My free ebook “Skjønnheten, Loven og Sannheten”, Ingar Holst forlag 2000, was among the first ebooks published in my country. At that time, ten years ago, ebooks was something very odd. Few people even realized that it was anatomically possible to read a book from a computer monitor. Four years ago I purchased an IBM (Lenovo) ThinkPad X60 Tablet PC for approximately 3000€. The main purpose of this PC was for it to act like a type-writer (Think pad is famous for it's keyboards) and ebook-reader. Two purposes it since then has served well. I have written another ebook on this machine (not yet published), and read hundreds. Mostly Computer literature, but also real literature.
Personally I prefer to read printed books. But in my current life-situation, without a real home, that is not an option. Ebooks also have the advantage of availability. If I read about a book in a blog or article on the net, I can purchase and read the book instantly. Ebooks are also very handy when you are on the road. A few years ago I traveled all around Europe for six months, with a suitcase full of books. That was not very practical. Today I have approximately 2500 ebooks on my Tablet PC (which by the way have a much more ebook-friendly monitor than the iPad). I also subscribe to safari books online, so that I can read most new books that are relevant to my computer-interest as soon as they are published. On my HTC Desire cell-phone, I have FBReader for free ebooks, and the Amazon Kindle for Android for normal books.
I am, as you may understand, no newcomer to ebooks. I have written and consumed them for a long time. Now I am concerned.
This morning I went to Amazon to look for a few ebooks. Unfortunately, only one of the books was even available for the Kindle. And guess what? It was /more/ expensive than the hardcover-version! Me not like. Me very pissed. Me goggled. And it turns out that this is the pattern these days. Some blogger blamed Apple, claiming they have conspired with the book-publishers to keep the price for electronic books high for Amazon and other non-apple approved sale-channels. Others complained about publishers simply not knowing how to deal with ebooks. The publishers want to sell the hard-covers, and later, the paperback at a lower price. Ebooks don't fit into this [obsolete] model. I don't know. But as an ebook-consumer, it took me 10 seconds to figure out the counter-measure: I will /not/ purchase any ebook that is more expensive than the cheapest paper-version. In fact, I will never purchase /any/ version of a book, as long as the ebook-version is more expensive than the cheapest paper-version.
In stead of playing Apple (fighting their customers), the book-publishers should endorse cheap ebooks, and sell “upgrades” to the hard-cover version for a discounted price. That way they could sell the same book twice to book-lovers, and the book-lovers would absolutely love the deal.
Drm and privacy
Away from the politics and [over-]pricing, there is another serious issue with the dominating ebook-formats today. Drm. When you purchase a book from Amazon, Apple or B&N, you don't get a physical copy that you can read, and then sell or give away (or burn if it's that bad). You only get a limited license to read the book at the mercy of Amazon, B&N, Apple or Google (yes - they can in fact delete anything they may disapprove with on your Android-device). Not only that. These entities can monitor what books you actually read. What parts you read slowly and what parts you skim. They can sell that information to advertisers, your government or your boss. It's like having a full-time snitch looking over your shoulder, whenever you pick up a book to read. This privacy thing is probably not a problem if you read the masterpiece “The C Programming Language” (unless you work for Microsoft or Apple), but if you read “The Importance of Being Earnest”, you may find yourself in severe trouble (at least if you live in Iran or some parts of the USA). Your political preferences (not the political preferences you pretend, to have but your /real/ preferences - that you may not understand 100% yourself), can be reviled from the books you read, not to mention /how/ you read them. Same goes with your sexual preferences, and a long list of other highly personal matters that you may not be aware of yourself. Soon your reading device will be able to track your eye-movements while you read - making it possible to analyze pretty much exactely how you react to each paragraph, sentence and word.
Personally, I prefer reading-devices that can show non-drm books that I download anonymously - reading-devices without online-capabilities. Reading-devices that act like the good old paper-books, except for the capability of storing thousands of wonderful or useful books on only a few grams of memory. I don't think my good, old X60 tablet will spy on me. It don't even have web-cam :)
I am no Apple fan-boy (even though I have worked professionally creating software for Snow Leopard). In fact, I can't stand Apple or anything they stand for. The more I learn about that company, the less I Iike them. They treat their customers like shit. They ignore national customer-rights laws. They sensor applications that don't fit their taste of the day (like /real/ communists). They don't allow you to run their Mac OS in a virtual machine, making it virtually impossible to develop and test applications for that platform at a professional level (you can't even fire up a virtual build-machine like you do with /all/ the Linux distributions and Windows versions you support). Their hardware is designed to look pretty - if it works does not seem to matter much.
But in this context I'm concerned about their embracement of censorship. Steve Jobs wants “Freedom From”. Freedom from whatever he doesent like. And he want to generously give away that “freedom” to his customers, whether they want it or not. (In that regard he reminds me alto about the Norwegian Socialist Party). Apple sensors away not only contemporary, main-stream literature, but also some of the pearls of the worlds literature. Our cultural inheritance. And it does not stop there. They even censor dictionaries, if these contain words that Apple don't like. Apple censor the English language itself. (1984 anyone?) At the same time, Apple strives to be a (the) major distribution channel for music, film and ... books. /That/ is a scaring thought! How can people make up their own minds, if they are prohibited from listening to, viewing or even reading material some moralistic freaks deem inappropriate? They cant. They won't.
Fortunately, there are other distribution channels. There are other reading-devices. A normal PC, or one of the new Linux-based net-tablets, can be an excellent reading-device for ebooks from Project Gutenberg and other free sources. But if you need to purchase a book - please have the decency to purchase it from a non-censoring source (I don't endorce Amazon or B&N, but I don't question their integrity when it comes to publishing) - and only if the ebook is not more expensive than the cheapest paper-version.