Oh Wired. For a magazine based around technology, they really, really, missed the point in their latest article on ebooks. It’s chock full of ignorant statements and petty complaints, which is pretty disappointing. Not only did they spread misinformation and confusion, there are genuine drawbacks to ebooks that could (and should) have been addressed instead. Read on for Wired’s take, my rebuttal, and my list of eBook drawbacks instead.
Wired says: 1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
My take: If you need a half-finished book to taunt you to finish it, you’re not reading the right books. It shouldn’t be something torturous that you need to be reminded you started. Then, of course, there’s the fact that most eBook applications and readers offer a nice homescreen with the books you’re reading. So if you need a visual reminder, there’s always your virtual shelf to do the taunting.
Wired says: 2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.
My take: Err…yes and no. True, your B&N books can’t live peacefully with your Kindle ones in the same application, but there’s a few things to consider about this. One, the biggest criticism here is if you’re reading on a tablet. It’s more complicated to bring your own books to the major eBook applications, so you need to jump between apps. I don’t think it’s a big deal, but it’s a viable nitpick. Solution: if you’re that obsessed, buy all your books from the same store.
On an eBook reader, it’s far easier. Choose the store or brand you prefer, and if you want to add classics or independent titles, chances are you can add them yourself to the reader even if they aren’t in the branded store. Just about every non-digital rights protected store offers books in every format, for Kindles and NOOKs and beyond. Digital rights management is a bit of a roadblock here, but, again, if you single-source your titles this isn’t a problem. And if you use a NOOK you can add books from other stores like Kobo, all to the device. So the complaint is partially valid and partially hyperbole.
Wired says: 3) Notes in the margins help you think.
Ok, now they’re just reaching, or trying too hard. So they’re mad because you can’t make notes in the margin, or buy used books where someone else made notes in the margin? Huh?
First of all, both the Kindle and the NOOK offer fantastic highlighting and note-taking options. The best part is that you don’t ruin a book with notes all over it, and can change and adjust your notes as you read. Amazon and B&N are both consistently improving their social side as well, so if you want to know if someone else loved that passage as much as you did, you can see it. This is light years better than trying to cram thoughts in the margins or realizing you over-highlighted a passage with permanent yellow marker.
Second of all, is there really that big a market for people to write in books? Non-fiction, sure, but for curling up with a regular fiction title I don’t keep a ballpoint handy. Maybe it’s just me, but aside from buying used books I’ve never had notes in my books nor have I ever written in them.
Wired says: 4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
I understand that because eBooks are tied to digital rights management, and because they seem somewhat ephemeral, they have a “disposable” impression. But in recent history, there is no evidence of a major bookstore shutting down and leaving users without access to their books. The closest we’ve come is with B&N swapping from the eReader format to ePUB, and Sony from their proprietary format to ePUB. In both cases it was an overall smooth process, and most consumers didn’t experience a difference. Then you have Borders shutting down their eBookstore, which by all reports has been an easy transition to Kobo.
So where did this idea of disposable come from? Because someone COULD shut down an eBookstore? Sure, and Apple COULD just down the App Store, or iTunes Music Store. In theory, yes, eBooks are disposable. But you can download the individual files to your hard drive and archive them if you’re concerned about that, plus there are, ahem, “ways” of liberating files from any particular store or digital rights management scheme. The best I can determine is that this comes from Amazon’s “1984” debacle, which they’ve already promised will never happen again, and they’ve taken steps to insure that. Aside from that, this just seems like a whisper of an idea that’s taken root for no reason in reality.
I agree that pricing is out of control, but disposable…nah.
Wired says: 5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.
I have only this to say: Wired has clearly never had to move a book collection across several states, or lugged 10 books on vacation. I’ll invest in some nice artwork and keep my kindle, thanks.
Now, as I said before, here are what I would list as my major eBook drawbacks/roadblocks.
1) Digital rights management: It’s a huge mess. Right now there are four major systems; Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), B&N DRM, Amazon DRM and Apple’s Fairplay DRM. Some devices can read ADE plus their own (NOOK), some can just read ADE (Kobo), some just their own (Kindle). Then there’s the non-DRM’d sources like Project Gutenberg and Smashwords. Worst of all, no one seems to have the influence or the inclination to break ranks and offer unprotected eBooks. Until then, we’re going to be juggling fragmentation.
2) Agency pricing: Hate. Hate hate hate hate hate. It eliminated price competition and is anti-consumer, and as long as it exists it’s albatross and a huge, painful roadblock to a better eBook world.
3) Book availability: Inventory has improved dramatically. But there are still titles missing (Harry Potter) and books that are delayed in eBook form. The games need to stop, and publishers need to elevate eBooks to a level of respect befitting the biggest area of growth they have, rather than trying to strangle it.
So that’s my take on what Wired got wrong, and where they missed a chance to explore some REAL shortcomings. What do you think? Is Wired right? Sound off below!