Microsoft’s discontinuation of their e-bookstore means that consumers will no longer be able to access and view Microsoft’s e-books. Customers who purchased the right to view the e-books within the past two years from the company are now unable to read them.
Microsoft updated their Edge browser to support e-book consumption in March of 2017 and began to sell e-books through the Windows 10 Storeapp. Microsoft then ceased selling e-books in April of 2019, resulting in the revocation of each consumer’s purchased right to view the e-books.
Consequently, buyers have been robbed of the transaction experience: I give you money and you provide me with the product.
Microsoft has shattered the trust given by consumers in a supposedly fair transaction. The e-books are simply gone with the wind “because company executives have decided it’s no longer worth keeping the store running.”
Companies are setting a precedent of making their products obsolete. Dave Lee writes about how there is no concrete equivalent that mimics the loss of ownership that is possible because of Digital Rights Management; physical bookstores are unable to take a customer’s material, purchased books away from them.
Digital Rights Management and Microsoft
DRM (digital rights management) is a systematic attempt to prevent the piracy of e-books. Microsoft utilized DRM and then had the issue of revoking every consumer’s right to view Microsoft’s e-books. Cory Doctorow writes that “this puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast.” Doctorow still owns e-books and MP3’s from organizations that are long gone, but Microsoft is forced to reimburse consumers because the company’s e-books cannot be viewed outside of Microsoft Edge.
Similarly, Josh Axelrod and Lulu Garcia-Navarro write about how cars and various smart home appliances are under DRM-lock as well. The permanence of cars, much like Microsoft’s e-books, are no longer guaranteed. If Tesla were to go under, a smart car can lose everything that makes it a Tesla. People paid for the car but not the ownership of the software.
A major issue for Microsoft was the lack of users for their Edge browser. Ed Bott states that “in the first three months of 2018, Microsoft Edge accounted for a paltry 8 percent of the 1.2 billion visits to government websites from consumer and business PCs and Macs.”
The minimal impact of Edge users combined with a system that was not built for convenience was too much for Microsoft.
In contrast, Amazon’s Kindle exemplifies e-book convenience. Amazon provides an inexhaustible source of e-books along with a portable device for reading them, and a free Kindle app which may be used when not connected to the internet.
For the few people using Edge the medium was ill-fitted for e-book consumption. Edge requires that the consumers view the e-book through the browser rather than allowing users to download the book. Having to view the e-book through Edge limits many users to only being able to view the e-book on a PC. Further, this exclusivity did not allow for e-book compatibility with Apple devices.
While exclusive compatibility is not without precedent, Microsoft lacked the fan-base that allowed for the complete alienation of competitor’s operating systems.
Further, Microsoft Edge users must be connected to the internet to view the e-books. Connectivity issues, lack of compatibility, and the requirement that the e-book be viewed in-browser stifle the appeal of Microsoft’s e-books.
What Microsoft Has to Say
Microsoft has not given many statements about why they are ceasing the sale of e-books. The first mention came in June when they posted on their website about the closure of their e-book store and eventual refunds for customers.
The FAQ mentions giving an additional $25 credit to individuals who annotated in their e-book. Microsoft is essentially paying for the consumer’s intellectual property which will be lost along with the rights to view the e-books.
The consumer reimbursements and Edge’s lack of traffic imply that Microsoft did not have many e-book sales in the first place.
Microsoft also recently indicated that e-books are not their focus, but rather that their app store is their priority when Microsoft stated that the company is “streamlining [its] focus’ on the store.”
The Future for Microsoft in E-Books
Microsoft’s foray into e-book sales utilizing Edge was not their first attempt at entering the market and it will likely not be their last. Microsoft invested $300 million in Barnes and Noble to create a separate Nook Media company in 2011, but this venture was terminated in 2014.
David Grossman writes that “MS Reader tried to sell books for LCD screens” in 2011. However, this project fell through in the same year due to a lack of usage and routine updates.
Whether or not Microsoft has given up on e-books, the company’s blunder has made evident the possibility for massive loss of content for consumers when dealing with DRM-locked content. Consumer trust will be difficult for Microsoft to earn back if they decide to wrestle with e-book sales again.
Whatever the future holds, hopefully Microsoft has learned from their past mistakes to avoid any future losses of this caliber in the e-book game.