How many times should I pay for the same thing?

If I pay for the New York Times to be delivered to me in hard copy every morning, do I have an automatic right to the electronic edition delivered to my Kindle? If I pay the Wall Street Journal.com an annual fee do I deserve to get the Kindle edition for free?

This is a buy once/use many times in many different formats argument – not a multi-user argument, though the metaphysics of simultaneous media consumption is very trippy, e.g. I pay one pay-per-view charge for the movie and the entire family can watch it. But each of us pays a ticket to enter the theater (obviously because the theater is in the business of renting seats, not content). Being a music copy protection crank, and a notorious copyleftist, I will acknowledge my responsibility to pay for original works and not pirate them, but must I pay, as the man said in Men in Black, for The White Album yet again because a new format has been developed?

The newspapers in particular – that’s a tough one. Obviously they need every dime of new revenue they can get, and if they can build circ electronically then power to them, but what about faithful subscribers to that content in other mediums? Should we not get an all-inclusive license however we want it delivered? I can see the papers actually paying me to go paperless – a green rebate like the grocery store that knocks a nickel off the tab for every recyclable bag I bring with me in lieu of paper of plastic. But no, I suspect a couple things at work – specifically to the Kindle case.

  1. Kindle doesn’t feel like an open format that the New York Times can offer like, say, a PDF version for download from its site. It’s Amazon’s and that’s that.
  2. Amazon is getting a piece of the transaction, so what do they care that I pay the NYT directly for the paper edition?

So, what happens if Bezos opens the Kindle format to the public domain and publishers can suddenly go direct to their subscribers, and if their circulation management tools are strong enough, recognize a subscriber seeking a multi-channel license and discount it accordingly?

Amazes me that 12% of all Amazon purchases of that portion of its book inventory that has a Kindle version are indeed for Kindle owners. E.g. – take a best seller, put it online in print and kindle formats, and more than ten percent of the customers buy it for the electronic device.