Windowshoppist - Pressing Our Noses Against The Internets

Friday, October 23, 2009

More About The Nook, & E-Readers In General

Depressing news from the Times: You may only be able to loan out your e-books on the Nook one time. Here's the relevant quote:

One of the differentiating factors of the Nook is that customers can “lend” books to friends. But customers may lend out any given title only one time for a total of 14 days and they cannot read it on their own Nook while it is lent.

It makes sense to me that you wouldn't be able to read the book you loan out while it's lent; it's gone, just like a paper book. No complaints there. But you should be able to loan out books as many times as you like, because having bought them, you own them.

Music companies struggled with this concept when they ventured into digital files. Surely, they thought, we can control how users use the files! But it turns out users get very annoyed when DRM keeps them from burning a file to a CD, or listening to it on a second computer in their house, or whatever the digital lojacking scheme du jour is.

When are e-book sellers and e-reader manufacturers going to realize, just as iTunes and CD-makers finally did, that DRM just keeps people from wanting to buy their stuff?

Here is the e-reader and e-book scheme that will win my consumer loyalty forever:

  1. An e-reader that reads ANY e-book I purchase, whether it's from Amazon or B&N or Bob's Tiny Dusty E-Book Emporium, and reads common file formats like PDF, E-Pub, and Word as well.
  2. An e-reader that lets me install third-party apps, which is to say, an e-reader that is open to the internet to some extent. It's fine if the third-party apps have to be approved (so, for example, they can't be apps allowing me to rip pirated copies of e-books), as long as the approval process is reasonable.
  3. An e-reader (and e-book format) that recognizes that once I buy a book, I own that book. I can lend it to someone else (although it seems reasonable enough that I can't read it while I lend it). I should also be able to give it to someone else, just as I can give a real book to someone in the real world. Again, I'm fine with enough DRM that when I do so, I no longer have access to the book.
I understand, I think, why e-book publishers are not happy with the idea of #3. If you loan a real book, you probably do so less promiscuously than you might loan an e-copy. If you give away a real book, it's a used copy, so you wouldn't do it, e.g., as a gift, and eventually the book falls apart. These real-world limitations on lending and gifting mean more sales for the publishers.

That said, if e-books catch on, and books can sell for less because of reduced printing and distribution costs, people will buy more books. I buy audiobooks constantly because they download quickly and they're very portable on my iPod. If e-books had the same format mutability (audiobooks can be ripped to CD for my car and played across multiple computers and devices), I would buy far more e-books than I do print books, because at the lower price with an instant download, I would view them as disposable entertainment.

Also, to some extent, publishers just need to accept that electronic formats for books are here to stay, and like music-makers, they are going to have to adjust to the risks of copying inherent in a digital marketplace. Right now, I could download bestselling books in digital format for free; I know where to look, and the e-copies are out there for the taking. I buy because it's right, not because I have to. But the more book publishers chain up electronic copies, the more tempting it is for people to get instant access by pirating, both because they feel less sympathetic toward book publishers as a result of the DRM and because buying an e-book takes on extra layers of complication and onerousness.

Free the books! And when you do... I'll buy them. That's the paradox of digital content, I guess. In the end, you have to trust your customers, and it's high time e-book and e-reader sellers learned that lesson.

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