I’m still sort of annoyed at Amazon’s self-serving press release about more ebooks being sold for the Kindle on Christmas Day than “real” books. I feel a few things
1. they’re creating a distinction that isn’t necessary, between ebooks and paper books
2. at the same time they’re obscuring the very very real distinction that exists and is terribly important: you do not own an ebook, you license or lease it
Plus I just plain old don’t believe it. I mean maybe it’s true for the narrowly sliced timeframe they’ve outlined but really? This isn’t a trend, it’s a blip. Want me to think otherwise? Release some actual numbers. Amazon makes more money off of ebooks than paper books. They’d like to keep doing that. So.
I’ve been meaning to link to this talk for a while, a transcribed talk that Cory Doctorow gave at the National Reading Summit in November. The title of his talk was How to Destroy the Book. I think you’ll enjoy it.
[T]he most important part of the experience of a book is knowing that it can be owned. That it can be inherited by your children, that it can come from your parents. That libraries can archive it, they can lend it, that patrons can borrow it. That the magazines that you subscribe to can remain in a mouldering pile of National Geographics in someoneâ€™s attic so you can discover it on a rainy dayâ€”and that they donâ€™t disappear the minute you stop subscribing to it. Itâ€™s a very odd kind of subscription that takes your magazines away when youâ€™re done [as is the case with most institutional subscriptions with Elsevier, the worldâ€™s largest publisher of medical and scientific journals].
Having your books there like an old friend, following you from house to house for all the days and long nights of your life: this is the invaluable asset that is in publishingâ€™s hands today. But for some reason publishing has set out to convince readers that they have no business reading their books as propertyâ€”that they shouldnâ€™t get attached to them. The worst part of this is that they may in fact succeed.
The new Sony Reader, the biggest competition to the Kindle, is supposedly going to be able to check out digital books from libraries that use the Overdrive service. I guess this begs the obvious question: why go to the library for this service at all? I guess that Overdrive just bulk offers the checkoutability service to libraries (hello restrictive DRM!) which is something but man I just wish their service were better and easier to use.
I was waiting to write about the Kindle story until I knew what the heck actually happeend. As you know, when journalists [or bloggers] write about technology, especially hot button stories, they tend to leave out important information. This is often because they don’t totally understand the mechanisms they’re describing, but also because certain people have vested interests in the story being told a certain way. No one says “A Microsoft virus” they say “A computer virus.” Anyhow… Copyfight, one of my favorite blogs has created a heavily hyperlinked timeline of what was going on with the situation in which Amazon pulled some titles (including Orwell’s 1984), titles users had paid for, off of Kindles. Granted, the blog post uses some heavy-handed language, it’s certainly far from objective, but let’s be not just fair but accurate when we try to explain the ways in which a book is not at all the same as an e-book. The differences matter.
Library Journal announced last week that Brigham Young University had received a verbal okay from Amazon to start lending Kindles in their library. This week it appears that they’ve suspended the program until they can get written permission. While I totally understand the concerns on both sides here, I’d really like it if libraries sometimes erred on the side of continuing to do whatever it was that they were doing, in good faith, and let the vendors let them know if they’re not doing something correctly. It’s a little weird to me that Amazon has invested all this time and money into an ebook reader and has no policy about what the legal/copyright concerns are with using it in a library. Can someone please force this issue?
update: There is an interesting story making the blog rounds about just how much of the Kindle’s policies and DRM weirdnesses remain mysterious, even to the people who work at Amazon.
I don’t have a Kindle. That said, I accept the inevitability of the idea that more and more of our reading content is going to be delivered digitally. That’s why I think it’s important to understand these tools even if they offer limited utility for us or our patrons at the time. The Kindle has “accessibility” features built into it that allow a book to be read out loud via the Kindle. This is great news — and probably also legally necessary — for people with various reading disabilities ranging from visual disabilities to text-based learning disabilities. However, the Kindle also allows publishers to remotely disable text-to-speech (TTS) options in books that you may already have on your Kindle. And publishers are doing this, a little, at the urging of the Authors Guild.
The Authors Guild, for their part, has issued this statement about the situation which, on first reading, does make a certain amount of sense. As a librarian I’m more concerned about the overarching issues of digital rights management and the notion that even though you’ve nominally purchased a book (perhaps at a loss for Amazon) you still have an item that is, in part, controlled by its creator who can alter the item according to the license terms you agreed to. A little more about this on Slashdot.