Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Skeptic Crosses the e-Rubicon :: E-books & Digital Rights Meditations

The other day, my wife came home with our first e-reader, a Kobo, and all my careful research on the best and rightest of the electronic readers went out the window.  Why?  Price.  The Kobo was on sale for about $75.00 at the Borders liquidation in my town.  At a price point like that, how could any ardent reader resist?

Yes, my wife bought an e-reader at the Borders liquidation sale.  A sentence so laden with irony that you'd need a hacksaw to cut it.

Thankfully, the Kobo is e-Pub friendly and does a good job displaying .PDF's which were my main requirements.  I reckon that the amount of paper I save printing out reading and proof copies of my stories will offset the cost of this new widget twice as fast as the others I've looked at.

Being cross-platform friendly is nice.  The price was nice.  In fact, I suspect the Kobo people might look back on the Borders liquidation sales as a watershed moment for their device.  Already attractively priced well below other e-readers, I suspect that many people who were on the fence about the things might make the leap based upon price alone.

Food for thought at any rate.

Digital Rights Meditations...

The e-Pub format is a nice step in the direction of creating a digital library that is truly a movable feast, but not quite the whole way.  With some effort, you can carry your library from one device to another, but you still don't 'own' your books.  Honestly, I think we've given up entirely on the concept of ownership.  Of our music, of our computers, our phones and our video games.

Honestly, even though it brands me a luddite in most circles, I find it all a bit sad.  Sony is suing the hell out of a kid who figured out how to reactivate a function of the Playstation that was on there when he bought it, the option to install a different operating system.

If you think about it, prosecuting someone who wants to update or run "unapproved" software on a Playstation is a bit like Nissan prosecuting me for dropping a new engine in my Xterra.

Actually, it's exactly like that, except that Nissan didn't force me to agree to a ream of terms and conditions before they would allow me to start the engine the first time and then update and change the way the car works periodically without my permission.

I wonder how long we'll have to wait until that does happen?

I also wonder how much case law will be on the books already when it happens, which will tell us that while we're allowed to own the cars, we're only allowed a limited license to their engines and won't be allowed to sell them second-hand because that would rob Nissan or Toyota or GM of the sale of a new one.

Think about that for a moment.

Because no matter how the advertising copy of the electronic booksellers is written, you don't buy an e-book, you buy a license to access one.  A license that can and will be amended and revised or revoked as the licensor sees fit, as many American libraries discovered last week to their chagrin when Harper Collins changed their minds on how they were going to go forward on library loans of their e-books.

And as loud as the uproar might be, Harper Collins didn't do anything wrong.  They were acting well within their rights as licensor.

All of this relates to e-readers because I've never once picked up a new author without someone I trusted first handing me a copy of one of their books to read, which got me hooked.  So when I see publishers or other authors saying that a library or book loan is tantamount to piracy or theft, it makes me wonder if they're really paying attention to which writers are doing  well with young readers in the new publishing paradigm.  Not the older readers that keep the established mega-sellers like James Patterson aloft, but the future readers that will be buying books for decades to come... writers like Neil Gaiman.

I found out this morning that a company called Calibre has made finding and listing DRM-free e-books their business model for a new site.  It will be interesting to see if they succeed on that model.  Though, I sometimes wonder what the founders of Project Gutenberg think about the many e-book purveyors who are essentially re-packaging their content and making a note of how many free e-books they have available...

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).