Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 28 October 2012

eBooks - Buy or Rent?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a fan of eBooks.  I'm also a bit of a biased observer, given that I have an eBook or six up for sale, but at least I'm up front about that.  I've mooted on several occasions that the days of brick and mortar bookshops are numbered, save for a few specialists, and that we'll be reading our newspapers and magazines on tablets in a few short years.  OK, the timing is part speculation, part based on research in the US.  And the bit about tablets is based on the technological flavour of the moment - there could be some fantastic evolutionary development just around the corner but I suspect the tablet has some distance to run yet.

However it seems there's a fly in the ointment that may play into the hands of the naysayers of eBooks.  It's about what you actually buy when you pay for an eBook.  Or a digital download of a music track, or a download of a movie or computer game.  Now, when I buy a paperback - I do still now and then, just to check out the alternative technology - I can pop it in my bookcase and let other family members read it too. Friends as well, at a push. I don't have the right to photocopy the book and sell that on, nor do I have the right to type the story out and sell it as my own.  But I can let others read it.

When someone downloads one of my eBooks I kind of assume they have similar rights, just as I do when I download eBooks from Amazon or Smashwords.  But it seems that may not be the case.  Recently a Norwegian lady found that Amazon froze her access to her Kindle books after her Kindle developed a fault. Somewhere between her reporting the fault and Amazon replacing the Kindle they decided for some undisclosed reason that she had breached their rules.  That meant that she couldn't access her books on her iPad through the Kindle App and of course, as her Kindle was Kaput she couldn't read them there, either.  Initially Amazon stonewalled her but, in the face of a very public complaint reinstated her access.  There is a technological answer to this, though - run your Kindle books through Calibre to remove the Digital Rights Management code and store a copy somewhere safe.

This isn't isolated.  There was a situation over a year ago where Amazon were slapped for letting someone sell books through the Kindle store that didn't belong to them - as I say, people don't have the right to type out someone else's story and sell it as their own.  Amazon responded by, amongst other things, sucking books off Kindles that had been bought in good faith.  A bit harsh, seeing as the mistake was essentially Amazon's and to be fair they have promised not to do that again.   The point is, once you sync with Amazon, or Apple, or Kobo etc, they can re-write your digital library according to their wishes.

It's even bigger than eBooks - as if anything could be bigger!  No other than Bruce Willis, the star of the Die Hard series, is challenging the rights of Apple to dictate that when he dies, his iTunes account dies with him.  Not literally buried in the same casket, of course, but all those iTunes he has bought over the years will not be available to his family to play.  Now when I shrug this mortal coil my family will have a substantial amount of vinyl records and CDs to play or hawk on eBay, whatever - and I guess that Apple, Amazon and any other digital purveyor will have to get over it.  But anything I've bought on Apple etc may not be available.  Of course, unless I experience a dramatic reversal of artistic fortune I guess that Apple et al are more likely to hear of Mr Willis's demise than mine.  Bruce (I hope I can get away with using his first name) is apparently considering legal action, however at least one commentator reckons that the Apple claim to his music is at best bluster.  I'll leave it to the lawyers, at least it's an honourable topic to take to court.  Way better than arguing about who owns the right to apps bouncing back a fraction.  Or whether a rectangular phone with curved edges is legally cooler than other rectangular phones - with or without curved corners.

But this does need to be resolved.  eBooks are the future of reading, of that I'm sure.  However if there is doubt about legitimate ownership, as opposed to sharks and low-lives hawking other people's work on eBay for an unearned profit in 'compilations', then it will take longer to establish.  DRM probably isn't the answer and anyone who buys a book from Smashwords, for example, get that book DRM free.  Ultimately, the digital sellers have to realise that for years we've all had access to our parents' records and books and perhaps as kids that was what we listened to and read, but in the real grown up world we tend to listen and read our own generation.  Sure, it's a great nostalgia trip to go back to our parents' faves now and then, but most of us don't do that often or even willingly.

For the record, I think we chould be buying, not renting.


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