, music, movies and other media that is going completely digital. They’ll never have to waste time going through what I’m doing right now…

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