It is such a haunting phrase, in my opinion at least, the books will stop working. More haunting if you consider that I am referring to eBooks.

Yet, this is exactly what happened starting from 1 July 2019 if you bought any books from the Microsoft Store. This is because Microsoft stopped selling books and stopped supporting books purchased through their Microsoft Store.

To Microsoft's credit, they did refund all book purchases.

However, you might ask, why would books disappear if you bought them?

This is the screen customers got in April 2019 as soon as Microsoft announced that they were shutting down the Books category on the Microsoft Store. Now, the category has altogether disappeared, and since July 2019, all the books purchased through the store had disappeared from devices.

Digital Rights Management

It is all because Microsoft uses DRM (Digital Rights Management) with the eBooks it sells. To put it simply, DRM allows Microsoft to restrict the number of devices that the eBook you purchase can be read on, and it also does not allow you to export the eBook and be able to read it in any other format. With DRM, Microsoft can (as it is the case now) specify a period during which the eBook may be accessed.

DRM has also been used with things such as digital music. It works by having code embedded into the digital media purchased to allow for the enforcement of whatever rules the platform, in this case, the Microsoft Store, wants to enforce.

Although well-intentioned (to protect copyright), in my opinion, DRM makes for terrible user experience. However, that’s a topic we can look into at a later date.

Terms & conditions apply

Now, reading all this about how the books will stop working you have to ask: when I purchase (buy) an eBook, what exactly am I buying if it can be taken away from me without my consent?

It appears that, in the case of the Microsoft Store, one merely purchased the right to have access to the book during a certain period and not necessarily take ownership of the book. This is buried in point 12 of the Microsoft Store Terms of Sale:

12. Software Licenses and Use Rights. Software and other digital content made available through the Store is licensed, not sold, to you.

However, I need to state, this is a common practice across various platforms that sell digital media.

Take for instance music streaming, before it was introduced, I would have Apple iTunes and Match accounts (which I still keep and pay for) and know that the music I purchased is mine. Now with streaming, you only have access to the music during the period that your subscription is active, also, if they decide to discontinue certain albums or songs, you can do absolutely nothing about it.

The same applies to some gaming platforms like PlayStation. If you are subscribed to the PlayStation Plus service, every month you get two free games (one of the free games for July 2019 is Pro Evolution Soccer 2019, looking forward to it) for setting monthly subscription fees of approximately $10 (there are other benefits too). However, should you not keep your subscription active, all the games you downloaded through the PS Plus subscription disappear.

Ownership vs Access

This is totally different from the physical world where buying something means it becomes your property, i.e. you take possession of it. With it becoming your property comes certain privileges such as the ability to do whatever you want with it.

So, next time you purchase any digital media on the web ask yourself: what exactly am I purchasing here?

Am I buying the book or am I buying access to the book for a limited time?

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