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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Book tokens for Christmas.

As usual I got a certain amount of book tokens for Christmas again this year... well I say ‘book tokens’ but it’s not really old-fashioned, redeemable at the store ‘book tokens’ anymore it is? What I got were gift-cards, credit-card sized pieces of plastic with arbitrated amounts of money, and wishes of ‘buy something you like’ attributed to them. All too often this translates to ‘buy something that I can see is worth the amount of money I gave you.’ This isn’t to say that the gesture wasn’t genuine and sincere. However most people give a ‘token’ with the intention of the recipient getting something tangible that they (the sender) can see the person will actually like, and/or enjoy. And this is of course totally understandable. They don’t want you to waist or squander their gift.  This sometimes brings a bit of a dilemma for me though. The good thing about these gift-cards is that most can easily be used for on-line purchases. Often what I want to do is use the gift-cards on-line to buy e-books, and not necessarily all at once directly after Christmas. Unfortunately this doesn’t really give me anything to ‘show’ for my gift. And has resulted in some confused or even sorrowful looks from the gifters, along this half hearted comments of ‘Oh, well if that’s what you wanted...’ The other side of this of course is when I show them a shiny new, and importantly thick, coffee-table book full of full-colour pictures, then their face will light up with the ‘gift’ they have got me.

I know it’s not exactly an earth shattering dilemma, and sometimes I’ll just get a ‘real’ paper-based book or books to approximately the same value as the gift-card and say I got those with it, keeping the card to use for on-line purchases for convenience. As it means I don’t have to use my bank-card on-line. That way everybody is happy.

This got me thinking about the current state of peoples understanding and perceptions about wholly ‘electronic’ on-line data purchases. After all it is still quite a new concept for a lot of people.
While it can be argued that your e-book purchase is a real thing in as much as you get to download a data-file it isn’t exactly the same as owning a brand new heavyweight coffee-table book is it?
Perhaps an even more obscure example is the new OnLive gaming system that I also subscribed to over the holiday period.  If you don’t know this is a ‘cloud gaming’ system where you only pay for the rights to play a game on the service over the internet. Absolutely nothing is downloaded to your computer; you are buying the right to play only. Now I don’t think I could ever fully explain this concept to my mother as ‘I bought a computer game with your gift-card.’ With no disrespect to my mum, she would try to grasp it, fail and nod her head at the right places, but again if I produced a big shiny box, her face would look a bit happier because she could see I’d got something I’ll like with the money.

I think this attitude or perception is changing for a lot of people, although pockets of e-resistance are also already forming. I also think this is set to be something that will split people’s views for some time to come.
I don’t expect e-book sales to come anywhere near eclipsing traditional book sales within my lifetime, if ever. But I do see e-commerce becoming an ever increasing every-day part of more and more people’s lives.
Some people are already talking about ‘Living in the cloud’ whilst others are still saying ‘I don’t trust that Tinterweb thingy. It’s full of people trying to scam your money and steel your identity.’ And sadly enough it isn’t without those things, and those are the very people most likely to fall victim to the scammers.
But for a lot of us buying from Amazon is now second nature, and more convenient that the (possibly now rather run-down) local high-street... but that’s another rant.

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