Tag Archives: e-books

Worst Idea Ever

As those of you who follow my Sunday posts at Mad Genius Club are aware, I usually start my mornings trying to get enough caffeine into my body to function while I read the morning headlines and scan a select group of blogs.  I also skim the topics on the kindle boards over at Amazon.  That’s where the title of today’s blog comes from.  This morning there’s a topic on the boards entitled “Worst Idea Ever” and the original poster goes on to rip the kindle — but doesn’t rip any other e-reader — as being the worst idea ever because it does nothing to improve on books.

Okay, to each his own.  I know a lot of folks who have yet to embrace e-books.  Others have but have yet to make the move to reading them on a dedicated e-book reader or smart phone.  They read them on their laptops or desktop computers.  For them, e-books are a novelty but have yet to become “real” books.  Others lament the fact that e-readers don’t look, feel or smell like a “real” book.

As I said, to each his own.

Usually, threads like this don’t catch my eye.  Or, if they do, I quickly leave them because I get tired of the attack dogs that come out.  Like most unmoderated boards, the kindle boards have a few posters who feel they know it all and must share their exalted opinions.  Others have simply grown tired of newbies asking the same questions over and over again without first searching the forum to see if the question has been answered.  Then there are those like this poster who seem to like stirring the pot by posting something they have to realize will only bring out the dogs.

But it was a comment in response to the original post that caught my eye.  To paraphrase, they said that what’s important are the stories, not the package they are delivered in.

I applaud this poster for cutting right to the heart of the matter.  It is the story that’s important.  It doesn’t matter what the form of delivery, how beautiful the cover art or how reasonable — or unreasonable — the price.  If the story isn’t good, people won’t continue to buy it.  Word-of-mouth will get around, warning readers that this story doesn’t live up to expectations.  Think about that series of novels you used to love.  Now, years into the series, the stories feel flat, stale.  Do you recommend the later books or books earlier in the series and why? More importantly, do you rush out to buy the new book or wait?

To me, the introduction of digital books is far from the worst idea ever.  Our children have been raised in an age when computers are an integral part of their lives.  It will be more so for their children.  E-books are a natural progression, in my opinion.  Like them or not, they are here to stay — at least until the next technological leap.

No, the worst idea ever would be to try to prevent access to books simply because they aren’t available in traditional print.   There are so many good books and short stories coming out in digital format only.  Better, there are a number of books that have long been out-of-print now becoming available because their authors are willing to bring them out on their own.

Like it or not, e-books are here to stay.  No, I don’t think they will bring about the end of “real” books.  But I do think they will help encourage the younger generations to read simply because they are in a format these young men and women, these boys and girls, are comfortable with.  After all, isn’t that really what we ought to be concerned with?

(Steps off soapbox, sees coffee mug is empty and prepares to go in search of more caffeine.  Before I do, let me suggest you check back later today for another announcement of more titles that we will be publishing in both print and digital formats.)



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What is a Book?

According to Jeffrey Matthews (vp for corporate strategy for Scholastic), “That’s the $64 million question.”

It is also a question the publishing industry — publishers and authors alike — can’t seem to agree upon.  Ten years ago, it was easy to answer that question.  A book was, well, a book.  It was something you could walk into a bookstore or your public library and hold, take home and read.  You bought a book you liked and read it, sometimes many times.  You loaned it to your friends and family — often with threats of violence if they didn’t return it.  You could sell it to used bookstores for a bit of pocket cash (of course, if you did and then someone else bought the book, the author didn’t get any more money from it).

Now it’s not quite so simple to answer that question.  A number of publishers feel a book is still a book — that physical incarnation of an author’s words into print.  Print being the operative word.  E-books have thrown a wrench into the works and the industry simply hasn’t figured out how to respond.  This includes publishers, agents and writers.

That’s one of the reasons we find so many publishers applying DRM to their e-books.  Not understanding that doing so is like telling a recalcitrant child “no”, publishers say they have to apply DRM to their e-books to protect them from piracy.  They don’t stop to think that that merely waves a red flag saying, “I bet you can’t find a way to break our code.”  Guess what, that’s a challenge and what happens when you issue a challenge?  It’s usually taken up.  Don’t believe me, simply google “how to break DRM” and see how many hits you get and how many verified codes using Python and other programs there are.

DRM does something else.  It adds to the cost of e-books.  And, honestly, there will always be people out there who will post digital versions of books online for free.  Their reasons vary.  Some do it because, in their countries, the books may not be available in digital — and sometimes even in print — formats.  Some do it because, as noted above, it’s a challenge and they hate being told they can’t do something.  But digital piracy isn’t limited to books released in digital formats.  If I remember correctly, the last Harry Potter book — none of which have been legitimately released as e-books — was online as a PDF e-book before the book hit the shelves.  So, how did applying DRM to a digital file help prevent piracy?

And this brings me to the question posed in the title of this post.  What is a book?

This is a question those of us involved with Naked Reader Press asked ourselves long before we opened our digital doors.  We’d seen interviews with publishers who hold that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work.  Under this definition, those of us who buy e-books aren’t buying the book.  Instead, we are buying only a license to read the author’s work in a certain digital format.  DRM is their way of enforcing this by preventing us from doing with digital books what we can with physical ones — loan them, sell them, donate them.  Even so, these same publishers who are so adamant about limiting our access to these e-books — and if you don’t believe me, buy an e-book using Adobe Digital Editions and try to read it on a machine that isn’t tied to that specific Adobe account — are more than willing to charge us as much or more for the digital version than we’d pay for the paperback copy of the book.

Still, not all publishers feel this way.  There are some like Baen Books who believe that, once you buy an e-book, it’s yours.  They don’t apply DRM and don’t limit the number of e-readers or computers you can view the e-book on.  This is the camp those folks behind NRP fall into.  To them, and to me, a book is made up of the words an author writes.  A book can take many forms — physical paper versions, electronic, audio, enhanced, etc.  A book is something meant to be enjoyed by readers in whatever form they are most comfortable with.

This divide in thinking may be narrowing.  The Nook, and now the Kindle, allow lending of e-books (with publisher approval).  Mind you, it’s limited to only being able to lend a book one time, for a period of two weeks.  During that two week period, the original purchaser of the e-book cannot access it.  There is the option being offered through these sellers for authors and small publishers to bring out their books DRM-free.  Guess what, most of them — just like NRP — choose no DRM.  Why?  Because they are selling BOOKS, not licenses.

So, what is a book?  Here at NRP, a book is the collection of words, written by an author for readers to read on whatever computer or smart phone or e-reader they want.  After all, why should it make a difference if the book is printed on paper or on your computer screen?  A book is a book is a book and it’s time the industry’s definition caught up with technology.


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