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Microsoft quietly announces removal of all customers' ebooks

Microsoft has announced via a statement on its website that as it closes the books category of the Microsoft Store, all free and purchased books acquired by customers will also disappear.

In April 2019, Microsoft announced that it would be shutting down the eponymous Store after it failed to meet sales targets. The company put an end to the purchase, renting and pre-ordering of books from 2 April 2019 to prepare for the closure.

The shuttering of the Microsoft book store in July means that free and purchased ebooks will no longer be available to read, while re-orders will be cancelled and rented books will disappear at the end of the rental period.

Buyers will be given refunds for all of their book purchases. If a customer’s original payment method is no longer valid, or if they bought books using credit, they will instead receive credit in their Microsoft account to use elsewhere in the Microsoft Store.

Customers who added mark-ups and annotations to their ebooks will receive an extra $25 of credit to their Microsoft account to compensate for those notes vanishing with their books.

Microsoft began selling ebooks in 2017, in the face of intense competition from rivals such as Amazon, Google and Apple. The company originally provided customers with the Reader app for ebooks and other documents, but in February 2018 it moved reading functionality to the Edge browser. This limited customers to reading ebooks within the unpopular browser, which (according to StatCounter) fewer than five per cent of people use.

Unlike traditional paper books, the ebooks also came with some frustrating restrictions, such as ‘digital locks’ which prevented them being shared with other people.

The disappearance of purchased ebooks is an unfortunate demonstration of the intangibility of ‘ownership’ of digital media, such as downloaded films, games, and music. While the number of people who purchased ebooks from Microsoft is likely to be small, many more have bought and downloaded Xbox games and other media from the company. Some may question whether their extensive libraries of digital media purchased from other companies could be at risk of disappearing in the future if continued support becomes inviable for the companies. By extension, this could even affect some future cloud-connected devices such as autonomous vehicles and ‘smart’ home devices which rely on their manufacturer’s continued support to operate.

Fifteen years ago, the author Cory Doctorow explained the possible dangers of digital rights management (DRM) in a speech to Microsoft's Research Group. Doctorow argued that DRM limits the sharing of digital media and could be increasingly used to trap customers into a single company’s ecosystem, stifling choice and competition.

Microsoft – which has struggled to expand beyond offerings in software and cloud services – quietly confirmed in October 2017 that it would no longer develop Windows Phones after failing to break into the Apple and Samsung-dominated mobile OS market.

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