Unless you haven’t been on the Internet for about nine months (and if that’s true, why are you reading my blog? Don’t you have slightly better things to do, like catch up on lolcats?) you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about the e-book industry. If you haven’t noticed I’m pretty invested in the Amazon Kindle 2 since I’ve had it for about six months now.
David Pogue compared the new Barnes & Noble e-book program to that of Amazon and quite clearly concluded that Amazon is the much better deal, what with the much better selection of books, overall better pricing, and the fact that Amazon actually has a dedicated reader device out on the market right now. Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, just now re-emerged in the e-book market and still hasn’t put out their device, the Plastic Logic reader. Also, according to Pogue, B&N’s reading software (for BlackBerry, iPod/Touch, or PC/Mac) is confusing and difficult to navigate. I haven’t used it so I can’t comment on it, but I’ve always loved how the Kindle is so easy to use.
To be fair, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want to read. Prime example: the Harry Potter series. I read the series at least once a year and it’d be nice to have my hardcovers in pristine condition on my bookshelf. See? – I’d even pay to have the hardcovers AND e-book format. Other books that are notably missing as of today: Catch-22, The World According to Garp, most of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works as well as those of Umberto Eco, all of Rand except for Anthem, and most of Orson Scott Card. In some cases (such as Harry Potter), the author/publisher has outright refused to allow his/her/its works to be available in e-book format – and there’s not much we can do about that except continue to buy e-books in hopes that they’ll realize they’re losing sales. In others, it’s simply a matter of ironing out the details and getting the rights worked out – for example, Tolkien’s works just became available for the Amazon Kindle a few months ago. (It was April – I remember because I blogged about it.)
And of course there’s the issue of DRM restrictions. So far Amazon has been a champion of it. For the most part I haven’t had any strong opinions – if I had been one of the people who’d had 1984 deleted remotely from my Kindle, I’d probably be somewhat pleased because I’d have a refund to spend on another book – or to buy 1984 from a legitimate source! And to be quite honest, I’m kind of siding with Amazon on this one, since it turns out the publisher that sold the redacted copies was never authorized to do so and was selling them illegally.
However, DRM-free literature (and other media) is undoubtedly important to a lot of people. I figure I might one day want the ability to read my library on several different devices without having to buy the books in several different formats. There is also a limit to the number of devices to which you can download the works you’ve purchased – n.b. not the number of times downloaded, but the number of devices. So I suppose it means you can delete works off your Kindle and re-download indefinitely, but you can’t have 6 Kindles on an account (or several Kindles and some Kindle iPhone apps) and use them to share all the same books. One guy found out the hard way, but at least we all know now. It does suck, though, that he had to find out through what seems to be a difficult and stressful process.
Finally, there’s the idea that you can’t share your library. Personally, I don’t share my library that much, except for a few romantic bestsellers with my mom. I do think, though, that pretty soon Amazon will at least start to lift their restrictions, much like Apple eventually had to (let’s hope it happens faster this time though). I think it’s much more an issue that Amazon insists on selling their books in the proprietary .azw format, which is only supported by the Kindle or the iPhone Kindle app. In the last few days it’s come out that Sony is going to offer their books in the open ePub format, which is readable on most other e-book readers out there (but not the Kindle, if I understand correctly.) It’s also rumoured that Sony is coming out with a wireless capable device by year’s end – that’ll be interesting to see because one of Amazon’s biggest selling points for the Kindle (hey, it worked on me) was the ability to purchase books anywhere, instantly.
My guess is that Amazon will fold under pressure and offer books in an open format/without DRM, or they’ll come out with programs for more devices, such as the BlackBerry and PC/Mac. It looks like the trend is really leaning towards more open formats – if we can learn from The People vs. The Music Industry.