Tag Archive for ebooks

“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.)

Barnes and Noble eReader

Barnes and Noble now has their own eReader that you can download from their Nook site, which went up today. [**Please note: I’m adding a correction to much of this post, at the bottom, quoting from Melissa’s comment because I’m in a bit of a hurry at the end of the day.**]

You can download it to your PC or Mac, or to your iPhone or Blackberry, so it looks like they’ve got most of the major reading situations covered. I don’t know if this is a permanent feature, but certainly today, there are free ebooks available as well. The Last of the Mohicans and Sense and Sensibility are included right with the reader. And once you create an account, there are four more ebooks waiting in your Online Library: Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary.

You’ll be able to buy and download your ebooks from B&N, change viewing modes (portrait or landscape), make other customizations, and take notes, add highlights, and make bookmarks. So it sounds like you’ll be really set.

You’ll only be able to read the ebooks you purchase from Barnes and Noble on B&N eReader, unfortunately, so you can’t transfer them anywhere else. And you can’t read ebooks that you bought anywhere else on the B&N eReader. So this market is limited, especially if B&N doesn’t carry every ebook you want to buy. Check out the FAQ page for other info.

You’ll also see on the FAQ page, under “Managing eBooks,” that you’ll actually be able to lend the ebook to someone else who also has the B&N eReader on their device, at least a certain number of times. You just need to know their email address. But there’s no mention of whether Barnes and Noble will be able to yank the book off your reader if it wants to. Heh.

Melissa’s correction: “The eReader software has been available for download since July for MAC, PC, iPhone/iTouch, and Blackberry. There are nearly 1 million ebooks available for the eReader software due to the partnership with GoogleBooks. What’s new to the site today is the debut of the “nook” – a physical eReader device that is based on an Androd OS platform. Nook is available for preorder now, shipping around November 30, at which time all brick-and-mortar stores should have a Nook available for demo in the stores and for purchase there as well.”

Book Review – The Case for Books, by Robert Darnton

Case for BooksA few weeks ago, I was involved in an extensive Twitter chat with several authors and editors, and discovered that a great many of them were all for taking every book digital and doing away with physical books altogether.

I have a feeling that Robert Darnton would say to these people, “How admirably enthusiastic you are! But how very naïve.”

This is a man with one foot in each world, the physical and the digital. He founded the Gutenberg-e program that ran from 2000 to 2006, an attempt to turn selected PhD dissertations into digital books with multiple layers. He has aspirations to write his own multi-layered digital history ebook. And as Director of the Harvard University Library, he’s been instrumental in creating the program to digitize Harvard’s vast scholarly collections and make them accessible to everyone, rather than limit their availability just to that university’s closed community.

So the guy is no Luddite. He likes ebooks. Yet in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (**), he argues that we should neither be in such a rush to eliminate physical paper books, nor should bookish people look down their noses at digitized books and e-readers. We are not confronted with an either-or situation, says Darnton, despite what people on both sides of the divide believe.

Darnton, a scholar as well as library director, advances arguments that will make each side both smile and weep. He was probably farther ahead in the late 1990s, with his ideas on where ebooks should go, than most people who are pushing ebooks so strongly today. Yet at the same time, he describes just how much published material there really is, and will be in the future, so that the complete digitization of all books and printed matter simply will never happen. He also argues that modern libraries, rather than doing away with physical books and going entirely digital, should stock even more books than ever before.

Darnton’s primary concern, through each essay in this book, is the wider public good. In this regard, while he admires Google’s goal of digitizing all books and making them accessible to everyone, he believes this should be done by a public non-profit consortium of libraries rather than a private corporation. The recent class action settlement with Google essentially gives it a monopoly, and while the current owners of the company appear to have only benevolent motives for what they’re doing, that guarantees nothing about what future owners will choose. In the end, the company’s main goal is not the public good, but the greatest monetary value for its own shareholders. So while Darnton loves the idea of everyone in the world having access to all books, he is convinced that handing ultimate ownership of every book ever published to Google is a very bad way of achieving this.

The Case for Books is a collection of essays about ebooks and the value of physical books, published by Darnton over the last decade. The essays are grouped into a Future, Present, and Past configuration, looking at where we might be going, where we are now, and what the previous history of books has been. It’s the last section that might give readers a bit of difficulty, depending on who Darnton’s audience is supposed to be. Those who aren’t used to scholarly analysis may find the final essay (“What is the History of Books?”) rather hard slogging, fascinating though it is. It’s a great demonstration of how books make history rather than just describe it, but as the end of this book, it concludes things rather quietly.

Indeed, the entire “Past” section is academic enough that it may bring some readers down with a bit of a thud, after the excitement and, occasionally, strong emotions of the first two sections. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them Present-Past-Future, or perhaps to take the first essay (“Google and the Future of Books”) and make it the last one instead, to end this volume on a more powerful note.

However, on the whole, Darnton makes a very strong case for the crucial importance of physical books continuing to exist and be promoted alongside ebooks. Some of his views will make people on both sides gnash their teeth, but his suggested solutions may be the only way the two views can ever be reconciled, and books of any type be preserved.

(**Note: The Case for Books is published by PublicAffairs, whose goal is to publish “good books about things that matter.” My copy was an advanced reading copy, and there may be changes when the final version is published on October 27, 2009.)

(**Further Note: for Darnton’s own summary of his thoughts about the future of the book, you may be interested in an article he published on September 14, 2009, in Publishers Weekly: On the Ropes? Robert Darnton’s Case for Books.)

Reason #5,861 why I will never get a Kindle, plus will always prefer paper books over ebooks



Yegods. Every day now, Amazon is up to something nasty again. It’s hard to keep up. And I’d really rather write about good stuff.

From Pogue’s Posts in the New York Times, “Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others:”

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

This is simply an abomination. What happened was that the publisher changed its mind about making the book available after many people had already bought it in good faith.

1984It’s ironic, don’t you think, that the book was George Orwell’s 1984?

And ebook cheerleaders try to tell us that buying an ebook will be no different from owning a paper book??

This, my friends, is to put it bluntly a big fat lie.

Not only do you not own a book you’ve paid for — unlike with paper books — the publisher can bloody well take it back any old time they please. But hey, it’s okay. After all, they give you a refund.

As someone on the discussion thread on Amazon says, “I wonder if Amazon will sent representatives to customers’ houses to retrieve dead tree copies? Orwell fans, lock your doors!”


I had a conversation on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, with a couple of people waving the pom poms for ebooks. I asked what would happen if one’s ebook reader crashed and you lost all the books on it. Would you have to repurchase the whole lot? No, they said. The seller would have it on record that you had bought the book, and you could re-download indefinitely.

As it turns out, that’s not true either. There is a limit set by the sellers to how many times you can redownload a book you supposedly own. So yes — you do have to repurchase your whole library several times.

They said, “Well, you’d have to do the same thing if your house burned down.” But it’s funny, you know. My house burns down much less frequently than my electronic equipment crashes. So no — I don’t have to repurchase my whole library very often. Sorry.

And now, if you archive your ebooks, the publishers can now intrude into your archive and take back the books you thought you owned.

As David Pogue says,

we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

I think I’ll go have a look at my seven tall bookcases now, and maybe lean into some shelves and kiss my paper books, that actually last and don’t have to be repurchased because of changes in technology or some publisher’s or seller’s whim. I love them more every day. And nobody’s ever gonna take them away from me as easily as they can do with ebooks. Not without losing a lot of blood.

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