Tag Archives: ebook

Delaying ebooks

I was going to blog about the recent article describing how publishers are going to be slotting ebooks into their traditional Handcover-then-Paperback release schedule. I was going to point out that treating digital objects like physical objects has never worked, will never work, and to expect it to work is a fundamental error of modern media.

I was going to do that, but then Chad Haefele over at Hidden Peanuts did it for me. Go read it.

From his post:

Scribner has created an ecosystem where piracy is literally the only option for potential customers who would otherwise line up to give them money, AND that piracy delivers what’s actually a superior product with no DRM.

Yep, that’s pretty much what they’ve done. And, like the music industry, they are going to shoot themselves right in the foot.

Drowning in eReaders

I’m in the middle of writing an issue of Library Technology Reports on Gadgets in your Library, focusing on personal electronics (eReaders, personal media players, cameras, audio recorders, etc). I’ve been drowning in electronic readers lately, starting with the Barnes & Noble Nook finally shipping and going all the way through a myriad of hardware vendors that are jumping into the eReader space. A few of the eReaders that might not be on everyone’s radar:

Ebooks, copyright, and the University of Virginia

I’m in the middle of writing a book about Mobile Technologies and Libraries, and am researching libraries providing mobile-specific services of all sorts. I came across the University of Virginia’s Ebook Library, and decided to take a look at what they are offering. It’s a very old ebook collection, with the original Etext division starting in 1992. Here’s the part that made me scratch my head…it’s in their Access and Conditions of Use:

While many of these items are made publicly-accessible, they are not all public domain — the vast majority of the images, and a number of the texts, including all of those from the University of Virginia Special Collections Department, are copyrighted to the University of Virginia Library, for example, and a number of other texts are still copyrighted to their original print publishers and made available here with permission.

I have no qualms with the texts that are copyrighted by their original publishers, and that UVA got permission to use. My eyebrows raise at the bit about “including all those from the University of Virginia Special Collections Department, are copyrighted to the University of Virginia Library…”

Really?

I had my suspicions here…it’s not like the UVA Special Collections Department are writing books, right? After look around, I found this text: Po’ Sandy by Charles W. Chestnutt. Published in 1888 in the Atlantic Monthly in New York, it is clearly in the public domain in the United States. But there it is, in the front matter:

Copyright 1999, by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

Looking around just a bit, it looks like this shows up on all sorts of texts that UVA digitized. My favorite is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, completed in 1788 by Franklin but the particular version republished by UVA was published in 1909 by P. F. Collier & Son Company in New York. Also, without any doubt, in the Public Domain in the US. It also has the note:

Copyright 1999, by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

What gives UVA the right to claim copyright on these texts? They couldn’t have legally digitized them if they weren’t in the Public Domain at the time of their digitization, and changing the form of something doesn’t give you the right to claim a copyright, especially on the bits that make the work up. Even stranger, they aren’t just claiming copyright, but including a EULA!

By their use of these ebooks, texts and images, users agree to follow these conditions of use:

  • These ebooks, texts and images may not be used for any commercial purpose without permission from the Electronic Text Center.
  • These ebooks, texts and images may not be re-published in print or electronic form without permission from the Electronic Text Center. However, educators are welcome to print out items and hand them to their students.
  • Users are not permitted to download our ebooks, texts, and images in order to mount them on their own servers for public use or for use by a set of subscribers. Individuals and institutions can, of course, make a link to the copies at UVa, subject to our conditions of use.

Really? Is UVA asserting rights here that they just do not have? Not permitted to republish? Only if there is a copyright concern…which I think that UVA is asserting incorrectly here. It’s possible that there is some piece of copyright law that they are leaning on for these claims, but on the face of it, this seems like over reaching. Can anyone explain to me how they could possible have legitimate copyright claims on things that they didn’t create and are beyond the time limit for copyright protection in the US?

Kindle in flames?

Two days before I received my Kindle, Roy Tennant published an article on his Digital Libraries blog entitled “Prediction: The Kindle goes down in flames“. I normally agree with Roy on lots of things, but this is a topic where I’m going to pick on him a little.

Let’s rewind to October of 2001, where a plucky little company named Apple released a strange new product called an iPod. With 5 gigabytes of storage, this pocket-sized marvel cost….$399. What did it do? It played music. That’s all it did. Moreover, it only connected to your computer via an esoteric plug called “Firewire” that 90% of the personal computers in the world didn’t have.

It took Apple 3 financial quarters to sell over 200,000 of them, and it wasn’t until 2004 and the cost per gigabyte dropped under $20/GB and the iPod was on it’s third generation that sales really took off.

The Kindle, for all the publicity it has garnered, is only 8 months old. Is it the perfect reading device? I’m not sure yet. I’ve been consuming ebooks for years, beginning with reading them on my Handspring Visor Deluxe in mid-2000. I’ve read them on cell phones, computer screens, and other PDA’s. And I can say without any reservation that after 24 hours with the Kindle that it is a completely new and better reading experience.

The advantages for the Kindle are twofold: a device customized for reading makes reading easier, and the device comes from Amazon. The Kindle is great for reading, not suffering from the issues that, for example, the iPhone might…primarily the issue that an LCD screen just isn’t very good for reading in any form of bright light. The device is driven by Amazon, who has the reach and power in the publishing industry to get books for the device (take a look at the difference between any other ebook provider’s numbers and Amazon’s). Amazon also has the infrastructure to support immediate electronic delivery of any ebook they carry, directly to the device. Anyone else doing that?

The Kindle does several things (it does not, contrary to Tennant’s assertion “only read books”). It allows for reading, annotating, bookmarking, dictionary lookup, and other common reading chores. It also comes with permanent free cellular internet service. Amazon Whispernet gives you, while not a full web experience, a browser and access to the ‘net anywhere you can get a Sprint cell signal. For no additional cost past the cost of the device. Seriously, how much is that worth over a year?

With all that said, I’ve only had the Kindle for less than 48 hours. I wasn’t going to buy one so early in the development cycle, but do I regret having one now? Hell no. It’s a marvelous piece of technology for readers, and I fully expect that in a couple of years I’ll still be toting it around from conference to conference in lieu of a few pounds worth of wood pulp.

If anyone wants to take a look at the Kindle, find me at ALA Annual, and I’ll happily let you play with it. Just holding it, seeing the screen, and seeing how much thought went into the design will make a difference, I promise.

EDIT

Steve Lawson, in the comments, pointed out something that I wanted to address. Tim O’Reilly, in a comment on Roy’s post, says:

“I also struggle with Amazon’s DRM and sole-source approach, which seems to me to be a flawed copy of Apple’s iPod strategy, missing not only Apple’s brilliant design but also the positive externality that consumers could easily add their own music collection to the device by ripping mp3s.”

I am no fan of DRM, and I admit that it gives me pause regarding the Kindle. That said, the “sole-source” approach isn’t true…the Kindle happily ingests any .mobi file you want, and there are plenty of places sourcing native Kindle files of public domain books. First thing I did was put a few dozen of my favorite classics on there, for free. As well, if I had an easy way to digitize the books I already own (in the same rough manner of the digitization of my CDs) I would be doing it, and adding them. The issue there isn’t with the Kindle, it’s that there is no easy digitization of dead trees.

More on the Kindle

Wow!

The Kindle is for sale at Amazon right now, and the details of the device are intriguing. More highlights:

  • It connects to the net via cellular networks, specifically EVDO. So anywhere you can get a cell signal, you can buy a book. And there is no charge for the connectivity…Amazon is underwriting it.
  • There looks to be subscription models for newspapers, magazines, etc, all delivered automatically in the background. Wake up every morning and the Times is waiting.
  • New York Times® Best Sellers and all New Releases $9.99, unless marked otherwise.

And, my favorites:

  • Includes free wireless access to the planet’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia—Wikipedia.org.
  • By using the keyboard, you can add annotations to text, just like you might write in the margins of a book. And because it is digital, you can edit, delete, and export your notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use.
  • The source code for the device appears to be available…one can only guess that they leveraged some open source software and are complying with the license. Except that it’s machine readable source…hmmmm.

Here’s the bad:

  • They are advertising “more than 250 top blogs…” I take this to mean there is no open RSS reader built in. That seems a nearly criminal omission from the Kindle. I mean, RSS is the backbone of content choice on the web right now…come on Bezos!
  • It does support ebooks via Audible…so you can read or listen, as you choose.
  • From the License Agreement: “Amazon provides wireless connectivity free of charge to you for certain content shopping and acquisition services on your Device. You will be charged a fee for wireless connectivity for your use of other wireless services on your Device, such as Web browsing and downloading of personal files, should you elect to use those services. We will maintain a list of current fees for such services in the Kindle Store.”
  • And here’s a good one: “You agree you will use the wireless connectivity provided by Amazon only in connection with Services Amazon provides for the Device. You may not use the wireless connectivity for any other purpose.”

Ah, and here’s where eBooks and physical books diverge, and is the source of 99% of my frustration with the format (also from the License Agreement):

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

Restrictions. You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

That book you bought? Not yours. Can’t sell it. Can’t even give it away.

Oh, and for those librarians who still hold tight to the privacy bandwagon:

Information Received. The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service. Information we receive is subject to the Amazon.com Privacy Notice.

They know when you are reading. They know what you are reading, and that you bookmarked the sex scenes. Oh yes, they know.

So, exciting new product? Yep. Amazon, like Apple before them, has realized the power of a closed market segment, where they control the distribution and the consumption of media. The real test will be whether this survives the 2-3 year adoption cycle and moves into the magic price point range ($100-150).