Digital Service Providers: Now’s the Time to Make Everything Free
J.K. Rowling, Twitter’s resident hypocrite and progressive-in-retrospect, recently announced she’s launching harrypotterathome.com as a Covid19 lockdown deal, to help “parents, teachers and carers working to keep children amused and interested while we’re on lockdown” who “might need a bit of magic.” On first look, this feels like an altruistic attempt to help out her readers struggling with being isolated with *free* Harry Potter books to while away the time. Upon closer inspection, however, it turns out it’s just another business strategy.
Audiobook seller Audible and EBook company Overdrive are Rowling’s partners, who very generously are making only the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, free — you can listen to it “as many times as you like in the coming weeks,” the website states. As far as deals go, being able to listen to, or read, one of the thinnest (and nowhere close to the best) Harry Potter book falls quite short of what can be considered a steal.
But Rowling, Audible and OverDrive are not alone — since lockdowns were implemented around the world to fight the Covid19 pandemic, and people became aware of just how much time they had on their hands, digital companies stepped up (or at least pretended) to come to the rescue. Streaming services, for example, are having a field day — Netflix, HBO, Disney+ all re-elevated their platforms at the beginning of the pandemic, claiming they have their users’ backs, only to peddle the same one-month-free subscription deal they offer throughout the year to new members. Amazon Prime Video offered free subscriptions to Italians, only to withdraw the offer soon after.
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Another scam that got people excited initially was JStor announcing it would provide free access to more than 6,000 books and 150 journals; turns out, the digital library was only re-elevating the already-free papers, books and journals without tearing down any paywalls in the interest of solidarity. Adobe is another example — at first, it only gave students free access to its creative suite; later, Adobe gave everyone an offer to have two months’ free subscription, but didn’t advertise the offer anywhere.
And the list goes on, of digital service providers capitalizing on people’s (unwitting) need to stay home and entertain themselves, without offering any respite to their users, who really don’t have a choice. So, here’s a PSA to these corporations — stop it. Before the pandemic, we might have been resigned to the whole capitalists-be-capitalizing spiel. Not anymore. The world might have paused for the time being, but it’s also re-evaluating how we interact with built systems — of healthcare, capitalism, celebrity culture. One wrong move … and who knows?