In which I moralize ebook buying

I recently received an iPad as a graduation gift. It’s awesome. I kind of hate that I think that it is awesome because, you know, precious earth metals, sweatshops, it’s made to expire quickly to feed the capitalist machine, and stuff. But, I think my consumption of books will increase, as with many other ebook readers who read both print and digital books.

At the same time, I’m trying to minimize my consumption and simplify my life. ‘Leave no trace,’ a camping principal I learned from my dad, has become kind of a mantra, or at least a goal statement for my consumption, but the sheer fact that I am alive means that I will consume some goods that will in some way affect my local & global community. So, I am always looking for  I aim to do good, even if ‘good’ sometimes means just not making the world a worse place. I am not so radically ambitious and DIY savvy that I can operate outside our culture of consumption. I don’t have a yard to turn into a garden large enough to feed me, Richard and the cat*; I don’t have the equipment or training to make my own clothes; I haven’t learned how to repair mechanical things. So, one of my ongoing projects is to figure out how to live within the political/consumer construct I am bound to while also staying true to my personal ethics (Thank you, Jesuit education).

Consumption patterns are a political statement. I want to make sure my money is going toward companies who are doing good for readers and writers. So, before I fired up my iPad for the first time, I made these rules for myself:

  1. I am not going to buy an ebook from an aggregator like Amazon until business practices and ethics are improved. (I am defining improved as: no longer unfairly targeting local booksellers, no longer unfairly fixing ebook prices to create a monopoly, and no longer tracks reading habits in order to find new ways to write more generic, commercial tripe.)
  2. I will use it primarily to read library ebooks, newspapers and magazines. I spent the last four years at a university that didn’t have a great on-campus selection of books but was part of a region-wide network that allowed interlibrary lending, so my Seattle Public Library card didn’t get much use. Since I got my iPad in mid-June, I have checked out six ebooks and an audiobook from the SPL. And, when possible (this has only been not possible once), I get the Epub version of the book, not the Kindle version because Amazon tracks reading in library books too.
  3. Any e-books I purchase must be bought directly from the publisher or an independent third party that isn’t Amazon. Direct-from-publisher sales were up last year and that is incredibly encouraging. Publishing companies like Melville House, Dzanc, and others allow you to purchase ebooks directly from them. Most ebooks can also be purchased through more ethical third parties like Weightless Books and  Ebooks.com.
  4. I will use it until it is really, truly broken and irreparable, and then find a recycling company that doesn’t just ship trash to developing nations to be burned. And if it proves not to have the longevity I require, I won’t be purchasing a replacement.

Some of these things might seem totally obvious for the consumption minded, but it’s helpful to put things in writing.

*Though I am working on an in-apartment garden to at least provide some produce.