Ebooks and why we still need to cut down trees…

I haven’t done much in the way of geek things over the past week, and I’ve been meaning to have this rant, so here we go.

I like gadgets. I have a lot of them, some may say too many, but I say not enough! I’ve even had an e-reader, and am quite impressed with e-ink technology. What I don’t like is the actual e-books, or rather how they are sold.

Nothing can compare to an actual physical dead tree version of a book. Its great to have a book in your hands, its just a much more pleasant experience. E-books however are handy. They’re great for taking on holidays, much easier having a device with hundreds of books on than carrying around a stack of heavy paperbacks. Also, a lot of documentation comes as downloadable PDF files which is so much easier to read on e-ink device than an LCD screen.

A lot of my issues surround DRM and price.  I’ve got issues with DRM on any format or media, but on e-books it is especially bad, compounded by the fact that e-books are generally only a little cheaper than their physical counterpart.

With a real book, you can

  • Lend it to a friend
  • Give it to a friend
  • Take it to a second hand shop, and swap it
  • Keep it forever

All these points have one thing in common. Ownership. You never actually own an e-book, you’ve just got it on long term loan from the seller. You aren’t allowed to resell the book at all, and even lending it to someone is hard enough. Woe betide if you want to try a different e-reader, you’re left with having to either illegally strip the DRM from the book, or buy it again.

If the seller goes out of business, you will more than likely lose access to your books. Don’t think this will happen because of the size of the company? Well in 2007, Virgin’s downloadable music store decided it wasn’t making enough money, so withdrew from the business. Suddenly all the music you bought through that service was unusable. Or maybe the seller decides that they sold the book by accident, as Amazon did with 1984. They removed access to the book to stop you reading it.

The last point above is not just about DRM or ownership as such, its down to the fact that the digital world moves so fast. The current e-book formats may not be around in five or ten years, but I have books on my shelves that I remember buying whilst still at primary school, nearly thirty years ago. I also have books that are older than me, that were picked up from second hand bookshops. These are out of print and unavailable from any e-book retailer. In another thirty years, will I still have a functioning e-reader that will read the current formats? Projects to read digital media that is less than twenty years old are a big undertaking these days, but I’ll still have books on shelves that I can simply pick up and read.

Of course, to compound all this, e-books are sold at a ridiculous price. As I’ve already mentioned, you are simply renting these books and never really own them, but the price difference doesn’t reflect this. Some e-books are still being sold at hardback prices, when the actual cost of manufacture is a moot point. A lot of my previous issues could be overlooked if they would simply charge a reasonable amount for the books. If a book was under a pound to purchase (rent), then I would think nothing of paying for it, and I may even take more of a risk on an unknown author. I find myself being put off buying a book these days, even a physical one, because the prices are so high. The pricing model has worked for smartphone apps, so why can’t it work with books?

I love reading, I love books, and I love gadgets. Unfortunately there is no way currently for me to legally use e-books. If I want an MP3, I buy the CD and rip it. If I want to store my DVDs on my network, I can rip them too if they don’t already come with a digital version. This can’t be done with books unless you go to the trouble of buying or building a book scanner. I could use the kindle app and then strip the DRM out of the file, but I don’t want to do this as I shouldn’t have to, and I’m not going to give Amazon any of my money whilst they still insist on running this monopoly. I do need to say, it is not just Amazon. All other e-book sellers work in the same way, and this could be due to the publishers, but it is still wrong.

Right, rant over. I’m going to go to bed and read a good, dead tree, book.

 

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Little Brother

First and foremost, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is fantastic story about a young adult growing up in a post 9/11 world full of paranoia, who gets caught up by Homeland Security after a terrorist attack on San Francisco. It paints a bleak view of how much power the authorities could gain if people let them, to monitor all activities and take people with no reason or apologies.

The reluctant hero of the story, Marcus, has a choice after caught wether to lie back and accept the new world order, or fight back. This leads to a fantastic story of someone growing up rather quickly and fighting back against the authorities that wrongly imprisoned him.

The second aspect of this book is the fact that it is open source. Published under a creative commons license the book is available as a free download as well as the more traditional dead tree version. Even better, the downloads page has the story in just about any format you could want, including the standard format for the Sony PRS-505. The author has written up his reasons for offering the book for free, along with suggesting ideas for donations if you enjoy the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and have since bought it to pass onto friends and urge others to do the same!

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