May 15, 2012

What (really) happens to your eReader when you die?


In a somewhat comedic article in the New York Times, Kyle Jarrard writes about the fate of eBooks after their owners pass away. It is a grim topic but one that is not without merit. Many of us would like to think that our books are going to go on to some worthy owner after we are no longer here to enjoy them.

The Times article discusses a pair of scenarios concerning books after life. After giving Amazon two chances to answer the question of what happens to their eBooks after a person dies the reporter received the same answer twice. Shocking, we know.

So what did they find out? While you might have perished, your Amazon account will potentially live on forever (provided you keep it in good order and someone knows the log in password). In other words: The book as undead corporate animation. O joy!

The Times reports:

Why should this work? Because, dear readers, your Kindle e-books never die so long as you keep your account open. They are immortal. I have this from the e-book seller’s mouth, even though it came out sort of sideways at first.

To the question, “So what happens to all my Kindle e-books when I die?” Amazon replied, “I’m sorry; Kindle content can’t be resold or donated, or transferred between accounts. The purchase and download of digital content from, including content from the Kindle Store, is associated with the account used to make the original purchase. As a result, Kindle content can’t be transferred to another person.”

So, if I’m reading this right, I can’t give my e-books away before I go, not one of the entire 70 I’ve purchased so far. By the way, I appreciated the “I’m sorry,” which was comforting even though it did sound a bit like I had already passed away, something I don’t expect to do anytime soon.

But it got me to thinking: What if I asked Amazon the same question again, just to see what they say? Here’s what I got back: “Kindle content purchased on your account will remain attached to your account indefinitely until you chose to remove the content or close your account. If you’d like to give your account to somebody else, the content can be accessed by that person. However, Kindle content can’t be transferred between different accounts.”

Can you see it now? Sometime 100 years from now some descendant of yours will neurally flip through the family archives and stumble on your old Amazon Prime account information (thankfully you set up a trust to handle the annual payments) and they can explore the world of you .MOBI files. They’ll say to themselves, this DRM’d file used to belong, well not belong really, but used to be accessed by my long deceases relative.

It warms the heart, really.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.