Bookish musings: Life after death for a Kindle library?

What happens to my Kindle books when I die?

Not (I hope) that that’s imminent or anything… but my family was discussing giving away books, and one thing led to another, and this is the question that bubbled to the surface.

It all started with hearing about an acquaintance who was moving to a smaller home, and decided to give away all her non-essential books by inviting friends over for a book giveaway. She’d already sequestered her must-keep books, so she basically had a party where her shelves were open for plunder, and ended up loving seeing her friends from all different parts of her life come together over a love of books. Nice.

Of course, my husband then straight up suggested that I do the same thing! Um, no. Because (a) we’re not moving and (b) I don’t need the space my books take up for something else and (c) THEY’RE MY BOOKS AND I LOVE THEM AND I’M NOT GETTING RID OF THEM. Period.

But then we got to talking about the (hopefully) long-distant future… and I’m clear on my wishes. When I die, my lovely daughter, my partner in crime (ya know, if reading obsessively counts as a crime — which, no, it doesn’t) gets first pick on all books in the house, and once she’s done, she should first invite over a set of my book-loving friends to choose what they want, then donate the rest to the public library.

See? All nice and tidy.

Then I starting thinking about my Kindle. I currently have 817 books in my Kindle library. (Ssh, don’t ask me how many I’ve actually read.) All 817 represents some cost, because most were not free, even if I do tend to buy my e-books when there are price drops.

But do I really own the books on my Kindle? Sadly, the answer is no.

According to the Kindle terms of service on the Amazon website:

Use of Kindle Content. Upon your download or access of Kindle Content and payment of any applicable fees (including applicable taxes), the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Kindle Content an unlimited number of times (for Subscription Content, only as long as you remain an active member of the underlying membership or subscription program), solely through a Kindle Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Supported Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

The red highlighting is my addition, but the point is, when we “buy” an e-book, we’re actually just paying for the right to view the content, but the content doesn’t become our property in the way that a physical paperback does. We can’t give it away when we’re done reading it or if we end up not liking it. We can lend a title, but with limits — not all titles are lendable, and the ones that are can only be loaned for a certain length of time, and only one time. (See this article for more on lending Kindle books).

Which brings me back to my question about what happens to my e-book collection after I die? Can I bequeath my e-books to a loved one?

I’m guessing not. Based on skimming through a bunch of random articles (thanks, interwebs!), as far as I can tell, the only thing I actually own is my Kindle device. If I don’t own the content (which, again, we apparently pay for the right to use, but don’t get the right to say it belongs to us), then it’s not mine to pass along to the next generation. Which doesn’t really feel great to me, considering that each and every e-book on my reader represents a sunk cost that, at the time, I considered a purchase — just like the money I spend on all the paperbacks and hardcovers scattered around my house.

The work-around, I suppose, is all about the physical device. Theoretically, anything downloaded to my Kindle should stay there indefinitely (especially if the wifi is turned off). If I hand someone my fully-loaded Kindle as a gift, then they can read all my stuff as if they were me.

So, I guess that my loved ones who live on after I’m gone can enjoy my e-books on my devices… and just to be safe, I should probably leave them all my account info (user ID and password) when I hand them my Kindle device from my deathbed (ooh, I’m getting morbid here). I may be gone, but my Amazon account can live on! But no, my e-books don’t become theirs, and if they lose my device and/or my account information, they’ll be out of luck.

How do you think about your e-books? Do you consider them yours? I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this… and let me know if I’ve gotten something wrong when it comes to “life after death” for my Kindle books!

For more on the topic of e-book ownership:
Do We Really Own Our Digital Possessions?
There is a Psychological Divide Over E-book Ownership