Wired Misses the Point on eBooks

Wired Misses the Point on eBooks

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!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

5 Comments on "Wired Misses the Point on eBooks"

  1. As another eBook fanatic, I have some further comments, if I may, Carly?

    First, I think that Wired has already proved that they don’t understand digital delivery as well as they think they do. The Wired online reading app for the iPad is, honestly, atrocious. So they’re definitely in one of those glass houses and stones situations, if you ask me.

    Also, I think not being able to keep all your eBooks in one app is a legitimate complaint, and more than a nitpick. If you buy a (hardcopy) book from B&N, and one from Amazon, you can put them on the same durn shelf; you don’t have to put them in separate rooms, or anything. Also, when it’s time to read a book, it’s a pain in the tuckus to try to remember which eReader it’s on. I have three that I use regularly, and another half-dozen that I use when I have to. I think this issues needs to be solved, honestly. I know the various lame DRM schemes make it difficult, but I still think you need *one* place to go to find your books. (My idea is another app that keeps a full listing of all your books, and then opens the appropriate reader, but that’s just me.)

    So there you have it.

  2. First off, I knew you would have something to say, I remember you complaining about the iPad app before.

    Second, I think the “all ebooks in one spot” issue is a complaint if you a) exclusively read books on a tablet, b) have no loyalty to any store, and c) don’t use calibre or another desktop management application. If you use a dedicated ebook reader, all the books you purchase that are compatible with that reader, whether or not they came from the affiliate store, are on your device.

    Tablet users get left out in the cold a bit, but if that’s a serious issue for you, use a generic third party app like Aldiko on Android or one of the generic readers on iOS and buy from stores like Kobo that use Adobe DRM. It means you don’t get to shop at the Kindle store, but with pricing being relatively flat across the board, you’re not losing out, and Kobo does offer coupons when they can for non-agency titles. I don’t mean to be flip, but it’s a very specific complaint that has a few solutions; the fact that the solutions aren’t universally applicable doesn’t mean they’re not valid.

    And flat pricing means there’s very little incentive for someone to shop around, especially if you’re able to import your own books (which I think you can do with the Kindle app now, though I could be mistaken). Plus, again, all of this assumes you keep your books on a tablet exclusively AND shop around extensively for ebooks, two things that are far from universal.

    It would be great if there were one “universal” application, but that’s far off…in the meantime there are ways to mitigate the irritation of it not existing, and frankly it’s a fairly petty complaint compared with bigger issues like poor scans and badly formatted ebooks, which sneak through from all stores at some point and are more apt to irritate all users, and not just users in specific cases.

    As for DRM, stay tuned…I have quite the rant building up in me about it.

  3. Pick a platform and you can keep all of your books on that shelf. Right now, it looks like Kindle will be around for a long, long tome, and I suspect that nook and Apple’s iBooks will as well. Even if you have multiple apps; seriously, how many books do your read more than once? How many more than twice? I *rarely* read a book more than once. Second, how useful is it to have all of my books in one place (thinking “real” books here) when I am away from that place and want to read something? Not very useful. If I have my phone with me, I have access to all of my ebooks in such an “emergency”. I went on vacation to Europe for a month three years ago, and carried several books with me. It wan’t all that useful to have all of my books in one shelf for the beginning of that trip, that’s for sure. (I left behind the ones that I finished as I finished them, making lugging baggage a bit easier on the back as time passed.)

    I guess that part of it for me is that I have a summer home as well, so having all of my real books in one place does not help me one bit. It’s a lot easier to lug a dedicated e-reader and/or my phone for weekends at the lake house than to carry a book or two for the weekend.

    DRM? Again, since I read a great majority of my books only once, I don’t care. As a matter of fact, I have a few “real” books that I read a long, long time ago that I recently wanted to re-read. Well, they have disappeared from my shelf over time – my shelf is only so big, after all – so I had to buy them again. I just need the DRM to work for the (short) length of time that it takes me to read it. To me, DRM is the unfortunate price that we have to pay for those among us who cannot be trusted to buy what is not protected at a fair price, and I figure if books were sold unprotected they would probably cost far more, in order to recover from the honest among us the revenue lost to those with more flexible ethics. I would rather have a world where authors are compensated well enough to continue to create work worth reading, with their work protected by DRM, rather than a world where there is not enough revenue and so fewer titles worth reading – which, I fear, would be the result of unprotected work. As for a standard DRM platform, that suggests to me a platform that dominates the market, as iTunes dominated music when all songs were protected. That may already be happening (I suspect with Kindle). I think I’m fine with what exists now so long as the title I buy legitimately can be read when I get to them. So, again, pick your platform and then you do not worry about DRM – because your choice has been made for you.

    An unfinished book is a constant reminder to finish it? Um, how is this different from “real” books? Also, can you you not archive books from your virtual shelves so that they no longer bug you by their presence?

    The agency model I seriously don’t care about. First, I have secured several books for less than the old $9.99 fixed price. Second, they are still cheaper than “real” books. If they are not, then I have to decide if the utility of having them on an easy-to-carry, always with me device is worth the small upgrade in price. Sometimes I do, sometimes I do not. This is just like the old “real” book days – a book newly released in hardcover costs more at release than t does six to twelve months later when it is released in softcover. If you know that an e-book’s price will fall as you wait longer; well, you wait as long as you must until it reaches the price that you think is its true value to you. Meanwhile, there are many of thousands of books that you could be reading instead while you wait for the price to fall. Or, if you cannot wait, then you pay more – simply because the book is worth more to you. I always thought it silly that better books were priced the same as drivel, to be honest.

  4. Ah, you know me so well, CarlyZ!

    Right now I’m busily stripping the DRM from all my old eReader books so that I can import them into another reader–that will help alleviate some of the pain. And I don’t read only on my iPad; I actually read more on my iPhone than on the iPad. (And before that the HTC Universal, and before that the Tapwave Zodiac . . .)

  5. Um. Well, first of all, all three “main” eBook reader software apps have pros and cons, none of which puts it out in front. For example, both Kindle and iBooks let you look at WikiPedia entries, but Kindle does it “in app”, whereas iBooks doesn’t. On the other hand, iBooks has most of their stock in ragged-right (i.e., not fully justified, i.e. the text doesn’t get forced all the way out to the margin, giving you those weird wide words and strange spacings you sometimes see), while Kindle doesn’t. Etc. I could put together a perfect eBook reader, but it would have pieces of both (plus some extra). For more, read my earlier rant on the topic.

    My current preference is iBooks, but as CarlyZ pointed out, their library isn’t as big as for the Kindle (the ragged-right thing really bothers me on my iPhone), so sometimes I have to get stuff from Amazon because Apple doesn’t have it.

    And to answer your question: often. All the time, in fact. I’m currently rereading The Stand for the umpity-umpth time. I’ve re-read almost all the books in my 200 or so eBook library. That’s just the way I am.

    Also, as Carly alluded, I’m one of those rare people who don’t read hardcopy any more. If I can’t find it in eBook form, I hardly ever read it. The last book I read in hardcopy was Peter Mayle’s “Hotel Pastis” . . . last summer.

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