One of the downsides of electronic text is its verifiability against the original. Do we need an MD5 style hash verification system for ebooks?
Very interesting announcement today from Jason Chen, tech blogger of Lifehacker and formerly of Gizmodo. He’s getting out of the tech blogging business and launching an ebook startup, StoryBundle. From the StoryBundle site:
You know those indie video game bundles where you pay what you want for a batch of quality titles? We’re like that, but for ebooks.
We give you a handful of ebooks (about five or so) for a low price that you choose, all DRM-free, delivered to your ereader.
We only choose quality independent authors so you can be sure what you’re buying is good. Plus, you decide how much these books are worth. Great reads delivered cheaply without killing a single tree? That’s something everybody can feel good about.
Very, very interesting. I have a huge number of questions, mainly: how can he possibly hope to compete against Amazon in this space? I suppose the idea is that DRM free and name-your-price luring readers, but I’m not sure why that will lure authors. I can’t imagine that it’s a better deal for authors in terms of either reach or profit. But it’s a really interesting experiment, and we all know that we need more models for this stuff. I’ve got a request for an interview out to Jason…I’m very curious as to how this model might work with libraries.
Ripping your books
A really great article from Christopher Harris over on the American Libraries E-Content blog called “What’s Next? Book Match?” is getting passed around the web today. The pull quote that seems to be catching everyone’s attention is:
If I can rip my CD to an MP3, why can’t I scan my book to an EPUB?
I just wanted to step in and say: You can. There is decent case law in place that indicates that format shifting of personal copies is allowable in the United States. There is also strong case law in place for the ability to personally back up media that you legally aquire…both of these indicate that while there may be no clear “Yes you can” statement in copyright law, there is a lot of evidence that it’s perfectly ok for individuals given Fair Use rights in the US.
Moreover, there’s easier and easier ways to digitize books out there. If you haven’t seen the DIY Book Scanner project, go and check it out. This group is doing awesome stuff towards making digitizing books something that isn’t nearly as time-consuming as it once was. Plus, as I often point out in my presentations to libraries and librarians, if you think that digitizing books is going to be difficult forever, well…think again:
Head over to the ALA TechSource blog to see my take on the new Amazon Kindle announcements. The new models announced yesterday, along with pricing, are:
- Kindle Fire: $199
- Kindle Touch 3G, no ads: $189
- Kindle Touch 3G with “special offers”: $149
- Kindle Touch Wifi, no ads: $139
- Kindle Touch Wifi, with “special offers”: $99
- Kindle, no ads: $109
- Kindle, with “special offers”: $79
There’s lots more at TechSource, but the pull-quote from the article is probably:
For libraries, however, with the exception of cheaper cost-per-device you want to provide…well, nothing really changes. Amazon is still providing books at the publisher’s set cost that are licensed in such a way that limits the ability of libraries to circulate them (the books, not the devices). The Kindle/Overdrive deal doesn’t change at all…you can just buy a Kindle to circ to patrons for $40 less than you could yesterday. But the technological hurdles for our patrons on the user-experience front as well as the backend limitations of the DRM provided files are still the same as ever.
Kindle and ePub
Head over to Library Renewal to see what I think about the recent news that Amazon may be turning on ePub support on the Kindle. It should tell you something that the original title of the post was “ePub don’t mean shit”.
Focus on the Future
Here’s a little thing I put together for the Bay Area Library and Information Systems group that were kind enough to have me speak to a group of Children’s Librarians a week or so ago. Was a brilliant time, and I really appreciated getting to hear from a group of librarians that I just don’t talk to enough. I also had the pleasure of presenting with two very impressive people, Roger Sutton of Horn Book fame and Kristen McLean, Founder and CEO of Bookigee.
I’m really happy with the way this presentation went, especially since I used Eliza as the theme for it. 🙂 The downside of the way I do my presentations, however, is that the slides themselves are a tiny fraction of the actual content…most of it is me, and talking, and asking questions and such. But I liked the slides too much not to share.
Aside from the fact that I think I’ll use The Harper Collins Incident as a band name in a novel that I’m hoping to write someday, there’s a lot to say about the whole eBook limited circulation thing. I decided to put on my Library Renewal hat and say something about it over there. I may have more to say about it here, but not right now.
So if you’re interested, head on over and read: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, part two in the “pithy sci-fi reference blog posts” at Library Renewal today. I’m just sad I didn’t get to the Vader quote first.
COSLINE 2010 Ebooks Presentation
I had the pleasure of presenting on eBooks to the Council of State Library Agencies of the Northeast recently, and being on vacation this past week has made me later than I wanted at getting my slides online. I had a great time, met some really thoughtful and smart librarians…if this group is the leadership for public libraries in New England, they are in very capable hands.
Here are my slides, for what they are worth. I attempted to do an audio recording of my presentation, but jumping in and out of Keynote makes the timing on it all wonky. I’ll see if I can’t edit it together into something that makes some sense, but that may take some time. For now, here are the slides, sans voice:
eBooks, filetype, and DRM
This morning I got a tweet from Bobbi Newman that said:
Can someone explain to me the tech reasons Kindle doesn’t work with library ebooks, know its DRM, want more specific plz & thnx @griffey
More than you ever wanted to know about filetypes, DRM, and eBooks…here we go.
There are two different things going on when someone tries to open an eBook file on an eReader. One is filetype…how the file itself is organized internally, how the information contained within is encoded. This is analogous to the difference between a Word file saved as a .doc file, a Word file saved as a .docx file, and an Powerpoint file (.ppt). All are different filetypes…the program involved in the creation, editing, and display of those files describes the information contained inside. Right now, there are two main filetypes being used to describe eBook files: the Amazon eBook standard, or .amz file, and the ePub file (.epub) that is used by just about every other eBook vendor.
Amazon purchased Mobipocket (an early ebook vendor/distributor) way back in 2005, and used their format as the basis for their current proprietary .amz filetype. ePub, on the other hand, is an open, XML based eBook standard, and is used by a huge number of eBook vendors…indeed, it’s easily the standard for current ebook publishing.
But filetype is only half the battle. In addition to the way the file is organized/structured internally, there is also Digital Rights Management to deal with. Think of DRM on an eBook as a lock, with your eReader having the key to open the lock and display the file. Without the lock, the eReader can’t open the file at all…can’t even see what it is. And if it has the key, but can’t read the filetype, that’s no good either…in that case, you can view the contents of the file, but will have no idea how to render it on the screen properly.
Amazon, in addition to using a proprietary filetype, also uses a proprietary DRM mechanism. This means in order to read an Amazon-purchased eBook, you have to have an eReader with the right key, as well as the right interpreter for the file. So far, that means that you have to be using a Kindle, or alternatively, using the Kindle software provided for any number of other devices (Windows, Mac, iOS devices, Android devices). This doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. Amazon could choose, tomorrow, to remove all DRM from their files. This would mean that you’d still need a program to interpret the .amz, but you wouldn’t need the key anymore. Conversely, Amazon could license their DRM to other eReaders, in effect handing them the key…but it would still be up to the eReader itself to be able to display the .amz file.
Vendors that use the ePub format have chosen different sorts of DRM to lock up their content. Apple and their iBook app use the ePub format, but wrap it up with their Apple-specific Fairplay DRM. This means that while the file itself would be readable by any device that can interpret an .epub file, without that particular key on their keyring, the eReader can’t do anything. Sony, Barnes & Noble, Overdrive, and other eBook vendors have chosen a shared DRM solution. They license their DRM from Adobe, and run Adobe Content servers that provide the keys to epub files that they sell. This means that if an eReader has the key to one of those stores, it has the key to all of them…think of it as a shared master key for any Adobe DRM’d file.
This illustrates why, although both Apple and B&N use epub as their filetype, you can’t buy a book from the B&N store and then move it over to your iBook app on your iPad. Conversely, you can’t buy something on the iBook store, and then move it to your Nook. Same filetype, different lock.
Overdrive, in supporting Adobe DRM’d epub files, work with Sony eReaders as well as the B&N Nook…same filetype, same DRM key to unlock them.
With all that said: any eReader that will read a given filetype will read said filetype if the file doesn’t have any DRM. So if you convert an existing document to an epub using software like Calibre, Sigil, or InDesign, that file will able to be read on a Nook, Sony Reader, AND the Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. If you have some text and you convert it to, say, a Mobipocket file (.mobi or .pdb) then it would be readable on the Kindle AND the Apple iBooks app…but not on the Nook. For a complete list of eReaders and their corresponding filetypes, there is no better place than Wikipedia’s Comparison of eBook Formats article.
While a DRM free eBook ecosystem would clearly be the best for the consumer (choice of device, free movement of files from device to device, etc), the second best option is an ecosystem where the DRM is ubiquitous and the patron doesn’t even realize it’s there. This was the case with Apple and the early battles for music sales on the ‘net…they had the store and the distribution network (iTunes) as well as the device used to access the content (iPod). All of the content was, originally, DRM’d, but largely no one noticed since it was completely invisible for the average user.
The biggest issue with eReaders and library patrons is that this chain isn’t seamless. The content providers and their DRM servers are huge headaches for the average eReader user. My hope is that publishing goes the same way that music did, we we find both a common filetype and lose the DRM. But it took digital music years and years to get there…so I’m not holding my breath.
I hope that helped, but if it didn’t and you still have specific questions about your situation with eReaders/eBooks, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
I just had a brief piece published over at Library Journal entitled Ebook Sanity. It was something that just poured out of my head unchecked one day, and I was lucky enough to find a home for it as a part of the build up to the upcoming Library Journal Ebook Summit. Here’s a very short teaser:
…consider the idea that the First Sale principle doesn’t apply to ebooks and other digital content. Maybe this is the fact: information in the digital age is such a different beast than in the print age that we not only shouldn’t draw analogies but we actually can’t.
I hope that you head over and read it. Also take a look at the other excellent essays linked off the side from Eric Hellman, Barbara Fister, and Char Booth (holy hell how did I end up in a set with those people? I’m so not worthy). I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on the topic…I’m still forming my conclusions around some of these issues. How do you think libraries can and should react to ebooks?