Thursday, June 2, 2011

The End: Goodbye Beloved Books

With the proliferation of ebooks readers, it seems that regular books are going the way of the dodo. Take for example the Amazon Kindle. Sold for $114 (With special offers and sponsored screensavers) and up, it has taken the business of selling book to a new level. The latest data from Amazon  points to the fact that ebooks are outselling regular books. This is also helped by the fact that with the Kindle app, you can take your book to almost any device. Sony and other companies had made this kind devices for quite some time now, but recently, we have seen mass proliferation and adoption thanks to the fact that competition have made their prices really accessible to "regular" consumers.

I always been a fan of books; of course I love to read, but books as an object are quite appealing to me. Just the fact that so much information can be store in so little space, plus the feeling of a good quality book in the hands are really difficult to beat. Another good thing is the fact that no power is needed to use a book, apart for some light source (big all mighty sun comes to mind) and you have all you need to get the experience that you want.

But something that comes with having physical objects is that they occupy space, they carry some weight and because of that, they have some extra cost attached to then, the cost of ownership. One book on its own is an easy thing to manage, but when your book collection is 100+ large, it's kind of cumbersome to carry then or move then from one place to another. Also, if you are a student, like me, carrying hulking engineering books all day is really tiresome. So here is when ebooks comes into action.

Kobo Wireless eReader sporting The Art Of War book eCover
Take a closer look at my not so new Kobo ebook reader with wi-fi. Brought it for 50 bucks on clearance at a closing Borders bookstore ...sad. Running a fairly speedy 6 inch e-ink display, a gig of ram for storage (expandable with a regular old SD card) and connected to an always expanding ebook store; this little device is convincing me to stop buying dead trees books and instead bite the bullet and go digital. But there are some problems; well, two main problems: Not all books that you need are available on an electronic format and also, there is the ownership dilemma: Do you really own that ebook or just a license to read it?

Most of the mainstream books, like the "bestsellers" or "classics" can be found and bought legally in some ebook format. But when we are talking about college text books, technical manuals for old machines or procedures or maybe some obscure volumes, finding them in a great e-format could be really difficult, almost impossible. Here is a little story for you: This past semester I needed a book for an operating systems class that I was taking. I was not in a position to buy the regular book (too expensive, couldn't afforded). As an alternative, I thought that it would be a great idea to buy the electronic version. It should be way cheaper and as a bonus, I will not need to carry the heavy paper book every time I went to class.

Amazon Kindle 3 Review by TechnoBuffalo

As a surprise, I found out that the e-version wasn't that cheaper, just minus 30 dollars at the time, and it was not available on a wide-audience format like .mobi (Amazon Kindle) or .epub (almost everybody else reader). It was just on sale as a direct download from the publisher ebook store with some weird DRM and reader software. Update: As I'm editing this piece, it also can be found on the Kindle almost 50 dollars cheaper than the hardcover. Kind of late for me now and still not a standard format. Also, that does not change the fact that college textbooks have a long way to go in the ebook business.

Then, there is the other problem: are you buying a book or just a license to read it. Not a lot of people remember the 1984 incident (it was in 2009 by the way). When Amazon was required to delete some copies of George Orwell 1984 and Animal Farm from its e-reader because the company that added then to the Kindle store did not have the rights to publish the in that format. This way a huge deal. Apart from the oxymoron, the fact that you already bought the book and that they where able to delete it points to the hard fact that the book wasn't yours in the first place. This defines the term of ownership in the digital world. This means that what you are buying is only a license to use not the actual copy.

BN new Nook Video Review by Paul Miller form ThisIsMyNext...

Different from a standard book, the physical one made with real materials, the electronic copy don't really exist in the real world. We can argue that electrons are real thus ebooks are physical objects, but in reality the cost of producing an ebook or one million is virtually the same. Of course there are bandwidth and storage issues but not enough to make the digital format more expensive and difficult to get (legally, not pirated) than the regular one.

Sadly, copyright owners in all their rights, have made this kind of business a little shady. With crazy DRM schemes, confusing EULAs and ridiculous pricing for something that should be cheaper; publishers are risking the future of this market. Why in the world should you pay almost the same amount of money for an ebook as you will for a paper book? And if you pay for a ebook, doesn't it means that it is yours?

Is the ebook the way of the future? Do you already "own" then? What are your thought about it? I want to know what you guys think. Hit me up at @thesmokingknife or send me a line at