While I’ve spent some time touting e-books, I am not one of those people shouting, “Death to print! E-books now!”
E-books have some serious drawbacks, and the biggie to me as a writer and a reader: an inability to share.
Oh, sure–the Barnes and Noble Nook allows limited sharing with other Nook owners. And if you own a Kindle, you can download an e-book to your Kindle and one mobile device, like an iPhone. But it’s nothing like being able to pass a book around to friends.
I tend to give books away. Unless it’s a book that becomes dear enough to me to hold on to, when I hand somebody a book, I hope to never see it again. I don’t want the clutter of a ton of books in the apartment where I live, and I want somebody to keep the book if they love it, or pass it on.
I’m the kind of reader who goes to a bookstore and buys stuff from people I’ve never heard of. I’ve found a couple of my favorite authors that way. Most of my other favorite authors, though–probably the bulk of my favorite authors–I read because somebody loaned me a book.
When a friend with similar tastes gives me a book and tells me I’m going to love it, most times I do. And…when the author’s next book comes out, I buy it.
Any author who objects to somebody sharing their books with others doesn’t really want to be read.
One of the things I like about e-books is the ability for me, if I choose, to spread my writing for free. If I want to release my first novel as an e-book and encourage readers to copy, share, and distribute far and wide, I like having that option.
When it comes to reading e-books on my iPhone, I tend to use the Kindle app and Stanza. When I went to check for app updates today, I was notified that the Stanza app had an update.
“Cool, wonder what new feature they’ve added?” I thought.
The only change with the current Stanza update is removing the ability to share e-books by a USB connection. This is mandated by Apple.
A little research online reveals that it closes access to a shared iPhone folder in the next release of the iPhone developer’s kit.
Now that Apple is really jumping into e-books with the coming release of the iPad, sharing is bad.
I know this doesn’t prevent me from still offering my writing for free if I want to, but it eliminates another method of sharing. Some writers want readers to copy and share their writing in any and every way possible. More than that, it shows the biggest complaint I think most people will have about e-books when e-book readers get even better: an inability to share e-books as freely as they can share physical books.
As somebody open to reading e-books, I won’t pay $15 for an e-book I can’t share.
As a writer, I want people to be able to share a story they bought with friends who are then more likely to buy more of my writing.
It will be interesting to see if publishers and retailers make some of the same mistakes that the music industry made when the MP3 format became popular.
Cynthia Griffith says
Gee, that screenshot looks familiar. I haven’t updated mine yet.
As far as expensive ebooks, well… as it is, I still prefer to buy CDs and copy them on iTunes and keep the actual CD as backup. Most of the ebooks I have are all old and free, and the others are from a library. Anything I really really really want, then I’ll buy an actual book, but like you I’m tired of clutter, so I don’t do that too often…. so oh well.
david gillaspie says
After my last run to the used book store I’ll never pay $29 for something they won’t take back. Since when is a ten year old Writer’s Market not worth the paper?
Seriously, I’m self publishing an ebook that I’ll link to on my blog. I haven’t considered the pass-along restrictions. I’m with you on the hand me downs.
The Grateful Dead used to address bootleggers from the stage to encourage them, or give them a heads up on the next song. You can’t beat a dead-tested formula.
Christopher Gronlund says
Cynthia: Most e-books I’ve bought have been non-fiction, or new fiction I wanted to check out, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay for a hardback. I think the only e-book I’ve bought that I’ll buy a hardback version for is John Irving’s latest novel.
I bought that as an e-book because I was home sick and unable to get out to get it, so the convenience of buying it while lying in bed was nice.
Christopher Gronlund says
Thanks for stopping by. I like your post about used books stores. While I like going to used bookstores to find out-of-print books and good deals, I’ve never sold anything to them. The effort to gather all the books, bring them there, and sell them for not much isn’t worth the time and effort to me when I can give a book to somebody wanting it.
I considered the pass along restrictions of e-books when the music industry was cracking down on file sharing. For some musicians wanting there stuff out there, file sharing was great for them. They could say, “Here’s our latest,” and just like that, you could get it.
Criminalizing everybody, even people sharing files legally, wasn’t cool. I understand musicians who didn’t want their music shared, but the restrictions made it harder for those wanting their music shared.
The Grateful Dead analogy is perfect. They made much more money touring. People who never listened to them knew who they were, and a huge part of that was through sharing. They shared their music and allowed fans to share the experience. The bootlegs were traded by people following the band and buying their merchandise.
The people most likely to download music illegally are the same people who are more likely to also buy music, purchase merchandise, and see a band live. It’s kind of like when a friend used to tape an album and hand it to me…if I liked it, I bought the albums that came before and what followed. I went to the shows and bought the shirts to prove I was there.
I do think authors, publishers, and retailers have a right to control how their content is distributed, but when it affects those who want their content freely distributed, I have an issue with it.
Obviously, Stanza is not the only reader that reads epub files; there are still many options for distributing e-books. But seeing things changed by Apple makes me wonder what other controls we’ll see by publishers, retailers, and hardware manufacturers.
Take care, and thanks for the reply!
Larry Tubbs says
Check out BookMooch.com Chris. It allows you to post your inventory of old books so that people who want to read them can request them from you. You earn credits by shipping books to folks that you can then use to request books for yourself.
Very nice system for getting books that are just sitting on your shelf into the hands of people who want to read them, and convert them into something you might want to read.
Scott Brooks - Write Ebooks says
Some ebooks can be given away if these rights are included with purchase. However, currently most of the ebooks available with “give away” rights are not considered to possess quality content.
Now I realize why there is no USB port on the Ipad. To prevent from being sued by the stupid DMCA laws. DMCA should have NEVER existed in the first place.
Instead of people pointing the finger at Apple and putting a negative spin on the Ipad, put the blame where it really belongs. And that’s on the government and big name corporations that control the government.
Christopher Gronlund says
Thanks for replying.
If Apple wanted to put a USB port on the iPad, they could. There’s nothing in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) preventing them from doing so.
I like Apple products. I love my iPhone. I think the iPad is a cool device. (Not that I’ll buy one because for my uses, my iPhone does what I need.)
With each new device, Apple has strongly tried keeping people buying from Apple. Now that they are really planning to get into the e-book business, they’re no different.
Apple has sent cease and desist letters to people trying to find workarounds the the iTunesDB file, the index iPods use to keep track of what playable media is on the device. They were creating more open devices well after the DMCA came to be, but the more they’ve made money through the iTunes store, the more closed their hardware has become.
Apple didn’t make changes to the iPod because the government demanded it. I wholeheartedly agree with you that government restrictions placed on protecting bits of data is very constricting on developers. Apple made the changes to make it more difficult for people to use other software to manage their legally purchased music collections through iTunes.
They have that right. (And people have the right to call them out on it and point out that they have used the DMCA to block competition.)
To pretend that Apple and their history of restricting anything other than what they want a person to purchase and use on the iPhone or Pad is the government’s fault doesn’t stick.
We’re talking about a company that went nuts when people started jailbreaking iPhones so they could run other apps on the phones. Apple’s response: [paraphrased] “Hackers and terrorists can take down cell phone towers with jailbroken iPhones–this is for the good of everything.” And yet, there are other smartphones that allow the use of open source apps.
Apple could have easily added a USB port to the iPad without any violation of the DMCA. (That’s not what this post is about.) They can open their devices to allow alternative apps without violation of the DMCA. They choose not to because, with the devices they are making, they’ve found that most people are cool using their approved apps and software, which = more money for Apple. With few exceptions, I don’t mind, myself.
Apple makes some great stuff. If the iPad supported Flash and had a couple other things going for it that made it truly a step between a Mac and an iPhone, I’d be tempted to get one for around the apartment. I’m not anti-Apple, but I’m also not going to let them off the hook when they are controlling.
In the case of the Stanza reader, Apple said, “Fix this,” and leaned heavily on Lexcycle, the company that makes Stanza, and made it very clear that they aren’t to talk about it other than, “Yes, we were told to make this change.”
One would think if Apple were adhering to the DMCA, they would have addressed this issue quite some time ago. That this change to an app using the epub format for e-books comes about a week after Apple announced the iPad (and getting into the e-books business) is very telling. The iPad uses the epub format as well.
The inability to transfer e-books to Stanza using USB doesn’t affect the way I get e-books to Stanza.
But it’s clear that as more companies see e-books as a viable way to make money, there will be more restrictions trying to control the sharing of content. Again, it’s their right, but when it gets in the way of the rights of people wanting their content shared openly, I take issue with it.
Thanks again for the reply, CeeBee. One thing we definitely agree on: the DMCA is ridiculous in its restrictions and should never have been approved.
Christopher Gronlund says
Thanks for the bookmooch.com link. I can usually find friends willing to take books when I’m done and who keep me busy reading, but bookmooch.com looks cool.
Christopher Gronlund says
I agree that many, if not most, e-books I’ve seen that are truly open for sharing have been written very quickly, without any editing. And it shows.
Cory Doctorow is one of the few authors who comes to mind who has his publisher (Tor Books) behind him on the open e-book thing.
One of the recurring things I’ve heard from people who don’t read e-books, but are open to them is, “But I can’t share my books.”
I think companies will address that–Barnes and Noble have taken a step toward that already.
Sharing stories is such a natural urge. We invest hours in reading a novel and we want to talk about it. One of the best ways to get that satisfaction is handing a book off to a friend.
It’s an interesting time. I don’t mind paying roughly $10 for an e-book that only I’m going to read. For books (fiction and non-fiction) I know I’m going to want to talk about with others, I buy a print version so I can hand it off to others for discussion.
I hope that when e-books become more accepted that there are more ways to share the purchased copy, or that the prices stay low enough that others will buy the same e-book and discuss it.
Thanks for the reply!