Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Books of Moshe

I have recently discussed at length (here) why I am holding back on purchasing The Book of Rachael, Leslie Cannold's recently released book and the receiver of many a glowing review. As I explained, the pricing of the ebook version made me feel as if they did not want to sell it to me in the first place.
Today it was brought to my attention the ebook of Rachael sells for $22.80 at the Kobo website here, which represents a bit of a discount on the Borders asking price of $26 here. It's nice to see some competition, but this affair exposes much that is wrong with the book publishing industry and electronic publishing in particular. Allow me to expand the discussion and point out the malaise of the electronic publishing industry that an ebook reader such as yours truly has to contend with on a regular basis:
  1. Obviously, the first problem is basic greed. Greed manifests itself in asking way too much for the ebook version despite the severely reduced costs of publishing electronically when compared to a paper version, and despite the format's inherent limitations (e.g., you cannot lend an ebook to your friend). It certainly feels as if publishers would have preferred none of this electronic thing ever took place; progress is to be held back.

  2. Next we have nationalistic greed to deal with. As I mentioned in my book review of an Australian book release here, I fail to understand why an Australian ebook would sell at a higher price to Australian buyers than it does to American buyers.

  3. For that matter, why do ebook publishers divide the world into countries in the first place? We're all downloading the book from the same servers anyway. Why can I buy a paper book from any country I like, but the minute I decide I want to buy an ebook from the USA I need to resort to extreme measures like VPN in order to pass as an American in order to commit the crime of buying an ebook?

  4. I wasn't joking when I talked about committing the crime of buying an ebook. As I mentioned here, the mere act of me buying an ebook from HarperCollins defied their license agreement which said I am not allowed to download the book. How, exactly, do they expect me to buy an ebook without a download is beyond me; the fact of the matter is that I did break their license agreement. By buying a book of theirs.

  5. Next is the issue of multiple ebook formats, which [mostly] narrows down to the ePub format vs. the Amazon one. Fine, we can live with multiple formats; but why won't publishers who go ahead with releasing their book electronically do so in both formats? Oh, did I mention greed already - as in, the publishers' power struggles with Amazon? Both parties are at fault (although as a reader Amazon is easier to identify with given they fight to reduce prices). The bottom line is that the reader ends up the main victim in the middle.

  6. Bought a legal copy of an ebook? Now you're limited by its DRM. On the face of it DRM shouldn't bother you much, but it does. In a few years time when no one will remember what the Kindle was, what will happen to all your precious ebooks? Luckily, there are now ways to crack ebooks' DRM (see here); but why do things have to come down to that?

  7. Combine 5 & 6 together and you get one of my specific problems with The Book of Rachael's ebook version. It is sold as ePub alone whereas I own a Kindle, which means that in order to read it I will need to buy the ePub, neutralize its DRM and then convert it to the Amazon format. It's all possible and the tools for doing so are available free of charge, but this act will still constitute as me violating user agreements. I don't know whether I will be breaking the law, too, but I do know that my intentions are pure and lack any malice (i.e., I just want to read a book). Am I a criminal or not? The fact I need to ask the question in the first place does leave a bad taste in my mouth even if the fact I will be cracking some futile DRM will make me smile.

  8. One specific complaint I have against many onlione book shops, Kobo included, is that they collect my credit card details. In my opinion, book shops should concentrate on what they do best - sell books - and avoid collecting information about their customers which they probably should not hold in the first place. Only recently we were informed (here, amongst others) that the company holding customer information for AbeBooks, an online book store, has had its database hacked. Kobo may be selling The Book of Rachael for $3 less, but I would still prefer to buy it from Borders where PayPal is accepted.
Combine all of the above and you reach some very simple conclusions. At the moment, Amazon offers the most superior ebook purchasing experience; however, even with Amazon one still needs to resort to measures such as VPN to buy most books, which puts the legality of the purchase in some gray area. Yet if we've reached a gray area, and if we're being treated like scum as it is, why not go grayer? Why not pirate?
The fact of the matter is that piracy is easier than most ebook purchasing and offers a superior product (no DRM!). Most of us have already been taught that lesson by the music and film industries; now the publishing industry seems keen to teach us that lesson again. The way things are, publishers do not deserve us buying their books.

This whole discussion started from The Book of Rachael, an ebook on which I picked for obvious reasons: On one hand, it is a book I really want to read it due to its author. On the other it is the first time I cannot get my book in the Kindle format while at the same time its asking price is the highest I have ever encountered for a coveted ebook (and by a large margin). At this point I will state I don't mind handing Leslie Cannold $26 in cash with nothing in return; she deserves it. I do, however, mind giving her publisher $26 out of which only $2 or so would go to Cannold.
Am I going to boycott the book? No, that would be silly; I will be the only loser there. I will probably buy it sooner rather than later. Regardless of any specific title, though, I am still a reader; and as a reader I am pretty pissed off at the way book publishers are treating me.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Moshe. Head over to Readings ebookstore and you can buy it for $19.95. Their ebooks can be read on loads of devices including Kindles. Cheers, KW

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for the advice. However...
As I already noted in the past, I view the ebook solution offered by Readings to be the best way to ruin the ebook experience altogether and deter people from trying it out. Come on, what good is an ebook if you have to read it while online?
This crude way of trying to prevent people from making illicit copies of their ebook is, in my view, the surest way to make a pirate out of them.

Don't get me wrong, though: I appreciate you trying to help. The fault is firmly with the publishers who seem to be making every mistake the music and film industry have made.

Moshe Reuveni said...

KW? The KW?
Good to hear from you, man!