“But NOTHING bad will happen if you all switch to ebooks. Trust us.”

Cory Doctorow

Doctorow's sales went UP as he offered ebooks for free, or without DRM controls.

I keep trying to like the concept of ebooks. Trying to believe everyone who says that of course nothing will go wrong and we’ll have total control of those electronic files on our readers. I’ve even decided which reader I’d like to get. (Though after today, I won’t waste the extra bucks on a Sony ereader after all; I’ll stick with the much cheaper Kobo.) I can see a real convenience for ebooks, especially if you need to cart lots of books with you and can’t take a whole suitcase of them.


But now this Cory Doctorow article(**):

HarperCollins to libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26 checkouts

it’s absolutely true: on the whole, DRM ebooks, like DRM movies and DRM games work pretty well.

But they fail really badly. No matter how crappy a library’s relationship with a print publisher might be, the publisher couldn’t force them to destroy the books in their collections after 26 checkouts.

This is simply an abomination. We are constantly assured that when we buy an ebook — just like when we buy a physical book — that book is ours. (Even though we can’t resell it second hand. That’s already one difference.) When something happens like Amazon going into people’s Kindles and zapping a book — oh, that’s just an exception. Right? They’ll never, ever do it again. Right?

This HarperCollins crap is not an exception. It is a policy. And we know from experience that the “thin edge of the wedge” really does exist. Someone intrudes into our ownership a teeny bit — and we allow it and get used to it. So they intrude a little more — and we allow that. Do you think these publishers won’t end up at a point where they’ll only allow us to read an ebook a certain number of times, even though we’ve legitimately purchased it and put on our readers?? Don’t be naive. Those books were also bought by the libraries. The books were supposedly their property.

Doctorow’s advice to libraries, though I doubt they’ll follow it, and I doubt this will prevent the same screws from being applied to us one day unless we can kill DRM:

Stop buying DRM ebooks. Do you think that if you buy twice, or three times, or ten times as many crippled books that you’ll get more negotiating leverage with which to overcome abusive crap like this? Do you think that if more of your patrons come to rely on you for ebooks for their devices, that DRM vendors won’t notice that your relevance is tied to their product and tighten the screws?

You have exactly one weapon in your arsenal to keep yourself from being caught in this leg-hold trap: your collections budget. Stop buying from publishers who stick time-bombs in their ebooks.

So mad at this FUCKING GREEDY MOVE by HarperCollins that I could set a flamethrower on them!

(**Doctorow is a published author whose sales and earnings went UP after he started offering his books online for free, and released them in DRM-less efiles. He knows what he’s talking about. He makes his living studying this. When he speaks on these matters, people should listen.)


    1. Stephanie says:

      This kind of short-sighted nonsense always backfires. Whenever media owners get their panties in a twist about piracy so much so that it inconveniences legitimate owners (or they pull this kind of idiocy), piracy climbs as a result. Stupid. They learned the hard way in the movie industry. They almost killed themselves in the music industry. Why the ebook people don’t get it confounds me.

      Offering a comparable value (the books themselves) at a reasonable price comparable in profit to paper books to interested readers (which would be, actually, a fraction of their current prices) would garner them far more in the long run. I’ve read a number of manga on-line – rather than dissuade me, it tends to make me buy the whole series. Painlessly, I’m introduced to new authors I might never otherwise have read.

      Most people would prefer a legitimate copy of what they love. They’re willing to pay a reasonable price for it, but they want to own what they’ve bought. When those offering the ebooks start trying to suck the market dry, they’ll pay the price.

      Remember Divx (where you could “own” a movie for a limited time)? Yeah, me neither.

      • Phyl says:

        I remember that was the argument made by many musicians when the music industry was killing Napster. The artists said they sold more because of this free file-sharing, rather than less. (I know that because Metallica were so greedy that they raised a stink and got the site shut down, they lost one customer — me — as a result. I’ll never spend another penny on their albums, and refuse even to listen to their music, even though I liked it.)

        And my experience has always been like yours too. I’ve read the whole Fullmetal Alchemist manga online, and my constant thought when my financial fortunes take an upturn is, “Ooh, now I can buy one more volume and get closer to having them all!” Same with the videos, which FUNimation ran for free on their site.

        And even if I get a book out of the library and really like it, I want to buy it. But I can guarantee that if HarperCollins continues with this a**holery, I’ll never buy one of their books again until they change their policy.

    2. kiirstin says:

      I have to say, as a librarian who is about to embark on training our staff on the new eBook services we have (from OverDrive, the library services company that is permitting this foolishness), I am so *gratified* to see people getting upset about this. It’s appalling, it’s stupid, and HarperCollins needs to actually *think* before they make idiot policies like this. I am angry, because they’re hurting the very people who want them to succeed as a company. I am angry, because they’re treating libraries and librarians as though we were criminals.

      But I am trying to focus on the bright side, which is that many people, not just librarians, are getting upset about this, which means to me that people are paying attention. And I am glad of that.

      Thanks, Phyl!

      • Phyl says:

        I’ve been kind of nagging HarperCollins about this on Facebook and Twitter, and got a tweet from them yesterday saying they’d soon have an announcement about HC Canada’s policy. I tweeted back that “it had better be that these books won’t expire after 26 uses!” Nasties.

    3. ce9999 says:

      A more alarming possibility with DRM-enabled revokable “publishing” is the possibility that, somewhere down the line, the publisher (or someone…Joe Lieberman, perhaps) will come up with a reason that the book needs to be “unpublished” and then, boom, anyone who bought a copy will be out of luck. Various potential reasons come to mind, including lawsuits, injunctions, “national security”, changing social morés (some books published 25-35 years ago would be untouchable now), extremist politics, and other lovelies.

      And the worst part of it (speaking strictly in an ironic sense)? When all they have to do is hit a global delete button, it won’t even be “a pleasure to burn” anymore!

      • Phyl says:

        Exactly! It’s like a conversation I had with a client today, who so casually told me he now keeps all his valuable documents “in the cloud.” I told him I don’t want my ownership of anything to be at someone else’s mercy, or in someone else’s control. If I buy something — I own it. Period. Anything else is just leasing. And we can’t know if that company will always be in business, or will always have good intentions. (That’s the argument constantly being made against Google having ownership of all books that have now expired their copyright. Sure, they plan to make them all free now, but what about the Google leadership thirty years from now??

        I hadn’t even thought of the political aspect. Gah.

    4. Ryan says:

      I’ve been avoiding ebooks for the most part and everyime I see them in the news, it makes me glad that I’m still doing that.

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