Books, Business Models, Reading, Social Role, Usability, World of Tomorrow

The Freedom of Not Owning Books

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After reading David Crotty’s excellent post yesterday, I came across an interesting related post by Joe Wikert about how the quality of the Kindle experience isn’t necessarily about the e-books but about the wireless and its side-effects.

Then, last night, I took my kids to the local bookstore to get new novels for them as the school year ends. The result? Both titles they wanted were sold out, and neither title is at the local library.

But I could have gotten both books immediately on the Kindle.

It got me thinking about the whole ownership thing.

Discussions about digital rights management (DRM) and the limitations of sharing or keeping books purchased through the Kindle hit on a certain way of realizing or feeling the value of textual material — basically, ownership.

And a lot of our “book” mental model still rests on the concept of ownership.

Publishers implement DRM because they’re built (currently) on the value of ownership of the work. Users want to share or keep what they’ve purchased to enjoy the rights of ownership.

But the Kindle experience changes this mental model. Wireless shopping and storage make using it a very different experience. The user shifts out of a gatherer mode and into a hunter mode. This is very important. As Wikert puts it:

So true and yet so easily forgotten.  The Kindle could have simply become Newton 2.0 without this important feature.  Customers come for the eInk display but Whispernet is what keeps ‘em coming back.  (It still blows my mind that no other Kindle competitor has figured this out . . .)

What are the side benefits? Readers have seen them before.

One of the benefits many Kindle owners cite right away is that their nightstands are less cluttered. Suddenly, there’s something nice about not owning books. When they travel, they can impulsively carry, purchase, and transport dozens of books if they choose while increasing their load not at all. They can preview a half-dozen books in 30 minutes in the airport, all wirelessly. Then, they can locate and purchase books no newstand or bookstore nearby would ever carry. Finally, through subscriptions to blogs, magazines, and newspapers, information updates are delivered as they sleep but no paper accumulates.

Consider how many encyclopedias you’ve purchased in the past 20 years. Will you ever buy one again? Of course not. Wikipedia and Google have combined to make ownership of an encyclopedia irrelevant. The same thing is happening to atlases (Google Maps and GPS), and will soon start happening to cookbooks (Epicurious, anyone?).

The Kindle, with its wireless, is another factor in the world that is making ownership optional. I think this is a trend users will embrace. They’ve already embraced it with music and movies.

I’ve read dozens of books on the Kindle. I own none of them. I’ve loaned none of them. I’m fine with that.

In fact, owning books has been problematic for me over the past few years. We have four avid readers in the same house. Bookcase space was already at a premium, so not owning 30+ new books has been OK for peace on the homefront. I can buy books without anybody knowing how many I’m reading simultaneously. I can indulge my bibliomania secretly.

What about lending books to friends? I don’t know about you, but for me, loaning books is often awkward — I remember who has them, how long they’ve had them, and what condition they were in when I loaned them. I can’t hide perfectly my irritation at the lost book, the late book, or the damaged book (you dog-eared the pages?!). With my Kindle books, I can’t lend them. Problem solved!

Ownership isn’t a panacea, especially in an age of information abundance. Will I be concerned if the Kindle dies and books I’ve read on it become inaccessible on that platform? Not really. If I want to read them again, there will be plenty of alternative ways in the future. And my bookshelves long ago stopped being my collection of known facts and resources.

Joe Wikert points to a related post about how e-books still have room to evolve. I agree with the author’s points while noting that they’re already evolving in many ways. Two of my favorite old Sherlock Holmes collections are on my Kindle — for free. A copy of “Moby Dick” typeset especially for the Kindle also held sway for a while. From classics to current bestsellers, I can wirelessly get books for free and for less.

And I don’t have to own them.

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About Kent Anderson

I am the Publisher at AAAS/Science. Previously, I have worked as CEO/Publisher of the STRIATUS/JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Discussion

26 thoughts on “The Freedom of Not Owning Books

  1. Kent, I know you love your Kindle, and as a technophile, I dearly wish I could justify purchasing one myself, but there are just too many problems, less with the device and more with the way it’s being sold. Yesterday’s article was about the deceptive practices Amazon has put in place–not informing the buyer about limitations on purchased files in advance. But even if Amazon was upfront about everything, you’d still never know exactly what you’re buying. If you read your EULA, Amazon can change the terms of service at any point and can terminate your service at any point if they decide you’re not a good customer. So what you think you’re buying today may be very different from what you end up with tomorrow. If suddenly the government decides to ban a book, Amazon can reach into your Kindle and shut off your access, even if you’ve already bought it. Amazon could also pull a “Plays-for-Sure” here and decide they want to go a different route from the Kindle. Once they drop support, all your purchases disappear. I can’t justify buying such a mysterious black box. I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money for something that can disappear at any given moment. I don’t want to invest time annotating an e-book only to have Amazon decide my device isn’t valid and have all my notes vanish. I don’t want to have to re-buy my entire library every time I buy a new Kindle or a new e-book reader or a new cel phone or a new laptop. If Sony or someone else comes out with a better Kindle, I don’t want to have to re-buy my entire library to take advantage of their technological breakthrough.

    Your argument holds water for a book that you want to read once then discard. I tend to revisit favorite books every few years. I don’t want to buy a new copy every time. I see the Kindle being touted as a solution for textbooks. I still own (and occasionally refer to) many of my college and graduate school textbooks from decades ago. As a scholarly publisher, CSHL Press puts out books that we assume you’re going to want to read more than once, that you’re going to keep going back to for years to grab a protocol or pertinent fact. Under your supposition that books shouldn’t be owned, the reader would have to purchase and repurchase our books over and over again every time they need that information. That might be nice for our bottom line, but I don’t think it would make our customers very happy.

    The main arguments for the Kindle are portability and convenience of purchasing new books. One has to decide if those two things are worth spending the $350-500 upfront to buy the device.

    Portability: how often do you really need to carry 30 books with you? If this happens a lot, then yes, the device is certainly handy. But I can’t come up with a likely scenario where I’d need this. Factor in also that if you travel, it’s an extra device you have to put in your carry-on luggage (anyone putting an expensive piece of electronic equipment in checked baggage is asking to have it stolen by airline employees). An extra book or two can be checked, and you don’t have to worry about bashing the snot out of a paperback like you’d want to avoid with your $500 investment. You also have to carry a power adapter and make sure the device is charged. Suddenly that portability isn’t as clear-cut as you’d think. When I travel, I’m already carrying a laptop and a cel phone, devices I can’t travel without. Can I put up with a less-than-perfect reading experience using one of those and save the hassle of a third device that adds weight/bulk and needs protection and monitoring?

    Convenience: Buying a book at any given moment is a great feature, and instant gratification is one of the best reasons to buy a Kindle. As long as you don’t leave the USA, that is, and as long as you’re within Sprint’s relatively poor coverage area. Note that with all the many other e-readers available for laptops and cel phones, you can have this same experience (including the Kindle app for the iPhone). Again, it’s a value proposition–how often am I in a situation where I must have a particular book right now, how much is that worth to me ($500?), and in those rare situations, will a poorer reading experience on a laptop/phone suffice?

    I like loaning/giving books to friends. To eliminate clutter, I regularly donate books to my local library or the Salvation Army, two institutions that would suffer from a lack of book ownership.

    I think this is a trend users will embrace. They’ve already embraced it with music and movies.

    I don’t think this is correct. User dissatisfaction has led to dropping of DRM in music downloads, allowing true ownership. Note that every rental service, every monthly subscription music service that doesn’t let you own files has failed miserably. Note that illegal fileswapping and DVD sales still dwarf legal DRM’ed movie downloads. I’d say users feel pretty much the opposite of what you argue here.

    And as for cookbooks, I challenge you to find anything on Epicurious that replicates the superb experience delivered by books like Eat Me or Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. A great cookbook is more than just a collection or recipes.

    Ownership is very important to customers. The success of iTunes compared to subscription services has proven this time and time again. People want to pay their money and keep what they’ve bought. Along similar lines, I don’t want to rent books. A permanent, transferable portable library would be a wonderful thing. The Kindle does not provide that. Until there is a common, open file format like mp3 or AAC that is available on all devices, and until the silly DRM restrictions are dropped, the e-book market is being crippled.

    Posted by David Crotty | Jun 25, 2009, 10:50 am
    • It’s funny how the same thing can look so different to two different people. I never took Apple’s DRM seriously — you just burned what you wanted to CD, and it was yours. But even then, I really only move my iTunes files through Apple devices or iTunes installs. For all practical purposes, they’re the 8-track tapes of the era. I may “own” them, but only as long as the infrastructure lasts.

      And I guess that’s my point with the Kindle, to some extent. It’s a great device. But it will only last as long as it lasts. Communication technologies are transient. Even books dissolve (that faint smell in the library is the smoke from books slowly burning and glue slowly deteriorating).

      I’m not as picky about my end-user agreement. I basically accept that I’m licensing content on an ephemeral platform that only lasts as long as it lasts — it will disappear someday like my Palm, Iomega Zip drives, Bernoulli disks, etc. It will become as useless someday as my CD-ROM of “Redshift.” I own those things. They clutter my house. I have a hard time throwing them away. With e-books, I read them, I enjoy them, they go away — whether on the Kindle or the iPhone or the computer screen.

      Whether books are on my shelf flashing me some binding or whether they’re being given away, I probably read most books only once. With the Kindle, I’m beginning to see a different bargain I can make around this — one with less consumption, greater convenience, and lower price.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Jun 25, 2009, 8:03 pm
      • I’m not talking about the transience of the device, but about the permanence of the content. A cd that I purchased 20 years ago can be ripped to my current iPod. I can move all my mp3’s from that iPod to the new Zune if it’s a better device. I refuse to accept art/music/literature as something disposable and impermanent. Perhaps I’m placing a higher value on these things than you are. Perhaps I’m also a bit more frugal, and demand more for my purchasing dollar. I want to make smart purchases that will last a lifetime. Otherwise, as seems to happen to you regularly, you keep buying the same things over and over again.

        FYI, I bought an early cd burning stereo component and ripped all my lp’s and cassettes to cd back in the mid-90’s. It took quite a while to rip a few thousand records, but it was certainly cheaper than paying $18.99 a few thousand times. I expect to keep using that music for the rest of my life, and certainly don’t intend to re-buy all of it. Did you throw away all of the data stored on your Zips, Bernouli’s or your Palm Pilot? If it was of such little value, why were you keeping it in the first place? Did you transfer your address book off the Palm to whatever device replaced it? Try doing that with the books on your Kindle.

        You’re essentially willing to trade short-term convenience and savings for paying repeatedly and much more in the long term. Even worse, you’re willing to accept a crippled, inferior product because it offers you instant gratification in purchasing it and some sort of frisson in not having cluttered shelves. I’d rather have to wait a day to get a book and not feel ripped off. I can then re-sell the book and get a portion of the purchase price back if I so choose, and all of that without having to lay out $500!

        If Amazon wants my business, they’ll figure out a system that is fair to me. If not, someone else will.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jun 25, 2009, 10:57 pm
  2. i agree completely.

    ‘having a printed object in hand’ and ‘reading content’ were once inseparable. now we have a choice. anything i’m going to actually *read* must be on my kindle. i feel no special need to hold the physical book. if it’s important enough to me to *have*, i buy hard copy also, because my kindle books could become unreadable one day. but really. why would i always need that huge, thick book with me? after all, i only read one page at a time. i don’t want to be toting all the pages i’ve *already read*. and i don’t feel a need to re-read all that many books, so i don’t need physical copies of those at all.

    a side note: i am gobsmacked by the sheer amount of free material i’ve been reading on my kindle. it wasn’t intentional; one free title just led to another. i have purchased some content; and expect to buy more in the future — but there’s an *amazing* amount of beautifully-formatted, high-quality, free, drm-less material out there (feedbooks.com; manybooks.net; mobileread.com). so for many weeks that’s where my eyes have been.

    quite unexpectedly, on account of that i think my kindle could pay for itself. i am the last person on earth who i ever would have thought could wake up one morning with the idea that reading could be *more* important than having books, but that’s exactly what happened.

    Posted by thorn | Jun 25, 2009, 12:17 pm
  3. An interesting related blog post about how the Kindle might actually re-establish concentration precisely because it discourages multi-tasking.

    http://paidcontent.org/article/419-the-real-genius-of-the-kindle-the-return-of-unitasking

    I think this is a real benefit of a single-purpose device like the Kindle. I know I can plow through books on it.

    Posted by Kent Anderson | Jun 28, 2009, 1:53 pm
  4. Mr. Anderson,
    I think there is an important distinction to be made between books, music, videos, and other forms of electronic media. Old software essentially is device specific, there is no reason for books, music or videos to be made so (other than controlling how the consumer uses the device).

    I agree that there are some aspects of giving up physical ownership of books. But I think we need to make a distinction between physical ownership and ownership of the right to read and use a book as we see fit (within the bounds of the law). Just as ebooks don’t change the ownership rights of the author or the publisher, they should not change the ownership rights of the consumer. If I am paying full price for the book in electronic form, I want to be able to use the book in the same ways I would use a paper copy of said book. O will grant that certain uses by their nature become problematic with respect to ebooks (specifically loaning them to friends), but even those problems are not unsolvable.

    I will grant that all media will ultimately fail, but it is very different when its failure is part of the natural life cycle of the media and not part of a deliberate attempt by the publishers to limit how I read a book.

    Ultimately, I think the test case is as follows: How do you feel about not owning the books if Amazon tomorrow decides to get out of the ebook business and you suddenly have 10 books you purchased but now can no longer read?


    Bill

    Posted by Bill McHale | Jun 29, 2009, 9:38 am
    • Hi Bill,

      I guess my experience has been that I rarely revisit books I’ve read. I read them, enjoy them, and, yes, like to have them in my bookcases as if they were trophies from some intellectual fishing trip. But I’m learning to not have to mount them on my walls, and finding the “catch and release” method to be just fine, thank you.

      To each his (or her) own, but to own is no longer the only choice, and I’m enjoying some real benefits of not owning books (not having to buy bookcases, for instance).

      By the way, my risk assessment of Amazon = low-risk. I don’t think they’re going to suddenly abandon a decade of building a multi-billion dollar business based on transactions around books, especially when the Kindle has added another billion plus.

      Also, as a reader, it’s hard for me to get chippy about rights. I know how I read. Do I really care whether I have rights to Michael Lewis’ “The Blind Side”? (An excellent book, by the way.) Not really. I can calculate value for myself. I will read a book, and if I enjoy it, I’ll finish it. Then I’ll probably never read it again. A cheaper book without carrying costs on the Kindle is working out for me.

      So why not the library? I use the library sometimes, but I hate the dirty books, the cracked cellophane wrappers, the water damage, etc. Every Kindle edition I download has that new e-book non-smell. I love it.

      No argument if you choose otherwise, but I did want to let people know that someone’s trying it another way and finding some benefits — some of which weren’t apparent until I’d done it for a while.

      Cheers.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Jun 29, 2009, 10:41 am
      • “By the way, my risk assessment of Amazon = low-risk. I don’t think they’re going to suddenly abandon a decade of building a multi-billion dollar business based on transactions around books, especially when the Kindle has added another billion plus.”

        I’m sure one would have said the same thing about Microsoft’s “Plays For Sure” system, since there was no way they would abandon the decades of work they spent to make WMV the most common audio format in use at the time or the vast sums of cash coming in from their technology partners. Not to mention the enormous investment they made in the MSN Music Network, right?

        All my HD-DVD purchases are really paying off these days.

        And certainly, one should invest in Myspace, because all the kids are using it, and it will never go away.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jun 29, 2009, 11:04 am
        • Well, I’ve never trusted Microsoft beyond Office, frankly, so don’t throw me into that vat. And with Office 2007, they’re even teetering on the brink with their strongest offering. In fact, Microsoft’s logo on things often causes me to keep my money in my pocket.

          You’re noting risk, but only one side of it (failure). The other side of risk is success, and my take on Amazon overall is that it’s a success, and that they have an approach with the Kindle that’s likely to succeed, as well.

          We’ll just have to see!

          Posted by Kent Anderson | Jun 29, 2009, 11:18 am
          • Risk is inherent in investing in any new technology, but one can be prudent and minimize those risks. Buying unprotected mp3 files from eMusic rather than buying locked-down crippled WMV files from an MS Plays-For-Sure partner would have been a wise strategy. The PFS files are now useless, whereas the eMusic purchases work just fine on every player on the market.

            Posted by David Crotty | Jun 29, 2009, 11:21 am
            • Crotty, for some reason, there’s no “reply” link on your latest post so I had to slip down here.

              On your straw man, we started this when some here said Amazon will never abandon Kindle and you said they would citing the examples of PlaysForSure and HD-DVD. When I responded to those examples, you responded directly in part but also came back with the Apple will rule the world of ebooks argument, which doesn’t have anything to do with whether Amazon will continue supporting Kindle or your original PFS and HD-DVD citations.

              I mentioned the CURRENT REALITY of the ebook market as a factor in making a risk assessment of buying into a DRM scheme. You’re so deep in the weeds that you’re missing the big picture, as Kent started out saying. It’s worth buying a Kindle and Kindle-DRMed books now because ownership is overrated and because the Kindle is a good value for avid book readers.

              Your risk assessment is off-base. There is no way to buy electronic versions of current, popular books without DRM. There is no DRM-free substitute available. Are you saying you don’t buy any business software, video games or iPhone apps because they all have DRM? How long are you going to wait? In the meantime, your opportunity “cost” of not using software and playing games and using apps mounts. If anything software and computer game DRMs have been getting more annoying and restrictive over time, so you may be waiting forever.

              I can’t face repeating all the reasons this Apple/ebook dominance meme is wrong (see the blog post http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/?p=390). Your speculation that Apple would pull competing ereaders seems far-fetched in the extreme. There’s no precedent for it, it would not pass antitrust scrutiny and it would infuriate literally millions of customers who have bought books in Scrollmotion, Kindle, eReader and other formats. Apple started out barring competing web browsers from the get-go — that’s a far cry from banning an entire category of apps after they’ve already been available for a year. I have not heard of an example of Apple pulling an iPhone app because it wanted to launch its own version.

              You have your facts confused about the terms of Amazon’s payments to publishers. As has been widely reported, Amazon pays big publishers the same royalties they pay on hardcover books, usually about 50% of the retail cover price. Since Amazon is discounting Kindle books — often by more than half the retail hardcover price — Amazon is paying publishers almost all the revenue, or in some cases, more than all the revenue. See, for example, http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6657272.html

              The 70/30 split you reference is for bloggers and was offered to and rejected by the Dallas Morning News. Self-publishing Kindle authors get a 35% split. See http://forums.digitaltextplatform.com/dtpforums/entry.jspa?externalID=2&categoryID=12

              Just what split Apple would seek from book publishers is a complete unknown. As you may have seen in the music and television areas, Apple’s negotiations with big content producers have been fraught with conflict.

              And after all of this, you’re still assuming that Amazon would kill the Kindle program in the face of tough competition from Apple. I just don’t see it. People buying a Kindle device now are already choosing to pay for something that they could do in part for free on an iPhone or iPod Touch. And still it’s selling out every few weeks and analysts are saying it’s a multi-billion dollar revenue stream for Amazon within three years.

              Posted by Aaron Pressman | Jun 30, 2009, 1:02 pm
              • I didn’t set up the system here, but it appears to limit the number of replies to a given comment, which is kind of annoying.

                Again, please note that “straw man” is a completely inappropriate term here. A straw man argument is when person A claims that person B has said something that person B never said, and proceeds to tear apart that easily attacked argument. I’ve never created a straw man, never claimed any argument on your part that I’m refuting. You claimed the Kindle was a good risk (and have done so repeatedly). I’m arguing that I don’t agree. You may think my arguments incorrect or even foolish, but they are certainly not straw man arguments. More here.

                you responded directly in part but also came back with the Apple will rule the world of ebooks argument, which doesn’t have anything to do with whether Amazon will continue supporting Kindle or your original PFS and HD-DVD citations.

                I think it’s directly relevant. HD-DVD was a leading technology, supported widely (note that Microsoft favored it over Blue-Ray). Now they’ve stopped supporting it. Plays-For-Sure was a widespread ecosystem created by the overwhelming market leader in the computing field and supported by a wide variety of partners. Neither is supported any more. Both serve as examples that new technology, even market-leading technologies, are often fleeting and replaced. Because you happen to like the Kindle and think it’s a good value does not mean it will not meet the same fate. I’m sure subscribers to MSN Music and HD-DVD buyers were also quite satisfied with their purchases as well. I could also be wrong, the Kindle may rule literature for the next 100 years. Time will tell.

                It’s worth buying a Kindle and Kindle-DRMed books now because ownership is overrated and because the Kindle is a good value for avid book readers.

                And that’s your opinion, and for the type of reading you and Kent do, it makes sense. I edit and publish scientific manuals, monographs and journals for a living. These are books one is going to keep for decades and refer back to constantly. The lack of color, the poor navigation and the unlikeliness of any Kindle file lasting ten years makes it a bad product for my needs and the needs of my customers. On a personal note, I just finished re-reading a paperback I had originally bought and read in 1992. I’m not sure that a Kindle book I buy today will be as readable in 2026. That paperback, however, will be.

                There is no way to buy electronic versions of current, popular books without DRM. There is no DRM-free substitute available. Are you saying you don’t buy any business software, video games or iPhone apps because they all have DRM? How long are you going to wait? In the meantime, your opportunity “cost” of not using software and playing games and using apps mounts. If anything software and computer game DRMs have been getting more annoying and restrictive over time, so you may be waiting forever.

                True, getting DRM-free e-books is difficult (although there are some out there, and lots in the public domain). But paper and ink books are a perfectly good substitute for my needs. I continued buying CDs instead of iTunes downloads until they dropped the DRM, which worked out well for me (I got higher quality tracks as a bonus and a hard copy as backup). I’ll do the same here. And no, I don’t buy any video games, all the iPhone apps I have so far are free apps. I do have some software that is restricted but I don’t pay for that, my company does, and I go for the unencumbered programs when an equivalent is available (just like I’m doing with e-books). I’d argue that DRM is dying, not growing stronger. Look at the music market.

                You may be right on Apple not entering the market. So far, they’re playing it smart and instead asking for a piece of everyone else’s business rather than creating their own. But you can substitute many other companies in for Apple. Sony Plastic Logic as just two examples. If the Kindle fails, Amazon will become a reseller for ebooks for those platforms.

                You have your facts confused about the terms of Amazon’s payments to publishers.

                Actually, no, my facts were correct and I specifically limited the statement to subscription products, much like the many journals published by readers of this blog. Amazon keeps 70% of the revenue from any subscription product like a blog or a newspaper. As a journal publisher, there’s no way I’m giving up 70% of my revenue to a reseller. And even worse, they demand the right to republish the content to other devices. Sorry, no, that’s a terrible deal for bloggers and for publishers. As for books, Amazon’s attempts to enforce a $9.99 price for Kindle books won’t work for us either. We sell books with high editorial overhead to a relatively small market and won’t be able to cover our costs at that pricepoint.

                Just what split Apple would seek from book publishers is a complete unknown. As you may have seen in the music and television areas, Apple’s negotiations with big content producers have been fraught with conflict.

                Apple has been very consistent with their cut of the deal, both for music and for apps in the iTunes store. Neither has seen a change in what Apple gets paid on each sale since their inception. The conflicts have been more about the producers wanting flexible pricing and Apple refusing.

                And after all of this, you’re still assuming that Amazon would kill the Kindle program in the face of tough competition from Apple. I just don’t see it. People buying a Kindle device now are already choosing to pay for something that they could do in part for free on an iPhone or iPod Touch. And still it’s selling out every few weeks and analysts are saying it’s a multi-billion dollar revenue stream for Amazon within three years.

                No, I assume nothing. I’m just pointing out that a nascent technology in an unestablished market is a risky investment, no matter how successful it is at first, and no matter who is backing it. Since Amazon refuses to release sales figures, the sell-outs are completely meaningless and could be more about problems in their supply chain than popularity. It may indeed be a smashing success. Or something new could replace it tomorrow. Me, I’ll wait a while. Nothing the Kindle offers is compelling enough for me to make the investment, none of it overcomes the DRM restrictions and there are perfectly serviceable alternatives available. Your needs may differ from mine as does your risk assessment.

                Posted by David Crotty | Jun 30, 2009, 2:51 pm
  5. I’m with David on this one. My Kindle is both convenient and useful for specific tasks, but I don’t trust the licensing arrangement that forms the basis of the their business model. I want to own the physical objects because the ease of use is present in a physical volume in ways that e-Readers of any brand are not.

    Posted by Jill | Jun 29, 2009, 9:40 am
  6. Crotty – Your risk assessments are fine as far as they go, but that’s not all that far. One couldn’t buy most songs in a DRM-free format until publishers freaked out about iTunes a few years ago. eMusic had a very limited selection of recent popular music (though now that everyone sells DRM-free music, they just signed an expanded deal with Sony). It’s obviously always better to buy without DRM but that’s not always an available choice. For example, see almost all major software programs with their horrendous activation schemes, current downloadable TV shows, movies, electronic books, downloadable video games, smart phone software etc.

    I think the proper risk assessment strategy if you wanted current music was to go with the DRM that looked most likely to succeed. When Microsoft PlaysForSure came out, it was a steep, steep underdog to the already dominant iTunes/Apple DRM format.

    So the big FAIL in your argument is when you equate Amazon Kindle with Microsoft PlaysForSure. PFS was just one zig in Microsoft’s zigzagging, ever-changing, incoherent strategy that consistently failed to make any headway against Apple iTunes. It also only worked on a small subset of the total number of MP3 players out in the world (not ipods!). So, yes, buying into that DRM was a big risk.

    Kindle is the dominant ebook format, Amazon is the leading ebook seller and the DRM works not just on the Kindle hardware but also on all iPhones and iPod Touches as well as more devices to come (blackberry and windows mobile support coming soon, supposedly).

    HD-DVD is another interesting case but, again, easily differentiated from the Kindle format as it exists today.

    Posted by Aaron Pressman | Jun 29, 2009, 1:36 pm
    • It’s obviously always better to buy without DRM but that’s not always an available choice. For example, see almost all major software programs with their horrendous activation schemes, current downloadable TV shows, movies, electronic books, downloadable video games, smart phone software etc.

      Which is why it’s often smarter to be patient, to not immediately buy in to a flawed and crippled technology. If you had made the leap previously for Plays-For-Sure, you’d be re-buying all that music now. Which is why I don’t own a Kindle, and won’t unless their business model significantly changes.

      I think the proper risk assessment strategy if you wanted current music was to go with the DRM that looked most likely to succeed.

      Um, no, the smart strategy was to buy your music on cd. This was the alternative to swallowing DRM that you knew could bite you eventually. The same goes for books right now.

      When Microsoft PlaysForSure came out, it was a steep, steep underdog to the already dominant iTunes/Apple DRM format.

      So the company that controlled 95% of the world’s computers, the one that effectively killed off every other OS and browser for a decade was unlikely to succeed? That’s not what most of the pundits were saying, but then again, I shouldn’t quote Rob Enderle and expect any credibility. Seriously though, given that MS’ distributed, licensed approach destroyed most of Apple’s computer business and took over the world, it certainly seemed a plausible plan at the time. It failed, really, because no one could top Apple’s hardware, not because it was a poor scheme.

      Kindle is the dominant ebook format, Amazon is the leading ebook seller and the DRM works not just on the Kindle hardware but also on all iPhones and iPod Touches as well as more devices to come (blackberry and windows mobile support coming soon, supposedly).

      And Betamax was the market leader in its day as well. Temporary popularity does not necessarily mean permanence.

      HD-DVD is another interesting case but, again, easily differentiated from the Kindle format as it exists today.

      Sure, but it’s a good example of how early adopters can get hosed.

      Buying into a DRM-crippled, locked-in technology is a sucker’s game. History has already shown us that you’re better off either being patient, or only investing in non-crippled file types. Right now, buying paper and ink is still a much better value than laying out $500 for the privilege of renting files that may not be useable in a few years. The convenience and portability does not outweigh the risks as far as I’m concerned. If you have money to burn and don’t mind buying and re-buying the same content, good for you. Me, I’m going to wait for an openly licensed, common file type that can be used by different readers from different companies, the equivalent of mp3 or AAC.

      Posted by David Crotty | Jun 29, 2009, 3:28 pm
      • Lots and lots and lots to argue with here. I’ll just take issue with the value equation here. See my blog for other stuff.

        Kindle costs like $350 new or $200 for a used one, includes free wireless Internet access and lets you buy ebooks for new hardcovers at far-below retail prices. Yes, there is some risk – I would call it minuscule or less – but the value is recovered in just a few years. Plus, as Kent so eloquently noted above, ownership of dead tree pulp is overrated.

        Posted by Aaron Pressman | Jun 29, 2009, 9:39 pm
        • As someone mentioned to me, you also avoid the cost of new bookcases. This sounds silly, but we have about three bookcases’ worth of books in boxes — about $450 worth of bookcases would be needed to shelve them in nice style.

          Posted by Kent Anderson | Jun 30, 2009, 1:41 am
    • One more addendum. If Apple announces their rumored tablet device, and uses their iTunes infrastructure to sell books, will the Kindle still seem like a good gamble? Figure that Apple has already sold 50X iPhones/Touches as there are Kindles out there, and their device design is vastly superior to Amazon’s.

      Posted by David Crotty | Jun 29, 2009, 3:39 pm
      • Umm, Kindle app already wildly popular on iPhone (#1 app in book category last time I checked)…and iTunes already selling all kinds of books from competitors, few of which match Kindle in price or selection. I have dealt with this straw man in the past. See http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/?p=390

        Posted by Aaron Pressman | Jun 29, 2009, 9:35 pm
      • Aaron, I think you’re unclear on the definition of “straw man”:
        “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.” A straw man argument is not merely an argument that you disagree with, or find fault with. It’s setting up a false argument and claiming the person you’re debating is espousing this easily defeated line of reasoning. I don’t think that’s what has happened here, and if I’ve misrepresented your argument, I apologize. But you did state that Kindle purchases were less risky because:

        Kindle is the dominant ebook format, Amazon is the leading ebook seller and the DRM works not just on the Kindle hardware but also on all iPhones and iPod Touches as well as more devices to come

        I’m merely pointing out that there was a device that was the market leader for mp3 players before the iPod entered the fray, that Apple, given their current business practices, could easily pull all e-book reading apps from their store (their policy is not to allow any apps that duplicate the software Apple supplies themselves, so no alternative web browsers), and that Apple’s terms under the iTunes store (Apple keeps 30% of revenue) are a lot more favorable for authors and publishers than those being offered by Amazon in some areas (Amazon keeps 70% of blog or newspaper revenues). The risk may be greater than you think, and given the relatively low sales numbers of the Kindle, it’s not like a competitor would have much inertia to overcome.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jun 30, 2009, 10:10 am
  7. I’d rather not live than experience the “freedom” of not owning books!

    Posted by Walt | Jul 9, 2009, 8:13 pm
  8. Put whatever spin on the situation you might wish, but nothing is ever going to replace the printed book (at least not til long, long past the point at which man forgets how to read). Never mind grand considerations like archival potential, I find a plethora of little things that prevent me from even considering those lttle thingy gadgets they call e-readers. I like the way real books feel in my hands, the tactile sensation of manually turning pages, a real book’s durability (put your tablet in a knapsack and sit on it for 200 miles), the ability to pass it on (without utilizing digital technology), the ability to simply open two or more reference works and place them side by side as I work (without the necessity of proficiency in the latest digital means) the way they smell, the feel of good leather. Yeah, I know, I’m a bookaholic, which leads to my next point. I suspect that the vast majority of people who resort to e-readers are just buying into the latest digital gadget (social readers, if you will), they’re not genuine “readers.” Moreover, I’m not sure how advisable it would be for people to stare at a screen for the hours and hours done so by honest to goodness “readers” (that goes double for those who already stare at a computer screen for extended periods of time). E-readers are corvairs.

    Posted by Cankuwicas | Jun 20, 2012, 11:52 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: ‘The freedom of not owning books’: Orwellian defense of Kindle-style DRM | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home - Jun 29, 2009

  2. Pingback: Despite complaints and DRM, Kindle is a good value | Gravitational Pull - Jun 30, 2009

  3. Pingback: The freedom of not owning books | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home - Jul 1, 2009

  4. Pingback: The Future of Non-Ownership Is Now | The Id DM - Nov 16, 2012

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