My record collection used to take a wall, it now takes a pocket. I want the same for books. I’ve done my bit to encourage the market by buying an ebook reader.
I have little sympathy with those people who claim they prefer the feel and smell of traditional books. Despite this article, my concern is the content, reading the words; not the technology, nor sniffing the binding glue.
I was disappointed with the iPad, as launched. It seems to repeat the faults of the iPod/iPhone, particularly the corporate censorship. I dislike censorship, but if it has to happen, then the limits absolutely have to be decided by democratic debate in parliament, not by corporate surrender to pressure from self–appointed übermenschen. No matter how well–designed, the iP(o/a)d range has become a maiden aunt.
So I decided to buy the Sony PRS–600. This ebook reader feels underinvested, although given the size of the ebook market I don’t suppose I can blame Sony. It is good for reading, but essential concepts are missing. For example, it doesn’t tell me how much free space there is, so I don’t know how many books it might hold. I can ask the operating system when it’s plugged in to my computer, of course, but something as simple as that should be shown by the device itself. I know, I know, Sony claim that it holds x books, but that information has been near a marketing department, thus is corrupt.
But the real disappointment are the booksellers, Waterstones and WH Smiths. They sell the same book in paperback and ebook format. Yet, despite the lack of preparation costs (given most modern books are prepared electronically, all that’s needed is an appropriate “Save As …” to produce an ebook), despite the lack of production costs, despite the lack of distribution costs, despite the lack of storage costs, despite the lack of paper, they usually seem to sell an ebook for around half as much again as the paper book. Yes, it costs money to add tweaks for ebooks to their existing website, but not twice the total cost of running warehouses and lorries. FFS, it should take one programmer a week, not dozens of men with their trucks and pollution.
And then, having overcharged for a cheaper product, they reduce the rights: no selling an ebook second hand; no backing up, or any form of copying; no guarantee, so far as I could find, that a purchaser will still be able to access an ebook if the distributor goes bust, a disaster that happened in the music industry. I don’t mind paying over the odds for a new product to encourage it, I do mind being ripped off. This market is currently out of order. My ebooks are not as expensive as my paper books, and they come with sensible rights.
Incidentally, there is a third bookseller, Mills & Boon. I’ve not looked at them. I think it’s fair to say I don’t consider myself to be in their target market.
Fortunately, the Sony comes with a 100 books, including Dickens and Shakespeare. Project Gutenberg provides hundreds of thousands more for free. I’ve a lot of reading.