Digital Preservation

No, Andy, Amazon Won’t Be Around Forever

Last week I attended a talk by Andy Ihnatko at the Nashua Public Library. He talked about a lot of interesting things and gave us a close-up of Google Glass in action, but there was one point I had to take issue with. He said it was unreasonable to complain about Amazon’s DRM, because you can play Amazon media on just about any device. During the question period I asked him: If you buy a DRM product from Amazon today, how long do you think they’ll support it? He answered that “Amazon will be around forever.”

This is an astonishing thing to say, especially for someone so intelligent. If he thinks Amazon will never go out of business and will support its DRM through all the coming centuries, probably a lot of other people think that. If you look at DEC, Data General, Wang, Commodore, and Control Data, though, it’s hard to believe in corporate immortality. Even when companies don’t disappear or become assimilated, they usually stop supporting old products after a while.

Maybe Andy’s definition of “forever” is 10 or 20 years. A lot of people don’t think any books or recordings are worth keeping even that long. Personally, I have quite a few books from the 19th century, and it would be a sadder and poorer world if those weren’t available any more.

DRM isn’t forever. In the future, if there are materials that aren’t distributed except in DRM form, they could disappear completely, making the world sadder and poorer.

Before leaving, I handed Andy a card promoting Files that Last. I hope he reads it and learns something from it. Oh, yes, and that he reviews it and boosts my sales. :)

Gary McGath

I'm an independent software developer, recently with the Harvard Library for eight years. My special interests include file formats, digital preservation, and security. I've published an e-book, _Files that Last_, to bring digital preservation to a wider audience.

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