In Amazon We Trust

James Wallace Harris

Staff Writer

James Wallace Harris is a retired computer guy. Jim dreamed of writing science fiction in his social security years, but discovered he loved writing essays more. Life is short and novels are long. He’s written over a thousand essays for his blog Auxiliary Memory. Jim wrote about science fiction for SF Signal before it folded, and now for Worlds Without End. BookRiot gives him the opportunity to write about all the other kinds of books he loves. Finally, he has all the time in the world to read and write, but he never forgets poor Henry Bemis. (Who also found time enough at last, until an evil Twilight Zone fate took it all away.) Twitter: @JimHarris28

I just bought sixteen audiobooks on sale at Audible, but I might not hear them for years, or even decades. I’m trusting Amazon, the owner of Audible.com, to maintain, protect, and preserve my digital library for the rest of my life. Is that naïve? If my local brick and mortar bookstore went out of business I’d still own the books I bought from them. If Amazon goes out of business, what would happen to my collection of digital ebooks, audiobooks, albums, movies and television shows that Amazon keeps for me?

Before Amazon, all my books, magazines, LPs, CDs and DVDs were shelved in bookcases. Amazon has invented a new paradigm for selling books, affecting how we read and own them. I can still hold and admire my hardbacks and paperbacks shelved at home, but most of what I currently reading is in the cloud. I can see or hear their words, but I can’t hold those books. I will soon own two thousand titles stored in the Amazon cloud. We’re now trusting a company to store virtual possessions in the same way we trust banks to keep our dollars. But there’s no FDIC insurance for books, movies, music and television shows.

Should we trust Amazon so completely? I want them to succeed. I’m addicted to Kindle and Audible books, so I’m spending my money trusting Amazon will keep my books until I need them. Because of this trust, I want something in return from Amazon. I want the same functionality from my virtual library as I have with my physical library. I believe our trust in Amazon entitles us to this. For example, with my books, I want to be able to:

  • Feel I own my books rather than renting them.
  • Easily scan my library and admire covers.
  • Be able to casually flip through digital books.
  • Shelve my books by categories.
  • Catalog my collection.
  • Annotate, copy, list, and reference my books in various ways.
  • Let friends scan at my bookshelves.
  • Lend books to friends.
  • Sell books.
  • Give books away to either people or organizations.
  • Leave my collection in my will.
  • Or donate library to a library.

One reason I buy digital content from Amazon is because Amazon manages it for me. I don’t have to worry about making backups. However, there is an emotional metamorphosis moving from a physical library to a virtual one. That old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” applies. Its very easy to forget what I own. It’s very easy to buy more than I could ever read, watch or listen. Every day I get five emails informing me of great sales at Amazon, and quite often I buy something. I can’t resist a bargain ebook to go with my audio and hardback editions. However, buying a book a day isn’t very wise when I only read a book a week. I’m never going to catch up. I keep telling myself to scroll through my Kindle library before I buying more books. That should remind me I’ve got plenty to read. At the moment, I have 546 Kindle books, mostly of them unread. Or scan through all my Audible books before buying another. I have over a thousands of those.

I need to see my collection, even if it’s in the cloud. I need a way to visualize my growing TBR pile. I need one place where all my physical books, ebooks, audiobooks, and other digital media are viewed. Currently, I have to look at my bookshelves, my Kindle library, and then at my Audible library – just to see if I own a book.

Amazon does provide Goodreads, which can solve this problem, and that’s very important. But Goodreads features need to be expanded. Amazon allows for adding titles to Goodreads from my Amazon purchases. I wish it did the same for books bought from Audible and ABEbooks, both companies Amazon owns. Goodreads does have a handy ISBN scanner in its app, but many books I buy from ABEbooks were published before barcodes. The thought of entering a 1000+ titles from Audible is daunting.

The Kindle for PC is quite good at letting me browse my ebook collection with nice sized cover images (although I would like the option to see the covers even larger). I was able to organize my books by subject folders on the Kindle for PC, but those folders don’t show when using my Kindle for iPad, iPhone, or Android. Nor does my organizing at Goodreads extend to my various Kindle readers. And if I have to upgrade my PC, and reinstall Kindle for PC, those folders will disappear. I need a permanent classification system that works across all devices.

I used to work at a library, so I know something about cataloging books. I don’t know if Goodreads needs to use the MARC records standards, but it might not hurt. Goodreads needs to become is our cataloging system for books, ebooks, magazines, songs, albums, movies, and television shows. Any library content we buy from Amazon.

Amazon has a near monopoly with digital books. In a perfect world, an international agency would exist for recording digital ownership. Whenever you bought a digital work it would be registered to you for life, or until you officially transferred ownership. That way we could buy content from an array of sellers, and ownership would be maintained by an public organization. This would allow us to sell, buy, give, inherit, or leave digital works, just as if they were real property. Because such a system doesn’t exist, I think it’s Amazon’s job to provide those services. It already sells used books, why not used digital content. Charities and nonprofits could register, and we could give them books like we do with our local libraries and Goodwill now.

Goodreads membership should extend to lending books, or even giving books away. Amazon allows for lending Kindle books now. That needs to be expanded to other digital content, like Audible books. Amazon is obviously working towards what I want. Right now Amazon is divided into separate houses, even though it owns them all. Either they need to be integrated, or a single management system needs to be set up. Goodreads could be that management system.

Goodreads is slowly becoming Facebook for bookworms. It has the potential to be our personal librarian for managing all our digital media in the cloud, as well as the physical content we keep at home. Goodreads is great, but far from perfect. It needs lots of tweaks. For example, I’ve maintain a list of books read since 1983. I can’t move that task to Goodreads because it doesn’t allow for rereads. Each book has only one read date. If you reread a book in 2016 it forgets you read it in 1992. If you own the hardback, ebook and audiobook version of a title, Goodreads makes it difficult to add all three. It wants to merely change the edition.

Even though I want more from Amazon, I am putting my trust in Amazon. I do believe they are evolving towards fulfilling all my needs, I just wished things would happen faster.