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Who inherits your iTunes library when you die? (marketwatch.com)
181 points by awwstn2 on Aug 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments

Since I'm most of the way done with the work of being the executor for my mother's estate (she died about a year ago), hopefully I can provide some perspective here.

As a practical matter, a laptop and any software purchased for it gets put as a single line item on an estate appraisal for personal effects. Our appraiser certainly didn't want to boot up the laptop and examine its contents for valuable files. The only times I've turned on that laptop in the past year have been to look for clues about financial documents, look for pictures to use at her funeral, and to make sure I had a backup of her phd thesis.

Personally, I'm thankful that digital assets are non-transferrable because in my case, no one would have wanted them, and it allows me to feel no guilt about not putting them on an estate tax return.

Also, digital media are not the only non-transferrable assets that can potentially belong to an estate. Season tickets to sporting events and vehicle registrations come to mind, but I'm sure there are others.

I guess the question comes down to: if Apple allowed you to buy transferable licenses to music in the iTunes store at $1.50/song and non-transferable licenses at $1.00/song, which would you buy? I suspect the overwhelming majority of Americans would choose the $1.00 non-transferable license. Also, I suspect estate planning would almost never enter into that decision making process.

Thankfully, at least with iTunes music, this is not an issue of DRM. If there had been any music on my mom's laptop that I wanted, it would have been easy to transfer it.

if Apple allowed you to buy transferable licenses to music in the iTunes store at $1.50/song and non-transferable licenses at $1.00/song, which would you buy?

Maybe smart people would buy the transferable for $1.50 then later sell it "used" for 75 cents, which is a win for both the seller and buyer.

> Thankfully, at least with iTunes music, this is not an issue of DRM. If there had been any music on my mom's laptop that I wanted, it would have been easy to transfer it.

With iTunes music sure. What about TV shows and movies? Books?

I would simply have the probate judge order Apple to transfer the DRMed files to the party inheriting the files.

The problem once again is copyright. If copyright hadn't been in the way, there would no DRM, and plenty of neutral services to solve this problem.

Right now, if you can't even freely share stuff between the living in your own household, you don't really "own" it, and you can forget about a way to pass it on to your heirs.

You don't own stuff you merely rent, and you can forget about passing it on.

> The problem once again is copyright.

I disagree. There is no difference, with respect to copyright, between a vinyl record of the Beatles and the iTunes equivalent. It's not copyright (which is an agreement between you and Apple Records) that is keeping you from bequeathing the iTunes copy to your heirs, it's the licensing terms (which is an agreement between you and Apple Computer).

Don't confuse the two!

No; with the vinyl record, you don't need a license at all, since the first-sale doctrine gives you the right by law.

Also, copyright is not an agreement between me and Apple Records. I've never agreed to anything, yet I'm still bound by it. The agreement is between society and/or the state and Apple Records.

And the first-sale doctrine is a restriction on contracts that is not inherently tied to copyright. We need a digital equivalent to it.

Edit: better wording

Another example i belive is similar was patent "exhaustion" in the apple/samsung case. If apple buys the chips from qualcom, and qualcom has a licensce, samsung can't double-dip and accuse apple of infringing on things they bought from qualcom.

Fine, its not an agreement, but it is a legal relationship between you and the rights-holder. When things go south, you get sued by Apple Records, not indicted by the state.

To call it a "legal relationship" is even stretching it. Would you say that I have a "legal relationship" with every other person on the planet because if I make up mean stuff about them, they can sue me for defamation?

You don't own stuff you merely rent

This is the crux of the issue. I don't know if the general public doesn't understand this (because this "indefinite lease" is a relatively new business model), or if they think it is so laughable that when they paid $13 for a "book" on their Kindle, they only really bought a license to lease the book under Amazon's terms, they figured the law will work itself out somehow & "common sense" will prevail...

I'm not holding my breath...

Or they know and don't care. Buying a trashy novel isn't normally considered a form of estate planning. I know I've purchased books with the expectation of reading them once and then forgetting about them. I've also purchased a few or online readers that in principle I'd like to reread but in practice seemed more fun to have on a device. I'm certainly aware of the licensing issues (though to be honest I wasn't considering the interests of my heirs!) but I did it anyway.

Many purchases are disposable, and it seems to me that this is the realm where digital media is aimed right now. If you think about it, this is always the way we've bought some media, like newspapers and magazines.

People have traditionally tended to collect music, however, unlike newspapers and magazines. Coming in contact with someone's interesting record collection used to be a memorable event. Piracy has made music less scarce, though, and the mystique of music has lessened because of it.

Actually I deliberately skipped music and movies. These are areas where DRM has tended to work very badly. Basically, people still like to collect music. And those who do do it in archivable form, overwhelmingly so. The "problem" there isn't that they're unknowingly buying in to a bad license regime, it's that they're knowingly evading the license regime entirely.

A collection can be a collection of references. You don't need the music now to put it on your list of favorites and conversation topics.

Yes - my music collection is entirely in mp3s from various sources, but it is still a good get-to-know you area.

They don't know, from my personal observations. Sometimes I think that they to be required to label the "buy" button as something else other then buy.

Even worse is that Big Media uses the very same misleading words in their advertisements, and that reinforces the consumer misconception of ownership.

How many times have you heard the announcer on a tv ad say "Own it on Blu-Ray or DVD now"? So much for truth in advertising.

You do own DVDs and Blu-rays. The problem is with the other stuff.

You own the right to watch that film in the privacy of your own home.

> you merely rent

Sadly, that seems to be the actual situation. It is therefore reasonable to demand that the word "buy" not be used to refer to those transactions ...

On the other hand, I expect that, under EU consumer law, that single "buy" word has dire consequences (on the ground that, when selling to consumers, the buyer should get what he expects to get, based on what was advertised)

I really would like to see that tested in court.

Why would anyone put in years to write a novel if a big printing house could just copy the text and sell it for their own profit, cutting out the author. This would be the world without any copyright at all.

This is clearly a problem that needs to be worked on, and people are working on it. But the answer is not the elimination of copyright.

That specific argument has been made a lot of times and overruled as many times. Don't be so naive, a world without copyright could perfectly work. It would just be very, very different. It's not like anyone wants just the complete abolition of copyright law to happen, and nothing else, obviously that wouldn't be very fair. You're misrepresenting the situation by depicting a world just like ours, with the single difference that you'd be free to steal the work of an author.

Think about an analogous situation. If you would have told people 40 years ago that a variant of Unix would be made, completely open-source and free, and with large companies working on it too, not just some hobbyists, would they have believed something like that is possible. And yet, Linux still exists. I know copyright is very relevant for Linux (GPL etc...) but I want to show that it is possible for completely other systems to develop than the traditional, where you pay for an (unexpirable) license on the copyrighted work which is kept completely proprietary with some fair use additions.

In any case, fixing copyright doesn't seem that hard. In a world with copyright, which is perfectly fine by the way, the term could be much much shorter. >70 years is a disaster. 7 years seems fair and I think it would vastly enrich our culture, for a very small price to the creators of original work. Obviously it's more complicated than that, but that seems like a good start.

Your posting has also written numerous times and yet I have seen no one answer this question:

> Don't be so naive, a world without copyright could perfectly work.

Nobody forces authors to rely on copyright and authors are not all stupid sheep. So why doesn't the market lead to copyright-free books if they are viable?

And even if it works for some books, who says it can work for most (or all) books? Just like FOSS is a good model for Linux and lots of science/enterprise/commodity software, but still hasn't caught on in many other areas. What is holding video games without copyright back from overtaking traditional AAA titles?

A copyright limited to 7 years would be interesting.

>Nobody forces authors to rely on copyright and authors are not all stupid sheep. So why doesn't the market lead to copyright-free books if they are viable?

Huh? Of course people will take copyright if it's offered, because they get it for nothing. Just like most farmers will take subsidies offered to them, whether or not they actually need them. Just because someone retains (and makes money off) the copyright to a novel they wrote doesn't mean they wouldn't have written it in the absence of copyright.

>Just like FOSS is a good model for Linux and lots of science/enterprise/commodity software, but still hasn't caught on in many other areas. What is holding video games without copyright back from overtaking traditional AAA titles?

I think it's a very unusual set of circumstances, and some dedicated idealists, that have lead to the success of OSS. But again, even if there were no OSS programs, that wouldn't mean that a world without copyright would have no programs. People tend to take rewards they are offered.

Maybe I interpreted the grandparent's "perfectly" here a bit too literally:

> Don't be so naive, a world without copyright could perfectly work.

I don't doubt for a second that some music would be recorded and some software be written without copyright. But for it to be "perfect" or anything close to that, it'd have to be of the same amount or at least quality. How is it naive to doubt that this would be the case?

I used the word naive to preemptively deflect the bad argument that I would be naive because I believe in a working world without the current idea of copyright, something which I hear way too often.

If we take the word naive to mean "lacking experience, information or clear judgement", I would say a person is naive is he believes a world without copyright would lead to no creative works appearing at all. You say some works would still be created but the original post I replied to implied nothing would be created at all.

I think it's important to realise, there is no way to know whether a world without copyright would work other than just doing it. But I've heard enough arguments in favour and I'm reasonably sure it would.

>> In any case, fixing copyright doesn't seem that hard.

You're right. Sadly, the hard part is making politicians fear enough for their jobs so that they don't bend to the desires of special interests.

There was at least some thought put into this: time contraints. Unfortunately, these have all but disappeared from most copyrighted items indefinitely by means of extensions.

I would definitely be in favor of reducing copyright duration. But, that would not solve every problem of inheritance. I could "buy" a copy of The Dark Knight on iTunes tomorrow, then die on Friday. Even if the copyright expired in 10 years that would not help me pass it on to someone in my will.

Because the problem is so specific though, I would think it could be addressed by a few precedent-setting court cases, or perhaps legislation.

You could swap `book' and `author' with `code' and `programmer' and you get the open source model.

What about passion? Sense of accomplishment?

Perhaps the author could make money on book signing, interviews, or even donations. Writing a good story could open doors to writing a movie scenario...

To be honest I don't really care how the authors can get some revenues, nor the programmers.

Data must be free, and this is far more important than how someone can make money on it.

    You could swap `book' and `author' with `code' and `programmer' and you get the open source model.
Except that typically programmers write open source code which they then use directly themselves to do other things they want to do. An author probably doesn't get much pleasure or utility out of reading their own book.

    Writing a good story could open doors to writing a movie scenario...
Except that presumably you want that to be given away for free too.

    Data must be free, and this is far more important than how someone can make money on it.
A book is not "data".

Can't agree with this enough. I think most people believe that there is a need for copyright in some form. In it's current form, especially because of the ridiculous cases of people being sued for millions because they downloaded a few songs, it's just gotten a bad reputation.

The comparisons to open source software never do much to convince me. Many people think that it is a good model and make money through it sure, but I believe commercial software makes more money and that money is easier made (for example money from a sale instead of money from support seems much easier to do and scale).

The digital music space has been improving (iTunes has been DRM free for a while now) and it's hopefully going to get better - probably as more of the old media people retire and the companies enter the control of people who have grown up with digital content. The only way things will move forward is if both sides compromise but the mentality some people have of 'I want it now, I want it in the format I want, and I want it free' doesn't do much to convince music/movie/book companies. It makes them want to lock things down tighter, not open them up.

" Many people think that it is a good model and make money through it sure, but I believe commercial software makes more money and that money is easier made..."

Making money out of it is irrelevant.

Whether or not you can copy a file is a moral question, and this has a higher priority than how to make a business model out of it.

You can't argue about if something is good by checking if you can easily build a business around it.

I will take an extreme example here (just so we get out of the copyright environment): What if I want to make money by kidnapping children? I believe I could make a descent living out of it (especially if I have some kind of law on my side). However this 'business' aspect is never considered, because it doesn't pass the morality check, and thus is irrelevant.

I know it's an extreme example, but this shows there's a hierarchy when we need to determine if something is acceptable. Making money ISN'T among the firsts.

I'm not saying you can't make money without copyrights, but it simply can't be an argument.

I don't think people want it now, in the format they want and free. Sure, when I was younger that seemed reasonable but for a long time I've been happy to pay for it.

Here's the bit distributors haven't figured out yet, I want it now and I'm willing to pay. Hell, I've literally just infringed copyright today because my only legal alternative is to wait 12 months for local release (and I do it every week). There's a missed opportunity.

No one has ever been sued for downloading a few songs. The suits have purposefully been against people who have distributed via uploading, either willingly or not (e.g. Kazza) hundreds or thousands of songs.

While for the majority of authors open source would be a poor deal, for some authors, open sourcing their work is still financially viable. I think to argue that either extreme is necessarily true would be foolish.

Eh yes, a book is data. In fact it's nothing BUT data! If it wasn't, I would not be able to download it.

Actually the opposite is true, copyright protection is the legal power behind licenses like the GPL.

Do you know of any coders who survive off of signing things at trade shows and doing interviews? I, for one, want there to continue being art, so I want some copyright protection. I think the US got it right at the start: 14 years was about right.

Remember, there will be no data if people can't make some money off of it.

Of course there will be data even if people cannot make money with it. Just less data, and sometimes of lower quality. There are plenty of examples of people writing novels in their free time. Or people writing free software as a hobby, while working in a company developing internal software for which copyright is irrelevant.

But anyway copyright is just one way of monetizing one's creation. People will pay to see their favorite bands, or to have the original of a painting or sculpture even if copies can be freely made. There are free ad-supported newspapers. Many artists get public funding. Many projects are supported by donations, and so are some individual programmers[1].

I'm all for deprecating copyright-dependent business models and encouraging the development of alternatives. Kickstarter has some good examples of what can be done through donations, and I can see similar models replacing much of the copyright-based economy.

[1] See http://ardour.org/node for an example.

Almost all of software work is done on products that aren't sold to consumers and for which copyright is irrelevant - for every developer working on products like MS Office or Angry Birds there are 9 developers working on company internal, custom, business-specific software. The products that consumers know and buy are just an insignificant tip of the iceberg. B2B giants such as Oracle or SAP can easily extend their licencing&support contracts to be watertight even w/o copyright laws. Even the large consumer companies such as Google and Facebook don't particularly need copyright protection to distribute their products.

Eliminating copyright wouldn't destroy the software creators jobs, only the industry of consumer retail software products would need to change (i.e, a rapid move to SaaS), and that is just a minor (although very visible) part of the industry. Almost all other industry would be ok and workers can make their money.

> You could swap `book' and `author' with `code' and `programmer' and you get the open source model.

As someone who has released open source code I don't think this analogy translates very well.

I write code because I need it, I can then release it so hopefully others will use it and make it better.

I can see how maybe a biographer would write a book because they wanted it to exist, but my belief is that the vast majority of authors don't write for this reason.

> Data must be free

I don't think you can just state this as a fact anymore than I can state, no person should be able to own more than $10,000,000.00.

What about passion? Sense of accomplishment?

Neither of which put food on the table.

Guess what? For the vast majority of authors, writing a book doesn't put food on the table either.

Yes, but they make a choice about whether to keep writing or how to distribute. If their work is saleable, then they may get an advance from a publisher or some long-term revenue in the form of royalties. On the other hand, if there's no way to protect a written work, it becomes a lot harder to make a living. In previous periods of where publishing was a relative free-for-all, many authors relied either on inherited wealth, the economic extraction of colonial wealth, or the like. Dickens was a rare exception insofar as he was financially successful from exceeding humble beginnings, but he lived in constant anxiety about a decline in his circumstances.

And they are free to put their work in Creative Commons.

The problem isn't with laws dealing with a person's estate, it is with the TOS/EULA of the devices & stores that play & sell digital media. According to Amazon, simply giving someone my Kindle does give them the "right" to read the books contained in it. This is just too hard to enforce for the Amazons and Apples of the world to do anything about it (right now).

Are people only realizing now that the game has changed? This was obvious from day one: stores selling digital goods have it in their best interest to keep you buying the same thing over and over again, whether you buy the Playstation game you already own on PSN, or you have your buddy "buy" an album on iTunes because you can't let him borrow the CD.

Theoretically, this loss of convenience/utility should lower the price for the consumer. It is really up to the market to decide if they want to save a few bucks, or retain the right of first sale (or gift, in this case).

Another point to consider: Let's say a CD weighs half an ounce, or, roughly 30 CDs per pound. 10,000 CDs would weigh over 330 lbs (feel free to correct me). Storing and transferring 330 lbs of CDs -and- keeping them in good condition, -and- justifying that if you've already ripped them to MP3 seems like a pain in the ass, especially over 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. And on the same note, ripping 10,000 CDs or even a portion of that would take weeks. And that's assuming CDs are still relevant in 20 years.

So if you're like my and consider CDs to be unreasonable, what other options do we have? If I have kids someday, I would certainly want to be able to pass down my music collection.

And, for the last point: What happens to our licenses if/when Amazon or Apple cease to exist?

(Side note: I'm comparing 10k CDs to 10k Books, because 10k Songs is vastly smaller than 10k Books.)

The problem is largely solved for music, since no one sells DRM'd music files any more. If you buy AAC music files from Apple, your kids will have no problem listening to them.

Movies and Kindle books are a real issue though, and if you think CDs are heavy.... :-)

One small thing that might help with your problem - if they're anything like most kids, 98% chance your kids won't want your music collection...

Buy CDs and rip them.

Right, but you still have to keep the CD as proof that you own it.

No you don't.

So, lets say I bought 100 CDs, ripped them, destroyed the CDs, and then somehow the RIAA says that I don't legally own those MP3s.

What happens?

It's up to them to prove you did anything wrong, which they won't be able to. The RIAA only targets people who illegally distribute digital media (something they can prove).

They still have to prove in court that you acquired them illegally. Presumption of innocence still holds, at least in theory.

Copyright law forbids the act of illegal copying and distribution, it does not forbid having files that are (or may) be result of such copying. RIAA would have to argue that you performed that copying illegally; the mere existence of files isn't enough that - for example, in actual convictions of torrenters the main evidence is logs that prove downloading the stuff, not just having files on your computer.

Possession is illegal only for drugs and kiddie porn - for everything else, only distribution really counts.

Unless you are currently very old or very ill I seriously doubt that even you yourself will be able to access your iTunes library by the time you're on your deathbed. The funny thing is that you probably won't care either.

As successful as iTunes and Apple currently are, media distribution is still undergoing massive disruption. It's likely that something completely new and utterly amazing compared to any current online media store will win out in the end. Distribution services that provide a sub-par experience on the majority of hardware out there are doomed to fail even sooner. i.e. iTunes does not provide a good user experience under anything but OSX, and even there it's love/hate. Amazon and Google Play are serious contenders despite the artificial iOS obstacles Apple is heaping in their paths.

One might argue that iTunes will live on even if other stores win out, but legacy support only goes so far. Once iTunes stops making Apple money they'll wait a respectful period of time and then quietly shut everything down.

I know many will disagree with me on iTunes' fate, but all I have to do is to live long enough and I'm virtually guaranteed to have the last laugh!

Where does you library go when you change devices? Aren't tunes licensed to a particular device? Which would make it different from Kindle for instance, where your license is in the cloud, and content accessible from any authenticated device.

As far as I know, both iTunes and Amazon files are DRM-free, which would inherently imply that they aren't tied to a machine.

iTunes: m4a, has your name and email address encoded

Amazon: mp3, has Amazon's unique song id in the ID3 comments

And in terms of the cloud:

iTunes: $25/yr for iTunes Match, which is completely optional

Amazon: Free storage for songs you purchase from Amazon + 5gb extra

The important issue is to keep your music backed up, since both Amazon and iTunes offer limited options if your harddrive fails.

Anyway, to address your point, Dropbox or a manual file transfer would be your best bet for multi-device support.

It's true for music, which is now DRM free, but not so for E-books and digital video. Those are all DRM'd. (for both Amazon, Apple, and I'm going to guess for the Google Play store as well.

It's what's keeping me from joining the ebook revolution. I'd love to be able to impulse buy a book and have it 'delivered' instantly, but instead I'm stuck buying the physical version and waiting for it to be delivered.

I was in the same boat until last fall, when I finally caved and bought a Kindle. I hate DRM too, but at least Kindle's DRM is easy to crack, so you have a way out of Amazon's walled cesspool if you need it. (I haven't needed it so far, since the Kindle is my favorite mobile reading device and Kindle Cloud Reader works in Linux. But if Kindle's DRM were stronger, I never would have bought one.)

Not all kindle books have drm. I bought one recently that explicitly specified it had none. Just as with iTunes, people should stop repeating what was once true, and focus more on what is true.

> Not all kindle books have drm. I bought one recently that explicitly specified it had none.

How common is this though? I've half-heartedly done a bit of research from time to time about Kindle DRM, but always give up after (perhaps incorrectly) confirming that it is still mostly the default, and after finding pages and pages of results of blog posts bemoaning or defending some DRM related news from last year, or two years ago, or four years ago. It's why I, like many others in this thread, still buy print even though I'd consider a Kindle for convenience.

So if Kindle books without DRM are common, or even the majority, I'd genuinely like to know.

> Just as with iTunes, people should stop repeating what was once true, and focus more on what is true.

I'm probably guilty of repeating anti-DRM complaints regarding the Kindle, but you have to admit that with iTunes and Amazon music, it's clear cut and there's no question when it comes to DRM.


The magic phrase "At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied." is usually added to the product description.

The rules are different on each provider of digital media, but as I recall iTunes in particular allows you to authorize up to five devices to playback media, and you can deauthorize devices you no longer own.

iTunes music is now DRM free, but in regards to other data (movies, shows, books, apps, etc) it gets a bit more complex. The 5 "device" limit is actually only relevant to computers. 5 computers can have their iTunes applications linked to an account. Once you get to iOS, any device that is synced with those computers can play that data. You also can log into any number of accounts on an iOS device to redownload/purchase applications etc, however those items will be deleted if you want to sync again with your computer and it is not registered with that Apple ID. And obviously you can deauthorize a computer at any point as well (and are allowed a batch reset once a year iirc).

The problem here is that the content industry wants to have their cake and eat it too (quelle surprise).

Take ebooks as a much simpler example. The distribution costs of a single ebook are essentially zero. Even if you, as a publisher, pay Apple/Amazon 30% you're better off than retail and retail typically has a higher markup, means printing books, storing them in warehouses, shipping them across the country/world, etc.

On top of this ebooks are basically nontransferable whereas paper books can of course been sold secondhand. The latter is such a "problem" that the textbook industry, as just one example, will keep changing editions each year or two just to kill the secondhand market.

It should come as no surprise that ebooks are nontransferable either.

Given all these restrictions and lower costs of production it seems logical that ebooks should be cheaper than their dead tree equivalents. But oh no, they're typically the same price or even more expensive. This is nothing but greed. What's more, publishers are shooting themselves in the foot (long term) here because they should be encouraging a system whereby you can buy a given textbook, it can't be sold secondhand and the original owner keeps getting updates (people don't typically rebuy later editions of the same textbook I would guess).

Music isn't really that different. CDs, which are transferable, have the same costs of printing, storage, distribution and retail markup, even against the 30% (is this confirmed for music?) margin Apple/Amazon take yet I don't think you'll be saving any money by buying whole MP3 albums vs CDs (more often than not).

If electronic media were cheaper like it should be I think consumers would have an easier time accepting the nontransferability aspect. People, on the whole, have an innate sense of fairness (IMHO).

As far as iTunes accounts and the like go, on a practical level you can simply take over the account. Apple has a facility to change the Apple ID. I can't see any barriers to this.

EDIT: From [1]:

Traditional publishing has a traditional formula for calculating the retail list price, the price printed on the book. That list price is typically about eight times the cost of manufacturing. In clothing retail terms, that translates into a markup of about 88% between publisher and reader.

There are several reasons for the big percentage. Not only does the actual bookseller require a markup, but often there are two “middlemen” between the publisher and the bookstore: a distributor and a wholesaler who must each get a piece of the action. And of course the publisher wants to make a profit and better not sell merely for the cost of manufacturing.

which basically confirms the 12% figure. But I was referring to the retail markup and costs of distribution (distributor/wholesaler).

[1]: http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/prices-discounts-...

I think you overestimate the physical cost of books. From http://michaelhyatt.com/why-do-ebooks-cost-so-much.html, "Second, physical manufacturing and distribution expenses cost less than you think. Some people assume that these two items represent the bulk of a book’s costs. They don’t. Together, they account for about 12% of a physical book’s retail price."

Aye. I'm publishing a book soon. By using Lightning Source to list on Barnes and Noble, I can make amazon discount my book, which doesn't affect my createspace royalty. I should be able to have the book sell at $26, and keep $21.

I'm not so sure that you'll get the results you're aiming for there. Do you have links to a source that has successfully carried off this plan?

Aaron Shepherd's Plan B (an update to POD for profit).

Selling to B and N with a 55% discount from lightning source should make the books appear with a 40% discount off the list price. Amazon generally matches those discounts.

The list price will be $44. 44 * 0.6 = 26.4

Using the Createspace royalty calculator, $44 with a 300 page book produces a royalty of ~$22.

Amazon discount don't reduce Createspace royalties. I may be overlooking something, or some part of the plan might fail of course.


According to the member order calculator, they charge $4.45 for each copy of a 300 page book that I buy.


Strangely, that's not what the publishing industry says when they raise the prices of physical books. Then, the primary determiner of prices is the cost of paper.

Can you point me to an example? I'd like to see what they say on that.

I'd like to, but I can't. Everything I found was some variation of "why ebooks cost more than physical books".

On the other hand, apparently increases in the cost of books have roughly matched the rate of inflation, so any other explanation may be bogus.

Varies based upon selling price, type of book, etc. Wide variation on quality and scale vs size. page count. etc. printing something != something quality. and copy 1 = not equal 1/4000 or 4000 copies. So, sell thru rate matters (how much of the run you sell). The costs are borne by someone.

Too bad they don't have a source of any kind. So many of these kind of articles are written by someone with a position in the fight, and then they just cite "stuff they know".

> But oh no, they're typically the same price or even more expensive. This is nothing but greed.

I don't understand why this is greed. If I grow an apple, is it greedy for me to sell it in a way that maximises my revenue? And if I write a book or record a song, is it greedy for me to licence it in a way that maximises my revenue?

An apple isn't the best analogy since the apple market is competitive. The market for "Principles of Economics: Global Financial Crisis Edition, 6th Edition" (or any other book or ebook) is a government-granted monopoly, so the two situations aren't completely comparable

This is my own personal belief, but my main objection to ebook pricing is the apparent price collusion that is going on in the publishing market (here's a link to a news story about one DOJ case: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75028.html). This isn't the first time that a format change prompted increased prices: when the CD was introduced, music labels charged much higher prices for CDs than prior formats -- notably, all of the labels also seemed to converge on a single, higher price. Arguably, the higher price was justifed due to better audio fidelity; maybe the same could be said for ebooks' features vs dead tree books. For at least a decade $20 CDs were the norm despite much lower music prices in the cassette era and much lower prices now. Check out Knopper's 'Appetite for Self-Destruction' or Kernfeld's 'Pop Song Piracy' if you're interested in the music industry specifically.

To cut it short: in a government-granted monopolized market, it seems a bit fishy when the entire market lurches in the (same) higher priced direction simultaneously.

You are completely wrong about CD prices. They were cheaper than tapes and records to make up for the "relatively" high cost of CD players. Back then an entry level CD player cost about 250 USD but a tape player could be had for about ten dollars. The cost of printing CD's was therefore subsidized to encourage adoption of the format.

> You are completely wrong about CD prices.

Nope: http://books.google.com/books?id=Yd2Hm8BlzZUC&printsec=f...

CDs frequently cost $17 in the early 1980s; LPs cost $9. It's a few pages before chapter 2, which unfortunately isn't available for free.

You are right about the cost of CD players, which were incredibly expensive compared to older formats.

The quote I pulled (see my sibling comment) includes distribution as part of the 12%.

Also, please don't edit your post to reply. Use reply to reply.

I've been saying for years now that subscription models are the future of digital content distribution. A generation or two from now the idea that you "own" digital content is going to seem quaint and people will just pay a monthly fee for a la carte access to content and all these problems will disappear.

It wouldn't surprise me if meta-content like user reviews and histories become more interesting as targets for preservation. Who knows, maybe my grandkids in 2064 will be interested to know what I read and watched in 2012 and what I thought of it?

> subscription models are the future of digital content distribution

Yeah, in theory, but do not forget who you are dealing with. Majors and related industries depend on unit-by-unit sales model currently, and they will trying to avoid that conversion as much as they can. While I agree with you it makes sense.

> It should come as no surprise that ebooks are nontransferable either.

They may or may not have to be transferable in the EU.


I wonder if the case of the OP - someone leaving behind a very large digital library and a heir that demands to use it - could lead to more court rulings here.

eBook DRM is my biggest digital problem right now. It seems I will only have O'Reilly books to pass on :(

If electronic media were cheaper like it should be I think consumers would have an easier time accepting the nontransferability aspect.

I think people accepting nontransferability would be a bad thing. A very bad. Revocability is the next step after nontransferability and that is a truly ugly thing.

What is intellectually interesting about this is contemplating the ways in which these issues may interface with the politics surrounding inheritance in the United States. I suspect to see some strange bedfellows on both sides of these issues over the long term.

Is Apple (or Amazon or Google) really interested in enforcing this? While the rules might say that kids can't inherit ebooks or songs, I have trouble believing that they'd actually try to enforce it.

It does raise the broader issue of households, though. When I have a family, shouldn't I be able to give them access to ebooks I've read and songs I've enjoyed? That's trivially easy with the physical versions (if sometimes annoying that someone else is reading a book you want to read) but how will companies handle the digital equivalent of sharing within a family?

Amazon gives you a way to do this, lend an ebook to someone for x days. Problem is that the publisher set the terms for lending, meaning they can disable it altogether and they can set other limitations such as time limits and that you can only lend them out once etc. Which is kind of sickening.


But I can understand what they are afraid of, in a digital world it would be trivial to set up a lending service letting users automatically borrow books from each other. But really, I should be able to lend out to my family, friends and colleagues for as long and often I want (that I can't read it myself while it is borrowed and that I can only lend it out to one person at a time are very reasonable limitations that mimics physical books).

Great article, but i'm not really surprised by the outcome. I mean if kim dot com is being sued why would you ever expect to be able to save your digital content for someone else after death?

Is this surprising to anyone who has an iTunes account?

> “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family > would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and > songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital > Afterlife.”

And I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family will be fighting Apple to transfer Britney Spears' last CD from grandpa's account to his favorite granddaughter's account. Or that cool Angry Birds iPhone app he paid 99 cents for back 20 years ago.

And I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family will be fighting Apple to transfer Britney Spears' last CD from grandpa's account

I realise young folk think they are immortal, but people don't just die from old age. And the problem is, digital media companies like Apple and Amazon don't implement a concept of a "household" account.

I am sure I don't live in the only household where the kids watch stuff from an iTunes library populated from the account of one parent. Granted if a parent died the kids' first thought would not be "Drat, no Backyardigans" but it is definitely an issue beyond bequeathing media that nobody else is interested in.

An iTunes library may very well be an asset worth hundreds of dollars to survivors. Even if you know each others' passwords, technically it is still illegal to keep using the dead person's account.

The example you give is a good point to consider. If the wrong parent dies, all of the family's digital books, music, movies, tv shows, season passes (year-long tv subscriptions) get potentially locked up. It's one of the hidden costs of "renting" our entertainment digitally instead of owning it physically. I think this needs to be solved - transferable iTunes accounts or something.

As other posters have pointed out, the problem with many DRM schemes is that there's no guarantee the company will stay in business, or will continue to host the DRM servers.

In fact, if the DRM'ed stuff you've bought is a one-time purchase (as opposed to a subscription of some kind), then it's in the provider's economic best interest to drop support as soon as possible. There's not going to be any more money coming in from the user once he's made his purchase, but there's going to be money going out to pay the DRM servers' costs because they consume physical space, power, bandwidth and technical expertise on an ongoing basis (as well as hardware that wears out and needs to be replaced).

I personally support as little DRM-crippled content as possible. I only purchase e-books in open formats, use GamersGate instead of Steam (avoiding DRM-crippled products), and buy a fair number of physical books and DVD's. I've actually walked away from imminent purchases, both online and in stores, when I discovered that the product I was about to purchase had aggressive DRM.

This is why I don't buy any digital books other than programming books (that will be irrelevant in decades) and books that, in general, will not survive the test of time. In other words, none of the library will be of value in a few decades.

Anything else I still buy physical: books I care about, music, etc. As an example, if I was after a design-patterns book, I'd buy a physical copy. Algorithms book? Physical. PHP programming book: digital. The latest "how to launch your startup book"?: digital. I own CD's for all of my music.

As an electrical engineer I have had the experience of collecting hundreds of physical data books only to throw them all away years later. That world has changed completely with the availability of freely downloadable PDF data sheets and data books. The same is the case with most mechanical components catalogs and product information books. Open and free websites and/or PDF files have replaced the world of hard-copy manuals, books and catalogs.

And so the question might very well be: What are other book genres going to look like in ten, twenty, thirty or fifty years? It could very well be that book authors discover that they can earn a lot more money if their book is published digitally and made available openly while being supported by advertising or donations. While most would reject the idea of a 300 page PHP book with an add on every header or every page, the idea that this book would be free to the reader might change their viewpoint.

Catalog or data-book providers have an incentive for providing these book or documents for free: They are trying to sell you what's inside them. That transition was a no-brainer. Novels, fiction, business, political, hobby and other books might not have such strong tie-ins with revenue generating opportunities. This means that they have to make some money per unit sold (or unit read). Maybe all books will become websites with advertising and many opportunities to monetize them. And, at the same time, the reader will have the option to pay a nominal amount to turn off all advertising.

The idea of transferring ownership of digital assets to survivors might eventually translate into simply providing a list of the books, songs, etc. that the survivors can freely explore as a sample of what the deceased like to read or listen to. In the end, I think only a limited set of physical items hold sentimental value. As far as real monetary value, well, I think that books and records hardly count as investments save for very, very rare stuff.

The simplest long-term consumer approach to digital media is to just hold a list of the titles of the stuff you like, and assume you can download any item from it at any time if you want access to it. You don't need to worry about keeping a private multi-gigabyte storage intact and accessible over decades nor access control and rights management arrangements with a single commercial entity that might not exist in ten years. Unfortunately for commercial content providers, this approach is basically equivalent to "pirate everything, all the time".

This is another reason there was supposed to be an expiratoin date on copyright. It was never intended to last 120 years and multiple generations, was it?

I'd love to know what happened to the iTunes library of Steve Jobs when he died. He undoubtably will have had many purchases of music, books, movies etc. He was adamant that the physical medium was dead. I would assume that his library is now unused? Or perhaps he had a single account his whole family used - which, from my understanding, wouldn't be compliant with the licensing agreement.

I would be surprised if he had time to read, watch movies or listen to music. It would not surprise me at all to learn that he essentially used iTunes only for QA.

This simple issue shows the big, huge, gaping problem with the future of digital media.

In the past, the labls/publishers/whoever wanted to create content, be able to sell it, and have a monopoly on it. The way to do this was to sell physical instances of the creation, like books, DVDs, and CDs. This worked wonderfully, because it's simple for people to understand giving money over to receive a physical good, which you own, and which you can e.g. later sell, or transfer to your kids.

In short, the old way was: "buying" == "getting a physical copy of the media".

The problem is, since digital media arose, there has been a slow shift in the meaning of buying content. The producers are acting like "buying" no longer means "getting a physical copy of the media". They're acting like it means "having access to consume the media". E.g., buying a song from Queen means I get to listen to the song. It has nothing to do with having the physical file.

In other words, the new model is: "buying" == "getting the (legal) ability to consume the media".

This is true in many ways, both good and bad for the consumer.

The good is that, e.g., when I buy an audiobook on Audible, the physical file is irrelevant. I can delete it, and download it again. It's my ability to get the book that they're selling. I can have many physical copies of the book, on my computer/iPhone/laptop/whatever, and they're fine with it. The bad is that a lot of the rules for physical media are no longer relevant - I can't sell it, I can't lend it, I can't let people inherit.

Actually, this doesn't bother me much. Because I don't think of owning an Audiobook in the same way I think of owning a physical book. My thoughts are "I pay $10 to hear this book, once". Of course, this says a lot about me, because I don't have this same thought about ebooks - I do equate them to physical books.

My prediction is that the world will be going in a direction in which physical ownership of digital media is irrelevant. This has to happen, because of the way digital media works. People will be buying the "ability" to listen to songs, not buying actual songs. Programs like Amazon's "lend books" will be seem very antiquated and irrelevant. Arguably, the way these will work is by buying subscriptions to services, i.e. $10 for all the music you can listen to ala Spotify. I think this is the only way the world can go which will make sense to consumers, although I fear for the publishers.

Owners of digital products want the same kind of protection like products you can touch have but they don't want to give anything back. Such as right to loan, lend or resell their products... it's wrong on so many levels.

(I know Amazon somehow let's you lend books for limited time but I'm talking about industry in general)

Webapp idea: cross-reference an iTunes library with mp3s available via torrent (or ed2k/kad) of similar quality.

To what end? iTunes music has been DRM free since April 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7813527.stm

This is already available in the form of music trackers and not only similar quality but often better.

While I do keep an archived copy of my entire 200GB library on the home server, does this even matter anymore?

Spotify anyone?

Subscription services will eventually win over large locally owned media. It's so nice to have access to any song I want for $10 /month, without having to worry if my iPhone has enough storage to hold it all.

I remove DRM from everything I purchase.

Who inherits my iTunes library (or kindle library etc etc)? My estate does.

An extension of this is, will we see more wills with login credentials to different services? Is that even legal to pass down to someone after you die? For example you include your lastpass/1password account in your will.

It's common for services (e.g., NetFlix, iTunes) to explicitly forbid giving your passwords to anybody else. I suppose they would enforce this by cancelling your account (which they can do at any time) when they learn that you're dead.

Classic first world problem, right here...

Oh no - I have so much music that a physical storage model doesn't scale - in fact, I have so. much. music. that I can't afford to own it in physical media! I can only afford to license it for my lifetime! Whatever shall I do?

This isn't to say that transferable digital assets are unimportant, but just to point out that part of the reason people in previous generations did not suffer our terrible woes is that only very few of them tried to accumulate obscenely large collections. (I have 27 GB of music accumulated - that's 16 days of nonstop music. When I cast my eye over history, I am in the obscenely wealthy 0.001% (pick a number) who could command over two weeks of nonstop music on a whim. It's nothing less than obscene.)

If you keep a moderate library, there's nothing wrong with physical media.

Library size has nothing to do with it. People choose digital for reasons other than "too many little plastic discs to keep track of".

Digital content enables a certain class of packrat, to be sure. But they're tangentially relevant, at best.

I wouldn't say that library size is only tangentially relevant. After, all, if we all had small libraries, we wouldn't be worried about them as a valuable part of our estate, would we?

You're right, digital media bring all kinds of convenience and portability that make them valuable forms of media that should be transferable. (More important is that they should be transferable across formats/devices in time - I don't think my kids will be able to play my mp3s when I die :-)

But digital media uniquely encourage large library size - they are uniquely prone to accumulation.

How many times have you seen the following argument made, "If you made it easy to buy a digital copy legitimately, I wouldn't pirate?" Well, with successful stores (such as iTunes) the purchasing process has been made extremely easy.

What happens when you have extreme ease of purchase coupled with negligible storage cost? That's a recipe for inadvertent hoarding if I ever saw one!

Digital media enable us to lose all sense of scale of how much we have accumulated(because we have no physical objects to haul about. I don't think it's just a certain class of packrat that suffers, I think we all suffer from this loss of perspective.

It makes the question of transferability more acute to us, because we're investing more (money, time, attention) in gathering and consuming media than we would otherwise. So I stand by my original post - this is a first world problem :-)

Value makes them relevant to estate issues.

It seems to me unlikely that digital content will remain the domain of relatively cheap music, books and videos.

> If you keep a moderate library, there's nothing wrong with physical media.

So I should listen to the same disc over and over?

I've been pondering exactly this for my current business plan, what's been clear to me is that this is more of a business/legal issue as opposed to technology. Oh to sunder the walled gardens.

iTunes songs are currently DRM-free. You can just copy the files to wherever you want, or re-sync the whole library to another iTunes match account for $25.

That's one battle won, now we need to get rid of DRM for video and ebooks...

>or re-sync the whole library to another iTunes match account for $25.

why $25?

Fascinating post - thanks for sharing.

I'm not a lawyer, but here are the questions I'd ask, which likely have different answers for different online services, different states, and different countries:

1. Are the rights under the EULA / ToS transferable due to terms explicitly in the EULA governing transferability?

2. If there are no explicit terms, what is the "default setting" for transferability?

3. Are the digital items being sold considered goods, services, or some combination? (I'd imagine it's much easier to terminate a contract for ongoing services than to negate heirs' rights to goods the deceased has purchased.)

4. Is there a catch-all "escape clause" in the EULA which says "We're allowed to terminate your right to access these songs or movies at any time for any reason, or no reason"?

5. What about the first sale doctrine? Doesn't it say that you have some right to transfer items regardless of what the EULA / ToS says?

From a practical standpoint, you can probably transfer the account by just giving the password to the receiving heir. Making new purchases on the old account may no longer be possible if they check to make sure the name on your credit card matches the name the account is registered to, but I'd imagine many providers don't do this check and only care about what your CC info says if they start getting chargebacks.

If you don't know the password and don't have access to the deceased's email to use the usual password reset mechanism, you may be facing an uphill battle.

It would also be a micromanagement nightmare to have several accounts on the same service with different content. It might also trigger provider's alarms if you access several different accounts from the same IP address (although if the number is reasonably small -- less than ten, let us say -- hopefully they'll assume it's legit, i.e. multiple accounts belonging to different people living in the same house with a single NAT'ed Internet connection.)

The simple fact of the matter is that most Web businesses' domain modeling assumes that customers live forever. What happens when they don't is basically anarchy. We're still at the point where most of the people who die never had a large online presence, but in 30-50 years that will no longer be true.

An ideal situation for content providers would be for all content to be destroyed when someone dies, because then the next generation would have to buy it if they wanted it instead of inheriting it. The problem is that this leads to cognitive dissonance, because heritability of possessions is a central feature of many cultures, including ours.

An ideal situation for consumers is complete transferability. The first problem is that this encourages piracy -- if there was a free and legal resale market where any song could be sold for (let us say) $0.50, while songs can be bought on iTunes for $1.00, iTunes would make exactly $1.00 on each song it released, because exactly one person would buy it, then resell it (keeping a local copy), and its buyer would resell it, etc. The second problem is that it's difficult for a company halfway around the country to differentiate between the legitimate heir of someone who's actually died and an account thief.

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