Last week Sony announced that its new PRS-600 e-book reader would be for sale at the end of the month. I initially put my reader (a PRS-505) up for sale on eBay planning to buy the new PRS-600 when it becomes available in a few weeks. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m not sure I’ll buy a replacement any time soon.
I still like the idea of e-books and e-ink and e-readers, but the publishers, as I’ve complained repeatedly before, need to make some big changes if e-books are going to take off. O’Reilly gets it right: no DRM, multiple formats, and nearly free e-books ($3 or so) when you buy a paper book. But most publishers have to actually RELEASE BOOKS IN E-BOOK FORMAT before these issues can be addressed. Many publishers release e-books months after a book is released, and even then they cost more than the retail hardcover price and don’t come down when a paperback is released. Others simply aren’t even looking at releasing e-books.
And if we MUST have DRM (as certainly many publishers would and will insist on) then lets get some actual good out of it. If I own an e-book, I should be able to transfer it to someone over the Internet, or wirelessly in the same room, either as a sale (where I get to set the price, including free as a gift) or a loan (where I can set the duration before it expires and I regain the ability to read it again or leave that up to the borrower). The fact that DRM’d e-books can’t be re-sold, given away, or loaned is ridiculous.
These publishing problems discouraged me from actually buying any books while I had my e-reader. Instead, I pirated books (lawyers and other official-type people take note, by “pirate” I mean I dress up in swashbuckling garb while I read free public-domain titles). I didn’t feel too guilty about this. It’s barely different from checking out a book at the library (except that I could keep the e-book files forever and even have access to thousands of titles that our local libraries don’t carry). There were some e-books I read that I would have possibly purchased, but they weren’t available in e-book format.
On top of these problems that the publishers are responsible for, I kind of realized how much I enjoy paper books. I still have complaints about hardcovers and mass-marker paperbacks, but I can really appreciate the form factor of a trade paperback. And covers and the other things that come as part of the paper book package can be nice. I went to the library two weeks ago to pick up a book I had requested they order, and it was sure fun having a physical object (with beautiful cover art) to hold in my hand as I skipped down the sidewalk downtown like Mary Tyler Moore, tossing my hat in to the air. (But it’s also nice not having to even go down to the library, just plucking the book I want from the ether of the Internet.)
I’m not done with e-books, even though I’m going to stop participating for a while. I still plan to be watching the world of e-books closely, applauding improvements in hardware and software and hoping that publishers will start pulling their heads out of the sand. Aww, who am I kidding, I’ll probably even have a new e-reader full of swashbuckling tales before the year’s over. But I’m still shaking my fist in the air and furrowing my brow every time I hear or see more about how absolutely stupid book publishers are being. Get it together ya knuckleheads.