Why is it so hard to give digital gifts?

I am reading The Digital Transformation Playbook for part of my MSc. It's a good book, but I found this passage about eBooks a little confusing:

what about gift giving? No one I have ever asked has thought that an e-book was an acceptable substitute for a printed book when giving a gift.

I've received an eBook as a gift (thanks David!) and it was perfectly acceptable. It was nice to receive, and didn't feel like any less than a gift. I got rid of most of my physical books a few years ago. Receiving a paper book is also nice - but it comes with the burden of having to dust it, shelve it, and deal with its bulk when I come to move.

Similarly, some friends got me a lovely CD as a gift (thanks Sookie & Emo!) and it took me a few days to find a CD player! A digital copy might have been easier to use play - if we were all using the same music service.

And, I think that's the real reason why digital gift giving hasn't gone mainstream - the infrastructure doesn't support it.

Is it possible?

Some platforms just don't allow you to send digital content as gifts. For example, PlayStation doesn't support gifting. You can send a gift voucher to a friend, but there's no way to buy them Day of the Tentacle.

Others are laggards. Amazon only recently supported giving eBooks as gifts in the UK.

But even if you can send a gift, can the recipient receive it?

Platform lock in

I don't have iTunes. If someone gifts me the latest Spice Girls album, I'd have to sign up for an account, download iTunes, and find a way to get music onto my Android phone.

If I give someone a DVD, they can play it on any DVD player. If I gift an Amazon movie they need the right TV, dongle, broadband speed, and online account.

There's no way for me to buy a digital voucher for "SpiceWorld: The Spice Girls Movie" - and have it redeemable on the recipient's choice of platform.

Similarly, I could buy a DRM-free copy of a book - but I'd need to know whether the recipient can read ePub or not (hint - Kindle can't unless it is manually converted).

Information leakage?

Some stores do let you give digital gifts. Steam, the video game shop, lets you do that. With one interesting detail:

How can I tell if my friend already owns the game(s) I would like to gift?
If your friends are members of your Steam Friends list, you can learn whether they already own the game you'd like to give.
Steam FAQ

For a social gaming experience like Steam, it may make sense for your friends to know what games you have. But do you want all your friends knowing you own an eBook copy of "Spice Up Your Life: The Authorised Biography of the Spice Girls"?

Audible - the audio book company - handle this quite well:

What happens if I buy somebody a book they already have?
If you give a book that the other person already has in their library, we'll give them a credit or coupon they can use to choose something else.
Audible gift FAQ


Steam only lets you give gifts to people on your friends list. What's the potential for abuse if you can send a gift to anyone with an email address?

I'm sure you could think of a dozen ways you could annoy or harass someone if you could send them gifts without prior permission.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

At the moment, there are limited options for giving of specific digital gifts. If a store allows it, you can buy a digital gift and then hope your friend is on that specific platform.

Is there a better way?

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