The Stagnation Of eBooks Due To Closed Platforms And DRM

from the open-it-all-up dept

Craig Mod has a fascinating article for Aeon, talking about the unfortunate stagnation in digital books. He spent years reading books almost exclusively in ebook form, but has gradually moved back to physical books, and the article is a long and detailed exploration into the limits of ebooks today -- nearly all of which are not due to actual limitations of the medium, but deliberate choices by the platform providers (mainly Amazon, obviously) to create closed, limited, DRM-laden platforms for ebooks.

When new platform innovations come along, the standard progression is that they take the old thing -- whatever it is they're "replacing" -- and create a new version of it in the new media. Early TV was just radio plays where you could see the people, for example. The true innovation starts to show up when people realize that you can do something new with the new media that simply wasn't possible before. But, with ebooks, it seems like we've never really reached that stage. It's just replicated books... and that's it. The innovations on top of that are fairly small. Yes, you can suddenly get any book you want, from just about anywhere and start reading it almost immediately. And, yes, you can take notes that are backed up. Those are nice. But it still just feels like a book moved from paper to digital. It takes almost no advantage of both the ability to expand and change the canvas, or the fact that you're now a part of a world-connected network where information can be shared.

While I don't think (as some have argued) that Amazon has some sort of dangerous "monopoly" on ebooks, Mod is correct that there's been very little pressure on Amazon to continue to innovate and improve the platform. And, he argues (quite reasonably), if Amazon were to open up its platform and let others innovate on top of it, the whole thing could become much more valuable:
It seems as though Amazon has been disincentivised to stake out bold explorations by effectively winning a monopoly (deservedly, in many ways) on the market. And worse still, the digital book ‘stack’ – the collection of technology upon which our digital book ecosystems are built – is mostly closed, keeping external innovators away.

To understand how the closed nature of digital book ecosystems hurts designers and readers, it’s useful to look at how the open nature of print ecosystems stimulates us. ‘Open’ means that publishers and designers are bound to no single option at most steps of the production process. Nobody owns any single piece of a ‘book’. For example, a basic physical book stack might include TextEdit for writing; InDesign for layout; OpenType for fonts; the printers; the paper‑makers; the distribution centres; and, finally, the bookstores that stock and sell the hardcopy books.
And, on top of this, people creating "ebooks" are limited to the options given to them by Amazon and Apple and Google. And then it all gets locked down:
Designers working within this closed ecosystem are, most critically, limited in typographic and layout options. Amazon and Apple are the paper‑makers, the typographers, the printers, the binders and the distributors: if they don’t make a style of paper you like, too bad. The boundaries of digital book design are beholden to their whim.
The fact that all of these platforms rely on DRM -- often at the demands of short-sighted publishers -- only makes the problem worse:
The potential power of digital is that it can take the ponderous and isolated nature of physical things and make them light and movable. Physical things are difficult to copy at scale, while digital things in open environments can replicate effortlessly. Physical is largely immutable, digital can be malleable. Physical is isolated, digital is networked. This is where digital rights management (DRM) – a closed, proprietary layer of many digital reading stacks – hurts books most and undermines almost all that latent value proposition in digital. It artificially imposes the heaviness and isolation of physical books on their digital counterparts, which should be loose, networked objects. DRM constraints over our rights as readers make it feel like we’re renting our digital books, not owning them.
If ebook platforms and technology were more open, it's quite conceivable that we'd be experiencing a different kind of ebook revolution right now. People could be much more creative in taking the best of what books provide and leveraging the best of what a giant, connected digital network provides -- creating wonderful new works of powerful art that go beyond the standard paper book. But we don't have that. We have a few different walled gardens, locked tight, and a weak recreation of the paper book in digital form.

It's difficult to mourn for lost culture that we never actually had, but it's not difficult to recognize that we've probably lost a tremendous amount of culture and creativity by not allowing such things to thrive.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 12:58pm

    When the best digital library available (calibre) strips the DRM from amazon books and lets you put them straight into other walled book gardens, including apples 'books' it becomes a problem that doesn't really exist. I've got a kindle and an iPhone and I've never had a problem switching content between the two, or backing books up to my hard drive incase I fall foul of amazon and they wipe my account.

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    • icon
      Chris Meadows (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:10pm

      Re:

      It's a problem that doesn't exist for people who are technogeeky enough to figure out how to do it. Which is, uh, hardly anybody at all, relatively speaking.

      The whole reason Amazon got to the top in the first place was that it made buying e-books completely idiot-proof, in a way that somehow none of its competitors has ever managed to approach. You don't have to fiddle about with downloading files and copying them from place to place. You just tap a "buy it now" button and thirty seconds later, you're reading. The question of DRM doesn't even enter the equation. The question of sideloading doesn't even enter the equation—because the idea of sideloading, or indeed, even the idea of emailing it to their Kindle, is completely beyond most of the people who use the Kindle.

      Baen had a great setup on their Webscription website where people could punch in their Kindle's email address and click a button to have it email the DRM-free Baen e-books they bought right into their Kindle—but even that was too hard for people. They kept asking Baen "why aren't your e-books on Kindle?" until Baen finally waved the white flag and changed the way its entire e-book store operated for the sake of being able to put their e-books in the Kindle store.

      Heck, that's also why The Martian is a Ridley Scott movie that earned $55 million opening weekend, instead of still being free Internet fiction Andy Weir wrote as a hobby for egoboo from his fans. Some of those fans wanted to be able to load the e-book of it onto their Kindle, but they were too lazy to figure out how to sideload—so they asked Weir to put it on Amazon where he had to charge at least 99 cents for it. These people preferred to pay 99 cents than to plug their Kindle into their computer and drag and drop a file over. So he did, and then enough people bought it that it hit the bestseller list, traditional publishers took notice, and the rest was history.

      So, yay for you, you know how to crack DRM and back up your e-books. The vast majority of Kindle owners don't even know how to copy a file from their computer to their Kindle—nor do they want to. All that "techie stuff" just goes right over their heads.

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      • identicon
        JustShutUpAndObey, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Re: The Martian

        "...so they asked Weir to put it on Amazon where he had to charge at least 99 cents for it. These people preferred to pay 99 cents than to plug their Kindle into their computer and drag and drop a file over. ..."

        Came here to reference this story. Chris beat me to it (the bastard :) ). Upvote for him - the story is important enough to take note of twice.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:31pm

        Re: Re:

        Maybe it wasn't here, but I used to hear tech people say, "Information wants to be Free" all the time. I mentor my subordinates that "Knowledge also wants to be shared". Working in an IT help desk, I encouraged people to empower/encourage their users on how to fix the regular issues we get calls for and our call volume dropped after a month or so. If you don't like that the least knowledgeable people are making the IT ecosystem uncomfortably stagnant for you, don't sit around complaining: share what you know. I hate watching people reach for their mouse, click and drag, point at edit, drag down to copy, etc, etc when they need to copy multiple cells in Excel. This wasn't just 'old folks' either: I'm talking 19-20 year olds (I'm 32). So I made a small card with the common shortcuts (CTRL+x,v,c,z,y,a; F1,F7, alt+TAB, etc) and now we get a new guy in and it's not long before someone's handed him a card and the knowledge has spread. This is what we should be doing: Improving the world we live in, in the way we are able to, for the people we are around.

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    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:41pm

      Re: yeahhhh, no...

      if you paid attention, it wasn't mostly the DRM they were writing about, it was -i thought validly- predicated on the epublishers have NOT advanced the ebook MEDIA in any significant way, merely translated the same dead-tree layout to screen...

      why *not* more hyperlinkage (is it asking too much that it could be turned on/off ?) that serves as educational annotation for all writings ? why *not* better searching, etc ? why *not* more enhanced editions where 'appropriate' ghraphics/videos/etc are added to the mix ?

      c'mon, you know why: they have to pay pennies for 'translating' dead trees to some fixed electronic media format; they would have to pay dollars to develop some improvements and new dynamic formats, etc...

      AND -as is so often the case- The They PREVENT others who are MORE than happy and willing to develop dead formats and make them live again; but the spiteful, greedy, selfish pricks lock all that shit down, legal-wise, don't they ?

      sorry, those are NO KIND of humane human beans, i don't care how much lipstick you put on that pig... horrendous, sociopathic people who shit on society...

      the psychopathic 1% must go ! ! !
      those pukes are bombing hospitals with our taxes, in our name...
      will no one ask our country: "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:49pm

      Re:

      When the best digital library available (calibre) strips the DRM from amazon books and lets you put them straight into other walled book gardens, including apples 'books' it becomes a problem that doesn't really exist.
      As the article notes, buying a book is voting with your wallet. You'll be voting for more DRM by doing this. (And will also be supporting software that tracks its users, i.e. calibre.)

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      • icon
        techflaws (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 9:53pm

        Re: Re:

        (And will also be supporting software that tracks its users, i.e. calibre.)

        Haven't seen this being mentioned before. Can you elaborate?

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:05pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm commenting on techdirt, I'm not buying anything, I'm voting Kickass.

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      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:10pm

        Re: Re:

        As the article notes, buying a book is voting with your wallet. You'll be voting for more DRM by doing this.

        This really needs to be pointed out more often. Can you strip an ebook of DRM with minimal effort if you know what your'e doing? Absolutely. However, by buying a DRM infected ebook in the first place, you are telling the ones selling it that you don't mind DRM. That despite what you may claim, DRM isn't enough to keep you from buying, which means any complaints you may bring against DRM can be ignored.

        The proper response to DRM isn't buying the product anyway with the expectations of stripping it out, as that completely undercuts any arguments you may make against DRM by showing that it's not enough to block the sale.

        No, the proper response is not to buy in the first place, to make DRM an automatic 'No buy', and if possible let the seller know why you refuse to buy from them. Hit 'em where it hurts, their wallets, and then they'll take you seriously.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You're also telling them you want the $9 kindle version over the $45 hardback/$30 soft back.

          The proper response is to not be so conceited as to tell others what the 'proper' response should be.

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          • icon
            MrTroy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Amazon already knows that I prefer the vast swathes of enjoyable ebooks for $5 or less (some of them traditionally published) to the new blockbuster that isn't actually much good, or the literary masterpiece that 80% of people can't even finish.

            For the DRM... I mean, I'm not particularly fond of the idea, but in my experience Amazon's DRM lies alongside Steam - it's unobtrusive and has never prevented me from reading whatever I want. It's also optional, and publishers are free to publish titles without DRM... opt-out, but again I find it hard to get riled up about that. Why would Amazon push to make it easier for competitors?

            I'm not certain that they're not making it unreasonably hard for competitors to effectively compete via their patents, but that's not what anyone seems to be claiming.

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          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You're also telling them you want the $9 kindle version over the $45 hardback/$30 soft back.

            And by not buying, I'm telling them that it doesn't matter what the price is, if it's infected with DRM I'm not interested. It's not my job to educate them on the idea that pricing lower doesn't always mean less profits(and in fact can lead to more profits if done right), but I'm more than willing to educate them on what leads to no profits, at least on a personal level. And while yes, just one, or a handful of people refusing to buy isn't likely to lead to any change, if enough people do it then the seller will either change or go out of business, and on a personal level I get to enjoy not throwing money at someone who holds me in contempt.

            The proper response is to not be so conceited as to tell others what the 'proper' response should be.

            If someone complains about DRM, but buys ebooks infected with it regardless, then their complaints can and will be ignored.

            If someone complains about DRM, and acts accordingly by refusing to buy anything infected with it, then the seller has a reason to care and may change their practices as a result.

            I fail to see how pointing out when someone is wasting everyone's time, and undercutting their own argument through the contrast of what they say versus what they do is 'conceited'.

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:33am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "You're also telling them you want the $9 kindle version over the $45 hardback/$30 soft back."

            ...and by doing so telling them that you're happy to have DRM remove your rights so you can get a few dollars off. Why would Amazon ever give you a better deal as a consumer, since they're benefiting from your purchase and locking out real competition with the DRM?

            By the way, which books are you buying with a $30 paperback price? Mind you, I rarely buy a book that costs more than $5, Kindle or paperback so maybe we have very different reading habits.

            "The proper response is to not be so conceited as to tell others what the 'proper' response should be."

            Telling you facts is "conceited"? You're probably doing a lot wrong, since you refuse to listen to anyone giving you proper advice.

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            • icon
              MrTroy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:06am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              What competition exactly are Amazon locking out with DRM? Any publisher can sell books through Amazon without DRM (although they no longer list the DRM status of books on their website, hmm. See eg http://amzn.com/B00BER04VI though, which lists the DRM status in the book description), and Amazon doesn't prevent the books from being distributed anywhere else simultaneously unless publishing through KDP and opting for Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited.

              I must admit, I couldn't find any information as to whether you can still publish without DRM if opting for select, but you seem to have made your mind up anyway.

              Do you feel like Google is locking out the competition from the Google Play store, since I can't play run of those apps on an iPhone? Why should Amazon be required to support competitors' devices? (Which in fact they do, if you count the ios and android kindle apps, let alone the web-based reader)

              And for the record, advice is accepted better when it's not prefaced with "No, the proper response is ..."

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The conceit is that it is the proper advice, when in fact it's merely an opinion.

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              • icon
                That One Guy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:06am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                If someone complains about a product, but still buys it, the seller has no reason to pay attention to the complaints, as they aren't affecting their profits. If someone complains about a product, and doesn't buy it, then the seller has a real reason to pay attention to the complaints, because they are affecting their profits. Therefore if you object to a product, or how it's offered, unless you stop buying your complaints are almost certain to be ignored.

                Unless you're arguing that the above is not true, or that there's some more effective way to protest against a product or feature that you don't like, I think I'm going to stand by my claim/opinion that refusal to buy is the proper way to deal with DRM, in that it's the most likely to actually be effective at dealing with the problem on a long-term basis.

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  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:01pm

    I have yet to buy an ebook reader and this is the main reason why. They're all loaded with limitations and pointless hoops just to get your content on the device.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:15pm

      Re:

      Ebook readers are currently, well, pathetic. They're all page-based and to continue reading you have to "turn the page"... Why? Why don't they allow vertical scrolling so you can see parts of two pages at the same time? Even such a small change would make an enormous difference - I hate "turning the page" on my Kobo reader because it's so horribly slow. The reader on my android tablet isn't much better. So much effort into realistically "turning" a virtual page, when I'd much rather scroll down...

      Also, why can't we search a book? It's not like it's difficult to do these things - I could do both in an editor when I was remotely attached via a 19.2 kbs modem. It seems like the entire e-book provider community is so obsessed with emulating paper that they are wilfully blind to the drawbacks of that medium. And they don't even do a good job of emulating paper...

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:45pm

        Re: Re: grep for dummies

        "Also, why can't we search a book?"

        Or better yet, a library of ebooks. This rather *obvious* function should have been in the very first version of ebook readers, if anyone at Amazon etc had half a brain.

        You could, of course, have broken the DRM, converted the file, and used any of a number of software applications capable of performing multi-file keyword searching.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:34pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Another feature that Amazon should have had since the earliest days of ebooks was a website search function, similar to Google's Book Search. A lost opportunity possibly hampered by copyright issues, Amazon could have sold many additional books that way.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:54pm

        Re: Re:

        "Also, why can't we search a book?"

        What are you talking about, I've got kindle, and books on an old iPhone, calibre on my desktop and a second generation kindle and they all have a search function.
        The phone does vertical scrolling too.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:16pm

        Re: Re:

        Vertical scrolling seems much more intuitive. IMO the reason for getting an e reader is to get away from the clunky heavy single format of paper based books. I don't have a reader because to me, they look like a tablet and that's where I run into frustrations with my expectations.

        I can't help it. I just can't wrap my brain around manufacturers that limit the functionality of their product by design. It's anti capitalistic, anti free market and everything else that is holy in modern society. Except now we have evidence that this isn't consumer driven anymore. "The customer is always right" sits on the shelf of memories.

        All these same arguements could be pointed towards daily newspapers as well. Has putting up pay walls helped their bottom line any? It hasn't motivated me to pay for any additional subscriptions and I'll probably let some lapse instead since I tended to expect more and better content rather than excess filler resembling E! or Yahoo news, which is what I actually got.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          E-ink, and keeping the processor asleep most of the time is why ebook readers are so often page based. E-ink is slow, which makes for blurry scrolling, which is the main reason for a screen at a time pageing. A reader on a tablet or similar can support scrolling because of the much faster screen response times. Note however the huge difference in battery life times for the two technologies, days or longer, versus hours.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:22pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Seconded. I have (I think) a second generation Kindle, full of stuff pulled from Smashwords, the Amazon store, Paizo.com and a bunch of Unclassified PDFs for reference and study. I've actively read books for a week between charges, and the push-button page turning is a more than acceptable exchange for the battery life and the ability to read the next book in a series when I finish it 5 minutes after getting on a plane. I even spent a 3 hour plane ride playing settlers of cataan with the person sitting next to me and still had battery left for the 2 hours of layover and flight to my final destination.

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      • icon
        R.H. (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:05pm

        Re: Re:

        I just use Moon+ Reader on an Android device (phone or tablet depending on where I am). It does support vertical scroll. It only paginates at chapter breaks since, in the .ebook format, those are normally file breaks where the reader has to load a new part of the book anyway.

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      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:48am

        Re: Re:

        "The reader on my android tablet isn't much better."

        Which reader? Sounds to me like you just bought a cheap low-powered Kobo and haven't bothered trying anything else.

        Check this out:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Android_e-book_reader_software#Navigation_features

        Every reader listed has the search function you're whining about (including Kobo). Several readers have the continuous scroll feature you're whining about. With hardware devices, there is a wide range of difference depending on the screen type & version, whether or not they're touch screen, etc., but every one I've used has a search function and newer models are significantly faster with refreshing the screen (older models were a bit slower due to limitations of the e-ink technology, not because people weren't bothering to emulate paper).

        Perhaps you should research a subject before attacking people far more familiar with it that yourself.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:06pm

      Re:

      grab a kindle. grab calibre. problem solved.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re:

        grab a kindle. grab calibre. problem solved.
        Well, sure, one problem solved.... except the solution can (at least theoretically) get you sued for 46 quadrillion dollars, or some other pointless amount.

        But more to the point, it doesn't solve the root problem:
        We're talking about text for &^$&$^'s sake!!! The ability to put it on any device from a piece of paper to the Vulcan supercomputer, via a circa 1990 mobile phone or modern tablet or anything else, should be inherent. As soon as it's not, that's the problem.

        Never mind adding value or innovating, morons have actually managed to make e-books less accessible than paper ones.

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  • icon
    Chris Meadows (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:16pm

    Insightful article indeed

    As I wrote on TeleRead, it really is an interesting article. One of the great parts is the way that it uses the traditional "smell of books" argument not as an end in and of itself, but as a launching point for discussing why e-books are still limited to being paper books under glass.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:19pm

    I am admittedly a luddite as far as e-books are concerned, but by choice. My wife won a free e-book reader last year from her company. I am the voracious reader in the household, so she gave it to me. I configured it and loaded some public domain classics and gave it a test drive.

    We gave it away a few days later.

    The fact that any new book was priced almost the same as a physical book (at the time), or that there were other programs I needed to strip the DRM from my purchase, were the main reason I had never purchased an e-reader in the first place.

    However, take away the closed eco-systems, the DRM, add whatever flash and pomp to e-books that you like, I still won't be interested in getting one. I like my dead tree books and I don't like them in an electronic format. Of course, that's just IMHO and YMMV.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 2:36pm

      Re:

      Are you kidding me, you gave away a free ebook? Well bless you, I hope the person you gifted was appreciative.

      The fact of the matter is, I have lousy eyes and over time, I found that I just stopped reading, it was too uncomfortable with the eye-strain and headaches. Once I was gifted with a Kindle for my birthday 5 years ago, I was back to reading a book or more a week, because you can change how it looks to a nice super-big sized font. I chug books the way others chug beer.

      I think I have maybe a half-dozen books I paid for (always less than $3 each, I refuse to spend more for an ebook, it's just too much profit for a greedy publisher), the rest of my e-library was free. I wasn't thinking about DRM when I bought those six books, so I have no idea if they're infected with DRM or not, but in future, you can bet I won't buy anything with DRM on it. You can borrow ebooks from libraries, so I'm up to date with recent novels in addition to Public Domain works. Also, the Archive of Our Own has mobi (and other e-book-enabled) downloads, so I can even get my fan-fiction reading in.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:46pm

    forget ebooks

    Dear producers of ebooks your DRM laden devices combined with your desire to control how I will consume a book is what has caused me to completely avoid your droll and crappy products.

    Dear Authors,

    When you make a deal with the devil...

    You kinda get what you deserve!

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:55pm

    Comments on Yahoo cover all my points (without least contradiction because complex): PIRACY on one hand, and TOO MANY HACK AUTHORS self-publishing crap:

    http://news.yahoo.com/digital-era-hits-income-writers-study-225740788.html

    And on top of those, a comment from an author says that Amazon allowed several thousand free reads so cheated out of about $7000! No surprise that Masnick above diverts attention away from mega-corporation Amazon, as its "business model" is the one he wants, like Apple's music, ALSO expects creators to work for free! Amazon's interest is not the same as authors: just because it's on "teh internets" doesn't make it good or fair, either.

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:44pm

      Re: Comments on Yahoo cover all my points (without least contradiction because complex): PIRACY on one hand, and TOO MANY HACK AUTHORS self-publishing crap:

      Go cry somewhere else you old fuck.

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:03pm

      Re:

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      Isn't it time for you to suck off Cary Sherman or something?

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 5:50pm

        Re: Re:

        This comment has been hidden, therefore out_of_the_blue considers it fact.

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    • identicon
      Moron to Moron, 8 Oct 2015 @ 8:07pm

      Re: Comments on Yahoo cover all my points (without least contradiction because complex): PIRACY on one hand, and TOO MANY HACK AUTHORS self-publishing crap:

      Do you know Mike IRL? You speak so frequently of what he WANTS but your claims are inconsistent with what he WRITES.

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  • icon
    Nate (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:58pm

    Open, Shmopen

    "If ebook platforms and technology were more open, it's quite conceivable that we'd be experiencing a different kind of ebook revolution right now."

    Ah, but we do have an open ebook platform. It's called Epub, and while the open concept worked at first, eventually things went awry. The latest version of Epub, Epub3, has so many innovative features suggested by so many contributors that it is effectively nonfunctional.

    We're approaching the 4th anniversary of the Epub3 specs being finalized, and yet support remains sporadic at best. Epub3 is so complicated that (according to the EpubTest website) Apple only supports about 60% of the spec. Google supports less, and Kobo supports somewhere between 54% and 65% (depending on the app).

    In comparison, Apple released its proprietary form of Epub3 (it's called iBooks) in early 2012, and released a tool to make that format (iBooks Author).

    Amazon also has its own response to Epub3 (it's called KF8). That was announced in late 2011, beta-launched on the first-gen Fire tablet that year, and released to the world in January 2012.

    Far from ebook innovation being held back by closed and proprietary formats, it would seem to me that the closed ebook formats are more successful and more functional due to the fact that they are closed.

    And while this open/closed conclusion might not apply in all situations, it does in ebooks because the real problem isn't open-ness but technical complications and market disinterest. Consumers don't really want ebooks that are more complicated that the paper books they buy, so there's no demand to push innovation forward.

    P.S. I edit a blog called The Digital Reader. This is my area of expertise, so I know what I am talking about.

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    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:54pm

      Re: Open, Shmopen

      Ah, but we do have an open ebook platform. It's called Epub, and while the open concept worked at first, eventually things went awry. The latest version of Epub, Epub3, has so many innovative features suggested by so many contributors that it is effectively nonfunctional.

      I don't think the point is that open automatically wins. It clearly does not. But in the long term, an open platform is more likely to lead to greater innovations.

      Often, in fact, I think a closed platform leads to the initial breakthrough -- Kindle, iPhone. But in the longer run, the more open solution allows for much more innovation on top of that initial breakthrough (e.g., Android).

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:52pm

        Re: Re: Open, Shmopen

        Indeed. And this is why pretty much everyone I know who reads eBooks has a copy of Calibre and a copy of the DeDRM plugin. Calibre provides the open platform that doesn't care where you get your eBooks from, or what device you want to use them on. It even provides access to a number of eBook stores directly from within the program.

        And when I say "everyone I know" I'm not just talking about techies; I've actually had a few soccer moms enthusiastically recommend the software to me, adding that they had downloaded it and installed it themselves on a recommendation from a friend.

        So if you look at ePub/PDF as the open format and Calibre/OPDS as the platform, and everything else just feeds in/out of it, there's no problem.

        Of course, there IS the problem that none of the publishers are going to promote Calibre's existence, as it's the grand democratizer for digital print content, and none of the stores want a level playing field. So you'll still get people only using Apple Books or Amazon (or Google Books?) not knowing there's another option, and you'll still get people using OverDrive (which is actually pretty convenient now) via their local library.

        Plus, there's the fact that Kovad Goyal isn't about to bundle DeDRM with Calibre, so people still have to seek that out by themselves when they finally run into the brick wall that is DRM.

        There are a few Sci Fi book publishers that make their wares available online DRM-free (and sometimes make all their second-print and older books available for FREE), and there's FanFiction and the like that's available.

        Plus, of course, Apple and Google have created a HUGE eBook market -- they just call the eBooks Apps, and they're available DRM-laden in the respective App Store. I'm talking about things like Medscape, SkySafari, various Wikipedia apps, Google Maps, LexicEN, etc.

        These are all apps that do things (better) that used to be done only in print. It's mostly non-fiction stuff, but there are even Interactive Fiction clients available for free for most computing platforms -- and a HUGE trove of interactive fiction available for free out there -- things have come a long way since Adventure and Zork.

        When you stop looking at eBooks as objects that have to be passively consumed and look at them as something that can be interactive, suddenly you'll find there is a lot more available -- both on open platforms and on closed platforms.

        That said, I invested in a good scanner and converted my entire home library to ePub/PDF years ago. First of all it was so I had a backup of my books, then I realized I could read in all sorts of lighting conditions, then I realized how portable it was, and eventually, I stopped reading most printed books altogether. I now look on my printed copies as my backups, but don't shed a tear if they get damaged, as I know I've got multiple backups of my entire collection in digital form. Plus Project Gutenberg. Plus all the other freely available book sources -- more than I could possibly read in a lifetime.

        Of course, sites like TechDirt also do the job of the printed book of old -- and once again add that interactive and portable aspect.

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      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 9:15pm

        Re: Re: Open, Shmopen

        I disagree that the open platform is likely to lead to greater innovations. I think that competition is likely to lead to greater innovations.

        I concede that open platforms can make it easier for new competitors to enter the market, without having to start from scratch and play catch-up. Maybe that's the link you see with open leading to greater innovation, because of the increased competition from newcomers?

        In the ebook space specifically, I think lack of innovation is ... misinformed? There have been untold numbers of experiments in terms of custom apps and online offerings involving various types of interaction... that have largely flopped and faded into insignificance. The public just hasn't been interested in the "innovations" on offer.

        "Books under glass" in a light, easy to handle form factor, with customisable font/sizing and instant access to a mind-blowing quantity of books, the ability to look up the definition of a word without leaving the page... isn't enough? It sure seems to be enough for the many thousands* of books bought from the kindle store each day. It's enough for me, and I couldn't really see the appeal to e-books before getting a kindle - I still hate reading long documents on a computer screen.

        Articles like the one linked tend to pop up around the place fairly regularly, but universally they never seem to have anything behind them; they're emotive puff-pieces that people can get behind, either for or against, but just like gun control debates everybody simply airs their piece, nobody changes their minds about anything, then everybody forgets about it until the next puff piece to come along and invite more comment.

        Not that more innovation would be a bad thing, but forget talking about it. If someone has a good idea that the market is lacking, develop it!


        (* I wanted to say millions here, but in the end I couldn't find enough to back it up. http://www.theresaragan.com/salesrankingchart.html is the best I could find, though out of date. It does suggest that the top 35 kindle books sold at least 60,000 copies daily between them; the top 200 adds another 40,000)

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Open, Shmopen

          "The public just hasn't been interested in the "innovations" on offer."

          Because they're not interested in the innovations? Or because DRM prevents them from moving their content easily between competing platforms, so they stick with the one they can use their purchases on? That's the problem - give people an open choice between platforms, and they'll move to the one that suits their needs. Restrict them to one platform, and they'll stick with the one where they bought the most content.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:01pm

    "The fact that any new book was priced almost the same as a physical book"

    Despite the almost-identical price, ebooks have generally been much more expensive than paper books to the consumer, since you couldn't buy them used or re-sell them.

    So far, the only real advantage that ebooks have is you get to read them right away. That's about it.

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  • identicon
    Glenn, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:11pm

    The best thing about a "book" ("e" or otherwise) is that it's a static, self-contained work. The guy seems to find fault with this best feature. So, different ebooks and ebook systems--in essence--change the cover; the book inside is still the same.

    As far as readers go, I enjoy using a Chromebook the most (it has a really nice "Kindle app").

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  • icon
    drummer315 (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:20pm

    ebooks and ereaders

    I have been a fan of ebooks and ereaders since the early days of Palm devices and a wonderful website that was eventually swallowed, called PeanutPress. I prefer ePub format now because of its free and open format, but used Mobi before Amazon decied it absolutely must have it and make it proprietary.

    And I do still read paper books.

    But my wife and I like to travel and carrying 3 dozen ebooks on an ereader is a heck of a lot easier than an additional 30 pounds of paper, Sideloading is no problem - we both know how - it's not hard.

    We both also hate DRM and avoid it whenever possible. WE do NOT own Kindles and I doubt we ever will. For the moment our Nooks with Glow Lights are lovely - they may be replaced by Kobos later.

    I like the use of on the fly dictionaries, highlighting and notes, though I wish there were an easy way to export all of the same in a file - would really ease the job of an editor.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:41pm

    Inovation in ebooks

    I use Calibre and a Nexus 7 (2012 model) for reading. I currently have 6030 books installed. Battery life could be better, but then I would not be able to make this post from the same device.

    When I think of innovation in ebooks, i do not think of the mundane getting it to the device, or conversion/DRM removal,or how to scroll. I think about links that might bring a map of a region being discussed into the reader (better than what might be rendered in black and white print), or a video that has been downloaded and stored when an Internet connection was available (think about the battle maps shown in traditional stories about wars (Jeff Shaara comes to mind) vs details that might be available). Or, something my limited imagination is not aware of yet.

    True openness has nothing to do with existing protocols, it has to do with innovation. Maybe it has to do with a translation of what is on my device to the natural language of the person recieving it. Or maybe it has to do with a whole bunch of other things that we, collectively have not yet thought about.

    Think Open, then do some more thinking, then speak. Some years from now we will learn what open is.

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  • identicon
    Dave, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:24pm

    How is this different than music?

    How is the "closed" ebook platform any different than the open music platform?

    Music has been (mostly) DRM free and can be played on just about any device.

    But what's different about the music that makes it more innovative than books?

    Open a book and read words = Open an MP3 and listen to sounds

    Mixed tape = Playlist

    Radio = Streaming

    All the innovation seems to be in delivery and pricing in music too. I expect movies will go the same way.

    So if open = innovation, where's the innovation in music?

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  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:29pm

    Stagnation isn't only down to DRM or a lack of fonts and layouts. Rather, it's also down to the reasons we read and how we would use the product.

    Most of us spend hours a day in front of a computer screen, or using a tablet or smart phone. A book is often a get away from all of that. While there are people who have e-readers and there are some obvious benefits, many readers prefer to disconnect and put down the devices and get back to a nice, tactile, easy to handle book. You don't have to plug it in, it just works. Toss it in your backback, shoulder bag, brief case, or whatever and you have instant entertainment that specifically ISN'T more electronic screen.

    The easiest way to spot that the marketplace isn't trending as hard to electronic is to look at the piracy marketplace. With the DRM removed and all that, there still isn't that huge of a demand in ebooks that I could find. There is some, certainly, and some big ebook sites have been shut down. But in general terms, it's way easier to find a pirated episonde of your favorite tv show than it is to find an ebook.

    I would also suggest that perhaps the younger end of the adult market may not be so inclined to buy a book to start with. A long form anything may not be something they look for. Demographics may run against ebooks.

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    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:13am

      Re:

      "put down the devices and get back to a nice, tactile, easy to handle book"

      The main reason I bought an e reader is because those "easy to handle books" were way to heavy and bulky when I'm travelling (which I do a lot). The second reason was because I often found myself at train stations and airports faced with a crappy selection of overpriced, oversized book and I'd rather pay less to have a library in my pocket up front that I know I'll enjoy.

      I appreciate your opinion, but it's not universally true by a long shot.

      "But in general terms, it's way easier to find a pirated episonde of your favorite tv show than it is to find an ebook."

      Of course it is - not only are TV shows consumed in greater amounts, they're also more disposable (a TV show takes an hour to consume).

      That doesn't mean there's no interest, it just means that the general interest in TV is greater than the general interest in books. Something that I've heard bemoaned my entire life.

      "I would also suggest that perhaps the younger end of the adult market may not be so inclined to buy a book to start with."

      The market that grew up with Harry Potter and is directly responsible for reading all the YA fiction that's so popular at the moment? Unless you have data to back up your assumptions, I'd suggest you may be generally mistaken.

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      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 2:01am

        Re: Re:

        Hi Paul, glad you can manage to disagree with me across the board with nothing more than personal experience to back it up!

        Bottom up: Harry Potter was actually an EXCEPTION to the rule, not the rule. My time in elementary school and high school I consumed at least one fiction or non-fiction book a week as relax time reading. I visited the library regularly, my parents would buy me plenty of books to read, and yes, I even traded books with friends. If you checked my school bag, there was always a personal read book in there along with the school work.

        These days it more likely that the kid has a smart phone and is playing a game or sending LOL style text messages. It's just how things have gone. But hey, don't take my word for it:

        http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/09/decline-children-reading-pleasure-survey

        TV shows: The disposible nature of TV shows should mean that books are easier to find, because they have durability and long term appeal. That's just not what you can see out there. Instead, it's hard to find digital editions of books being pirated in a widespread way, and I think that is more due to a dispersed marketplace with not enough critical mass to make it work. P2P requires critical mass to work, without it, there is a lack of content.

        Travel: Next time you are on a plane, have a look around you. You will find people reading magazines, you will find people reading books, and you will find people reading newspapers. A few will be doing the digital thing, but most of them are still dragging around dead tree editions. Guess what? They always work, you don't have to recharge them and you don't need a web connection to get to the stuff. Dead trees are amazingly reliable that way!

        But hey, disagree with me if you must. Oh, the sky is blue. HAve at it!

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Hi Paul, glad you can manage to disagree with me across the board with nothing more than personal experience to back it up!"

          Whereas you offered nothing but your personal opinion as well. But, yours count and mine doesn't, right? You weren't lying for once, but you're still a hypocrite.

          "Bottom up: Harry Potter was actually an EXCEPTION to the rule, not the rule."

          Citation, or are you pulling your personal opinion out again as if it counts for something? *Glances at the next few sentences* Oh..

          "My time in elementary school and high school I consumed at least one fiction or non-fiction book a week as relax time reading"

          Me too. Not so much my peers. There certainly wasn't a Potter-sized mainstream hot that transcended age, peer group and other demographics as far as I recall. Maybe I'm mistaken, but most kids my age weren't avid readers and were actually likely to mock and bully those who read for pleasure than take part themselves. I took part in reading group, and I had friends who also loved reading, but I'd be amazed if many of the class ever voluntarily picked up a book outside of the classroom.

          "But hey, don't take my word for it:"

          OK, that's a survey of Americans. Not relevant to my personal experience, though maybe yours. I'd like to see historical result, though - especially from 20-30 years ago before things like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games made it a more popular activity among kids again. It would also be nice to see comparative figures between different media and different regions.

          "The disposible nature of TV shows should mean that books are easier to find, because they have durability and long term appeal."

          That makes no sense, especially with your blathering about dead tree editions elsewhere. Pirated copies of something durable should be easier to find than pirated copies of something disposable? That makes no logical sense. Wouldn't it make more sense that people buy the more valuable thing and don't bother buying the one that's instantly disposable?

          "A few will be doing the digital thing, but most of them are still dragging around dead tree editions"

          Absolute bullshit in my experience, but whatever. I see lots of electronic devices from Kindles to phones to laptops being used, and I see lots of books being read on them. I also see a lot of paper items. You know what I also see? People using both items (for example, people who pick up a newspaper to read on the plane but have another device to use to watch a movie, play a game or - yes - read a book).

          "They always work, you don't have to recharge them and you don't need a web connection to get to the stuff."

          They're also bulky, heavy, expensive and a pain in the arse if you happen to finish the one you're reading but don't have a nearby second hand store to dispose of it before you get on your next mode of transport with a new book.

          I can see you have your personal biases, but it's laughable that you're trying to pretend that they apply to everyone, and even more laughable that you're trying to tell me what me own personal observances are.

          "But hey, disagree with me if you must."

          What's the point? You don't bring facts, and you've already decided that my personal experiences are somehow inferior to yours.

          "Oh, the sky is blue"

          True. I wouldn't believe you if I didn't have independent verification, because you're not interested in honest discussion.

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          • icon
            Whatever (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Whereas you offered nothing but your personal opinion as well. But, yours count and mine doesn't, right? You weren't lying for once, but you're still a hypocrite."

            Thanks for proving where the personal attacks come from on this site. Way to keep it classy! (oh, and at least I provided a link to back up my view... you, well... not so much).

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            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 4:23am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "Thanks for proving where the personal attacks come from on this site"

              Yep, hypocrites will be called hypocrites and liars will be called liars. The truth is like that. If you would prefer not to be called a hypocrite, then don't be one.

              I can't help but notice you used that as an excuse not to address any of my points, especially the ones where my experiences clearly differ from yours.

              "and at least I provided a link to back up my view... you, well... not so much"

              What would you like a citation for? Bearing in mind that you started by attacking me for giving my personal opinion, and that I've not really claimed any facts that can be verified. I simply presented my personal experiences, which you insist aren't true.

              An honest person would be interested in discussing our different experiences. You, on the other hand...

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:20am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                horse with no name will insist that if you don't have a deep understanding and personal experience in China, you're not allowed to comment on their censorship system, especially as an anonymous commenter. Yet at the same time, he has no issues with loudly thumping his chest in support of GEMA, even he has never declared his personal experience in Germany.

                It's no wonder TorrentFreak quickly kicked him off after refusing to put up with his constant trolling.

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              • icon
                Whatever (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:52pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I am very interested in different experiences. Your personal experience is valuable to you and represents and single data point out of billions. It's incredibly important not to paint the world based on your personal opinion alone.

                See, the Harry Potter thing. I gave you a citation (solid news story about a huge decline in teen reading levels) and you ignore it. It's not just my opinion, it's backed up by a study, by data, and by information. You ignored it, and just attacked me personally. Too bas, you missed a chance to consider something other than your own personal experience and bias.

                "What would you like a citation for? "

                Any of it. I understand the stuff is your opinion. Unlike you, I am more than willing to accept it as your opinion (and respect you for having one). However, where data is available, it's better to work with facts rather than conjecture. So I gave you facts, and you waved your hand and said "Citation, or are you pulling your personal opinion out again as if it counts for something?" - you didn't check the link, did you? The point would be clear.

                An honest person wouldn't come to the discussion pre-judging by the name of the writer, but by the content. Alas, you don't appear to be that honest, my friend.

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                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 1:10am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "It's incredibly important not to paint the world based on your personal opinion alone."

                  Indeed, which is why I offered my personal experiences as counterpoints to yours, which you appear to be insisting were fact. But, I tell you of my observances while travelling, and you tell me I'm wrong. Your personal experience is superior, apparently, because you're not interested in honest counterpoints.

                  "See, the Harry Potter thing. I gave you a citation (solid news story about a huge decline in teen reading levels) and you ignore it"

                  No, you just gave me the first thing in Google you though was relevant. The data there said that reading in a single country had dropped by 10% between 2010 and 2014.

                  However, it did not address my question. How much did reading rise during the Harry Potter craze? Is the current level lower or higher than that was at its peak? How does the rate compare historically to when I was a child in the 80s? Is that 10% actually "huge" or is it within normal fluctuations?

                  You answered none of these questions with your link, so you failed to address my question.

                  "Any of it. I understand the stuff is your opinion."

                  If you understand I'm relating my personal experience, what the hell do you expect me to cite? Do you know what a citation is, or how it relates to facts, not opinions?

                  "you didn't check the link, did you"

                  Yes, I did and it was very lacking. Hence the fact I addressed your other comments (responses you have ignored, of course).

                  "An honest person wouldn't come to the discussion pre-judging by the name of the writer, but by the content."

                  As you do in ever damn article you comment upon here, you mean? Glad you admit you're not honest.

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                  • icon
                    Whatever (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 10:59am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    "Yes, I did and it was very lacking. Hence the fact I addressed your other comments (responses you have ignored, of course)."

                    Generally, you don't address them, you just dismiss them, confusing conjecture with fact and opinion with certainty.

                    I expressed an opinion. You said "it's not universally true" - and I never claimed it was.

                    "As you do in ever damn article you comment upon here, you mean? Glad you admit you're not honest."

                    Keeping it classy, Thankfully anyone reading this exchange can tell you have an axe to grind. Go grind it on someone else, I don't need your grief.

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                    • icon
                      PaulT (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 1:59pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      "I expressed an opinion. You said "it's not universally true" - and I never claimed it was. "

                      Well, apart from comments where you asserted that my experiences weren't true, of course. You were quite happy to reject my opinion but I have to accept yours? Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Either we discuss differing experiences or you cite why mine can't possibly be true. You did neither.

                      You certainly don't get to tell me to "look around" because I can't possibly see things differently to you, or attack me for expressing opinion when you've done nothing else. No, you're right, I'm wrong, that's part of your schtick here. Weirdly, I dislike people who tell me I'm not being truthful.

                      "Go grind it on someone else, I don't need your grief."

                      I do whenever I encounter someone as dishonest as you. There's 2 or 3 of you regulars here, else most others are interested in conversation and I enjoy debating facts and opinions with them. Those people, I'm fine with.

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                    • identicon
                      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2015 @ 6:24pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Thankfully anyone reading this exchange can tell you have an axe to grind.

                      Coming from the pompous martyr who thinks every Anonymous poster who disagrees with him is PaulT, that's rich.

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                      • icon
                        PaulT (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 11:42pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        Oh, he did that did he?? I missed that one lol

                        Whatever - Every one of my comments is made under my login, and I regularly check if there's anything to claim in case I had accidentally posted while not being logged in.

                        You may be a dishonest fool, but I stand by my comments. If you see something that's not owned by my profile, it's someone else calling you out on your crap, not me.

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                        • identicon
                          Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2015 @ 12:15am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          Well, not this time - but it's expected of him at this point to throw a hissy fit whenever you're brought up.

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        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:26am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You "consumed" books? Have you ever tried just, I dunno, reading them? If your argument for use of the word "consume" is that they've somehow lost their newness after you've had your wicked ocular way with them, I believe the word you're looking for begins with the letter F.

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    • identicon
      Charlie, 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:02am

      Re:

      Then your not looking hard enough, the market for pirated e-books, though not as large as MP3 or MP4 is huge & growing all the time. I can find virtually any book I want to free of charge nowadays....

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Blow Hard, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:48pm

    Mine mine mine

    After Amazon snuck into users' ereaders and removed a book from their library I lost interest in ereaders.

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  • icon
    CWBuxton (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:26pm

    Stagnation?

    eBooks didn't take off until the Kindle came out because the Kindle was the first ereader that made buying books dead easy and offered a large selection of books. I don't think there's stagnation. My Kindle let's me highlight and makes notes. If I got the book from Amazon, the notes and highlights are aceesible on the web. I can get a definition of any word in the dictionary and (with wifi or 3G) search Wikipedia for any word that's not in the dictionary. If the publisher has supplied the right information, I can see actual page numbers, and get information on characters and places via the x-ray feature. If I used audio books, I could sync my reading and listening.

    I think Amazon has provided features that people want and ask for. I don't think many people are clamoring for ebooks enhanced with music, video, or other technological enhancements, certainly not for novels.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:56pm

    universal appeal

    Heh.. with calibre, any artificial incompatibilities between formats becomes moot. Part of me wonders if the USB format, the one that's used for everyday applications, would of taken off if it only worked for IBM branded pc's.

    Looks like the walled garden (drm ridden) approach generously applied to e-books has come to rear it's head.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 9:58pm

    One-sided 'innovation'

    One of the big problems with ebooks is the publishers' insistence that they not threaten the current paperback market. As a result, they continue to insist that ebooks be priced equally to paperbacks, if not hardbacks, in addition to infecting them with DRM. So people are looking at paying just as much, if not more for a digital version that comes with restrictions that don't exist in the paper-version, like no lending, giving, or re-selling.

    If the ebook market isn't doing as well as it could be, which I would imagine to be the case, it's likely to be almost entirely because the major publishers have done everything they can to hamstring it from the get-go, in order to protect the entrenched paper-back market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:49pm

      Re: One-sided 'innovation'

      "So people are looking at paying just as much, if not more for a digital version"

      Have you ever bought an ebook? Or do you just take it as written what you read here? They are pretty much 33% cheaper than a book at amazon, sometimes more sometimes little bit less.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:50pm

        Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

        I've looked into plenty, and while some are cheaper(though generally only slightly so), a large number that I've seen are priced equal if not higher than the dead-tree format versions of the same book.

        But by all means, don't just take my word for it though, here's the top 10 'Best Sellers' on Amazon, paperback versus digital price comparison, with the price difference from digital and the cheapest physical version listed afterwards. A plus indicates that it's more expensive than the physical version, a minus indicates that it's cheaper.

        1. The Martian
        Paperback/Hardback: 9/14.88
        Digital: 8.99
        Difference:-0.01

        2. A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/15.92
        Digital: 14.99
        Difference:-0.93

        3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
        Paperback/Hardback: 8.10/10.62
        Digital: 9.99
        Difference:+1.89

        (This next one is particularly ridiculous, given it's meant to be played with by a child, making the digital version a terrible idea)
        4. First 100 Words
        Board Book: 3.30
        Digital: 5.99
        Difference:+2.69

        5. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/13.95
        Digital: 10.99
        Difference:-2.96

        6. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime: Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals, and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper!
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/17.99
        Digital: 16.99
        Difference:-1.00

        7. Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/17.99
        Digital: 12.99
        Difference:-5.00

        8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/7.92
        Digital: 7.52
        Difference:-0.40

        9. Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book
        Paperback/Hardback: 9.57/NA
        Digital: NA
        Difference:NA

        10. The Three Little Pigs (Disney Classic) (Little Golden Book)
        Paperback/Hardback: NA/2.10
        Digital: 3.99
        Difference:+1.89

        As you can see, three out of the ten are more expensive in digital format(+$1.89, +$2.69, and+ $1.89 respectively), two are cheaper by a noticeable margin($-2.96 and -$5 respectively), and of the remaining four, the 'savings' by going digital is $1 or less(-$0.01, -$0.93, -$1.00, and -$0.40 respectively).

        Add in the DRM that is likely to be in most of the above, which guts value by eliminating the ability to recoup costs by re-selling the book, and even the ones that are technically cheaper are still terrible deals. Cheaper they are not.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:55am

          Re: Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

          two of the more expensive ones are picture books, so clearly there is something going on there ( they are usually full colour and only readable by the flasher kindles). And the other one is cheaper because you are looking at the second hand price.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 2:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

            If an eReader can display color, then it will display a given pic in full color. If it isn't capable of displaying color, then it will still display the pic, it will just be in black and white. While color vs black and white has a real price difference when it comes to print, given the different inks and papers required, for digital so long as the device can display pictures at all there's no real difference, so I don't really see that being a valid reason to boost the price.

            At most I suppose I could see the argument that more pictures requires more formatting work to get it ready, but that same argument would also apply to the physical versions, so you'd expect both to rise in price roughly equally.

            No clue what you mean when you said I was looking at the second hand price, I listed the prices as they were displayed in the 'main' price box, ignoring the Used/New listings below it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

              At most I suppose I could see the argument that more pictures requires more formatting work to get it ready,

              Unless the author is also the creator of the pictures, they have to fund the creation of the pictures.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                That One Guy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 4:39am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

                A cost which would be the same whether you're talking about digital or physical format, so if that's boosting the price of the digital version, it should be boosting the price of the physical version the same amount.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          jupiterkansas (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 8:05am

          Re: Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

          The price of book has very little to do with the cost of the paper it's printed on (or lack of). It costs just as much to write an ebook as it does a print book. The actual printing and shipping costs are minimal.

          But you have about about resale value. That's something publishers don't really care about (although I'm sure they're happy you can't resell your ebooks).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Andrew D. Todd, 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:07pm

          Does Kindle Have The Book? (to That One Guy, #43)

          Looking at the books in the best-seller list you cite, I would estimate that a used-bookstore valuation would be about fifty cents each. Most used-booksellers throw that kind of thing out, because their floor space is limited, and the kind of people who visit used bookstores are not interested in it.

          I just did a little experiment. I pulled five books at random from my Anthropology shelves, and looked them up on Amazon. The following four books are available only as paper books. The quoted prices below do not include shipping and handling, which would be about another four dollars each.

          =============================

          William T. Sanders, Mesoamerica: The Evolution of a Civilization, 1968, $0.01 used

          Bryan R Roberts, Cities of peasants: The political economy of urbanization in the Third World (Explorations in urban analysis), 1979 $0.76 used

          Robert F. G. Spier, From the Hand of Man Primitive and Preindustrial Technologies, 1970, $2.53 used

          Jerome R. Mintz, Legends of the Hasidim; An Introduction to Hasidic Culture and Oral Tradition in the New World, 1968, $0.01

          =================================
          Only one book was available for Kindle

          Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion, 1939, $8.13 used reprint

          Kindle Edition $2.99

          =================================

          What it works out to is that Kindle presumably has significant copyright clearance problems, to the point that, for my kind of books, its other merits, such as they are, are more or less moot.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:59pm

        Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

        I can't find any such examples now (for hardbacks, at least), but there were certainly some price funniness going on recently.

        http://kriswrites.com/2015/08/05/business-musings-price-wars-and-victims/

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:19am

        Re: Re: One-sided 'innovation'

        "Have you ever bought an ebook? Or do you just take it as written what you read here?"

        Have you ever bought an ebook, or do you just blindly attack what's written here? Many ebooks are more expensive, especially when you get out of mainstream novel territory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:26am

    There *is* innovation...

    ...it's just the final product is not a "book" anymore.

    Take a look at Narr8 ( http://narr8.me/ ) platform for an example -- while it's "just comics", the same can be applied to books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 11:09am

    Ebooks = not only not encouraging new but losing functionality of old.

    I like knowing I can read my books no matter what country I am in. Risking losing "my" copy of a book as I cross a border* somewhat shrinks the value of not having to lug hard copies around with me.

    Also, I habitually pass books I've enjoyed on to friends and family, as mini-gifts rather than as loaners with weird time restrictions.

    As in the article, it's a shame to see the lost potential.

    *Technicalities and work-arounds, sure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 Oct 2015 @ 12:55am

      Re:

      "I like knowing I can read my books no matter what country I am in. Risking losing "my" copy of a book as I cross a border* somewhat shrinks the value of not having to lug hard copies around with me. "

      Do you have any evidence of this ever happening? I've been in 7 countries this year so far with my Kindle, and no such thing has ever happened. In fact, I can still buy from the UK store when located in a different country since that's the store my Kindle's associated with.

      Stores other than Amazon may operate differently, but while I've heard of people having different inventory in the stores to choose from, I've never heard of anyone losing access after purchase due to location.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MrTroy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 5:49pm

    What missing innovation?

    I can't really get over this piece, and what it's trying to say. What stagnation has occurred in the ebook space, that is, what features are missing from ebooks that we otherwise should have seen without such stagnation?

    That you can no longer scan your bookshelf at arm's length? (Ignoring the fact that you can search much more easily)

    That layouts aren't as finely tuned as paper? (Ignoring the fact that layout engines ARE improving, and user's have long had the option of choosing their own font and size for most books... perhaps such customisable layout engines are harder than the author suspects?)

    That digital publishing stacks are closed? But the argument makes no sense at all! As a reader, we don't care whether the publisher used InDesign or Illustrator for layout, or which printer in China they contracted as long as the quality meets our expectations. Saying that we can't read a book bought on Amazon except through kindle software, or a book bought on iBooks except through Apple hardware... well, that's the music/DRM debate all over again. We somehow managed to get DRM-free music, I'm quietly optimistic that books will follow.

    That if Amazon stops supporting Kindle, or Apple stops supporting iBooks, that nobody can step in and offer new, more beautiful containers for our legacy libraries? I'd suggest that fixing the DMCA is a better and broader approach here, and that cicumventing DRM after support has been removed (and possibly before) isn't illegal, even (specifically!) for commercial purposes.

    That reference books don't hyperlink well? Well if these guys can do it, then I don't know why anyone else can't.

    That we don't have mystical new mixed-media masterpieces? Well, various people have tried, and the results in book form invariably suck. Written word, spoken word and video are all consumed at a different pace, so mixing them well is insanely hard to do... not to mention increasing the cost of production, hence of purchase, further reducing the market. But there is a market for this kind of work, and it's been healthy for decades.

    In all, I feel like complaining about stagnation or lack of innovation in ebooks is kind of like complaining about stagnation and lack of innovation in cars. Forget about air bags, adaptive cruise control, electronic bucket seats with multiple driver profiles, catalytic converters, electronically assisted braking and stability controls... why don't we have a flying car yet, is everybody just sitting on their hands here? Also, modern cars are still basically a box around a combustion engine - forget about all of the electric cars commercially available that aren't.

    Have fun with your nostalgic puffery, Craig Mod. Take your time, I'll be here enjoying the future-present until you're ready to join us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MrTroy (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:03pm

      Re: What missing innovation?

      Forgot to add. Read the comments here for a discussion of a bunch of authors wishing Amazon had some competition. Nobody likes a market without competition.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Richard Stallman, 7 Oct 2015 @ 11:41pm

    Problem with ebooks

    The worst thing about ebooks is that they do not respect the same freedom that we have always had for printed books. In addition to the DRM, they require users to sign restrictive contracts, and you can't buy them anonymously.

    I will start buying ebooks when they respect all the same freedoms as a printed book.

    http://stallman.org/ebooks.pdf

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wallet Voter, 8 Oct 2015 @ 8:21pm

    NEVER DRMed

    I will not purchase any product including an ebook that has DRM. I learned my DRM lesson years ago when an expensive purchase became locked away from me. Never again, If I buy it it's mine, or I'll leave it on the virtual shelf.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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