The sale of digital content over the web followed the advent of Internet payments almost immediately. In fact, many companies even came up with innovative micro-payment technologies in mid to late nineties just to enable sale of downloadable content which was envisioned to be priced in cents, not dollars, making use of credit cards impractical.
In the 15 years which followed, a whole generation of young adults have grown up thinking of music as something people buy on the internet at the iTune store and download on their computer and transfer it to their iPod.
However, it was the launch of 3G and 4G networks and widespread adoption of Mobile Internet by general public which resulted in a sharp spike in the consumption of digital media and digital goods such as eBooks, mp3 and other downloadable music and Instant Videos.
The distribution and consumption of creative content and information - eBooks, eMagazines, eMusic and Instant Videos are beneficial for the society as a whole because it eliminates the unnecessary cost of manufacturing and transporting the physical media, avoids waste of unused/ unsold physical media as well as cuts down the time between creation and distribution of entertaining, educational or journalistic content.
Apple and Amazon can be credited for leading this revolution in the production and distribution of creative and intellectual content - Apple, by taking distribution of music over the mobile internet mainstream; Amazon by launching Kindle e-book reader with a built-in 3G data distribution which did not even require its users to separately buy and pay for a wireless data plan.
Just like iTunes, the Kindle became a fantastic success, so much so that Amazon is now updating the device with major new features within months of previous versions such as a touch screen e-reader, and front lit Kindle Paperwhite.
It has also released Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD which has a High Definition color screen so consumers can also enjoy movies, TV Shows, Apps and Games, in addition to books and music.
However, the digital distribution of media recently hit a major roadblock in undermining consumer confidence.
It has been reported in the news that a Kindle owner in Norway allegedly had her kindle completely wiped by Amazon without adequate explanation as to why. Not only was all of the content she had paid for was erased for good, no refund was provided to her.
This news which was first reported by the Norwegian blogger Martin Bekkelund quickly spread like a wild fire over the internet with coverage by major newspapers and media all over the world. Apparently, Bekkelund's friend, who he identifies as "Linn" was just told by Amazon: "We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies. As such, your Amazon.co.uk account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled. Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision."
When she asked them to explain further what related account were they talking about, Michael Murphy, Executive Customer Service from an organization which claims to be world's most customer-centric company refused to provide her any further information " Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters." and almost appears to deride her "We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters."
While what Amazon did might have been legal technically - Apparently, the Kindle fine print states that Amazon is only licensing the content to the buyer and not selling it,; this fine print argument did not convince the court of public opinion, the masses were justifiably outraged. Strange though it may sound, it is reported that Amazon (and Apple, and others) have the legal right to take the access to the content away from us without giving us any refund because the fine print says so and we all agreed to it when we bought the device.
Even though it's now reported that Amazon has quietly - within no explanation or apology - restored the account of Ms. "Linn", the incident has lead to millions of people who own kindles, Nooks, iPads, Kobo, etc. start asking themselves the same questions: Are they really better off buying their books, music, movies and TV shows on physical media where the "Big Brother" can't remotely take it away?
In the physical world, if people shell out our hard earned money for a book or movie, no one, not even the store they bought it from, can take it back from them with out a court order. If I buy a book at Barnes and Noble or a CD from the local music store, or a DVD from Block buster and later violate any Term of Service, those stores have the right to stop doing business with me and even forbid me from entering their stores, but they won't come to my house and take away all my books, CDs and DVDs.
Looks like not only it's technically possible for the sellers of digital content to take it back, they have a legal right to do so as well because of the fine print.
It has taken a decade for producers and distributors of digital media to convince people that buying digital products is not only faster, cheaper but better in every way. This one incident has undermined the confidence and trust in the Digital Media & Mobile Commerce more than anything else in the recent years, and it will take Amazon more than just quietly un-doing the unpopular deed.