In his latest Scribble entry, Richard Hayden cautions against buying too much into the supposed safety of the cloud
I’ve been thinking about the cloud lately: about how it is at the mercy of the companies that control it and about to what extent we can rely on it. This has been brought on by a recent change in how I read comics.
Comic book fans have just come off a big weekend. Saturday, May 3 was Free Comic Book Day and legions of readers made their way to bricks-and-mortar stores to indulge their passion. It’s a great idea; it gives lapsed fans an easy way back in and encourages new or would-be fans to test the waters. Best of all, it drives business to physical stores.
But not everyone lives near a store (my closest here in the UK is an hour’s drive away). And, in this increasingly digital age, not everyone is as invested in paper copies of media. Tablets and eReaders have changed the way a generation consumes books and, even, comics. It is here that the cloud and its cottage industry of associated services have the greatest impact.
The leading seller of digital comics is comiXology. At the beginning of April, the successful tech company (as well as selling comics, it created and licensed its own eReading software) was purchased by Amazon. For readers, the sale is a double-edged sword but chiefly it can be seen as offering a more secure cloud service. With digital libraries so often tied to online accounts (rather than ephemeral devices and their relatively short lifespans), a reader’s access to their content could be completely severed by the failure of a company.
A few years ago, I was caught out by this exact event when AudioGo, a popular UK audiobook company begun by the BBC but later sold, suddenly went out of business. My library, stored in the cloud, was gone. Fortunately, I had already backed up the content elsewhere but the catastrophic weakness of the cloud was exposed; it is only as strong as the company running the part that houses your library.
With Amazon now running comiXology, one can assume that its cloud reliability has skyrocketed as a consequence of being part of a larger, more diverse company. But, with that reliability comes an inconvenience (to some, at least). Amazon plays on the same field as Apple (and others) so has no truck with the fees associated with in-app purchasing (30 percent of which goes to Apple on iOS). Within days of Amazon’s acquisition of the digital provider, the in-app purchasing was gone from one of iTunes most successful downloads. Similar changes were made to the Android version, cutting the Google Play store from the equation (although, direct in-app purchasing is still available on Android; the iOS app is now simply an eReader).
Steam users will be well versed in the arguments for and against tying one’s content library to a single company. Valve quickly and effectively established and cornered the PC digital download market despite the misgivings of many about handing control over access to a single company. In part, this success was down to Valve’s high standing among the gaming community, possibly due to that fact that Valve is a private company with no shareholders or dastardly suits to satisfy but also because it is the developer of awesome games; the developer has consistently committed itself to the community. However, I used to think that a BBC-backed audiobook company was a safe bet. Until it was sold. And, in the free market economy things like this change. Services get cut due to cost. Takeovers and buyouts lead to the cherry picking of those assets that draw profit while weeding out the ones that don’t.
The cloud is a marvellous invention and is a solution for most of its users. But it is not a safe alternative to back-ups, which is a concern because it is frequently sold to us as exactly that.