My opinion, for what it’s worth

Barnes and Noble announces digital bookstore and Plastic Logic partnership.My opinion, for what it’s worth:

Big fat whoop.

The store isn’t all that, there’s still YET ANOTHER form of book and DRM to deal with, there’s no transparency as to whether ebook readers are buying a license of limited download (aka a “book rental”) or if they own the title themselves.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the BN digital bookstore, either, since it comes with 500,000 public domain titles. I could link to it from Smart Bitches and proclaim myself a giant digital bookstore using that logic. I’m not the only one whose response to the BN digital bookstore is, “Meh:” analysts weren’t that excited either. (Thanks to The Real Sarah W for the link).

While I’m ranting, let me offer my Chinese fortune cookie assessment of the following sentence from the AP article: “The company also says that as part of its digital effort, it will be the exclusive content provider for the new Plastic Logic eReader device.”

Crack your cookie and listen up: NOTHING GOOD comes of the words “exclusive content provider.” Not in an economy that is all about predatory bargain shopping.

As for the device, I saw the Plastic Logic demo at Digital Book 2009 in February. It was, in a word, HUGE. BIG. And Flat. And I could fit it in exactly 2 of the 5 bags I rotate through during the year. 8.5 x 11 as a size doesn’t work for me, and with the slimness factor, it’s begging to be cracked in my handbag.

Seriously, I have to ask digital book reader manufacturers: HAVE YOU EVER LOOKED IN A WOMAN’S HANDBAG? ANY SIZE? We’re packed for Siberian emergency, most of us, and a thin plastic reading device with a scratchable screen and a chippy thin case is not going to do it. I returned the Kindle II: Matzoh Edition for that reason. And more than a few other people had similar fragility problems with their devices.

AND SPEAKING OF the Kindle: Anyone miss the Orwellian slurp of Orwell books from Le Kindle? As Farhad Manjoo says:

Most of the e-books, videos, video games, and mobile apps that we buy these days day aren’t really ours. They come to us with digital strings that stretch back to a single decider—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or whomever else….

Now we know what the future of book banning looks like, too.

I don’t actually have a problem with Amazon removing content that was published without the permission of the rights holder. But I do have a huge stonking problem with (a) removing the material from the devices without informing people first and (b) doing so without addressing the problem of how the unauthorized copies were published in the first place. Amazon needs to clean house and shouldn’t start by cleaning other people’s Kindles.

It’s embarrassing, frankly, to be so devoted to digital reading when I am in fact advocating that people pay retail prices for books that aren’t actually theirs, unless they break the law by cracking the DRM. And Amazon’s completely un-stellar handling of the situation underscores the key point that ebook readers need to know:

Fred Von Lohmann, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, [said] the incident … highlighted the gap in understanding about rights in the digital world and the real world. “There’s an enormous difference between buying a book and buying a tethered media device. And this incident really underscores that fact. Consumers carry with them analog expectations.”

See above, for Sarah’s fortune cookie phrase of the day: NOTHING GOOD comes of the words “exclusive content provider.”

In the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring the reviews from the Sony Test Drivers and some of their questions from the email loop I created from them. I’ve learned so much watching inexperienced ebook readers of different technological comfort levels teaching each other to navigate the setup and initial use of the Sony Reader, and remain convinced that there is no reader group more suited to digital reading than the avid reader of romance fiction.

Fortune cookie for digital reading device and book manufacturers: We are the readers you are looking for. Quit creating additional obstacles for us, and get out of our way. (Please.)

 

Categorized:

General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Karla says:

    The Plastic Logic wouldn’t suit my style either, but that’s because my “handbag” is my back pocket, which has my wallet & maybe an ipod. I refuse to cart anything else around with me.

  2. 2
    Sandia says:

    I was about to break the bank and go for the DX because I read the newspaper on my Kindle – but the size stopped me.  After asking around various DX owners they seemed to all say it was about the size of a spiral bound notebook – can’t do that in most of my handbags.  So I’m staying with my K1 for now.

    I am curious though on the subject of the Digital Rights to the ebook purchaser.  I mean, there are no ebook retailers that really “sell” you a copy of the book for you to own and pass on like a real dead tree book right?  All the DRM platforms have some sort of licensing agreement that limits you to reading it on a limited number of devices or a limited number of downloads.  I think this is just a new technology dichotomy that we are living with – though people don’t really understand.

    I had a problem with how Amazon handled deleting the files from people’s Kindles without a better explanation – but hopefully they’ve actually learned from it.

  3. 3
    Lisa J says:

    I’m not very excited about the Barnes & Noble announcment because they do not offer books I can read on my Sony e-reader.  WTF?????

    As far as Amazon goes, I buy most of my books from Samhain, Elloras, Loose-Id, and so on, so I own my books.  No one is going to take them back.  I would hate the idea of someone sneaking in and taking a book from me, refund or no refund.

  4. 4
    Jennifer says:

    The Slate.com article you link to presents a (dare I say it?) Orwellian future of censorship if stores like Amazon can just delete books from your library.  Very creepy.

    My neighbor was going to buy herself a Kindle for her birthday, read about them deleting the books, and is now trying to decide what she will buy herself instead.  No Kindle for her anymore.

    clearly89==clearly Amazon is only using 89 of its collective brain cells when they make mistakes like this one and the “amazon fail” debacle of a couple months ago.

  5. 5

    The Barnes and Noble thing didn’t make me jump much either.  Too little, too late, and at the end of the line.  It’s not innovative in any way.

    Amazon, for all they’re doing wrong, are at least trying to be innovative.  The most depressing thing about what they’re doing, though, is that they’re making people aware of ebooks in a negative way.  I know that I’ve spent years advocating for ebooks amongst friends, and Amazon just killed all that good faith overnight.  Anything I say now has to start with “Yeah, but…”  Not good.

  6. 6
    Erica says:

    I am interested in what BN will do to compete with Amazon, but at this point, no reader has thrilled me to the point that I will be getting a new one.  I still have Kindle 1 and I am happy with it for the mostpart.  What I am not happy about is Amazon’s continued failures in learning how to deal with a digital market.  They need to take a look at Apple.  While I feel that DRM in general is a bane to the marketplace, I also feel that you would never seen music getting ripped off you an iPod.  This is a new market with new needs and Amazon should be putting themselves out there as an example of how to do things right.  They should not have our faith wavering because they don’t yet know how to handle issues that face the digital medium.

  7. 7
    Sarah W says:

    What, so I’m the Fake Sarah W?  :^)  Maybe I should call myself Library Sarah?

    And I agree with the assessment of Plastic Logic’s size and delicate nature—-our library was sent some promo literature from B&N, and quickly decided that they wouldn’t last two weeks in the hands of our patrons.  One person forgets and jams it in our book return and it’s all over: Crunch

    And personally, I might as well just keep reading off my Netbook, which is actually smaller (if thicker), fits in my shoulderbag, and can more easily survive the overcrowded conditions in there.

  8. 8

    I’m of two minds about the B&N news. Part of me is happy that there will be another place to sell my ebook, but on the other hand, I’m seriously not a fan of proprietary formats and devices, or really of shelling out several hundred dollars for a device that does only one thing. So I fear I won’t be buying any of the B&N ebooks. The Stanza store on Fictionwise will be getting my business instead, in no small part because there are supposed to be no limits on the number of times you can download a purchase, and I can stick backup copies on my computer as well as my shiny new iPhone.

  9. 9
    Sherri D. says:

    I still have a huge problem with the pricing of e-books.  Why am I paying full retail price for something that is basically a string of info.  Yes, they should recoup some of their costs, but if they took out the cost of the physical production of a book – there should be a discount there somewhere.  Yes, it would be nice to have a mobile source for lots of books, but I like my books to sit on my shelf too.

    And, because I don’t have enough money to buy all the books I want to read, I get most of my books from the library – for free.  Once a reader comes out that allows free downloads (that would self-delete after a period of time) then I will probably go for it.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    What, so I’m the Fake Sarah W?  :^)  Maybe I should call myself Library Sarah?

    Ha- no, you’re The Awesome Sarah.

    Sarah Weinman sat next to me at the NYU Publishing Institute panel on book bloggers, and with four total Sara(h)s and two Sarah Ws, I decided she was the real one, since she’s been book blogging longer than I have.

    Library Sarah is kind of sexy, though. Rwor.

    Why am I paying full retail price for something that is basically a string of info.  Yes, they should recoup some of their costs, but if they took out the cost of the physical production of a book – there should be a discount there somewhere.

    The truth is, the actual production cost is not that different between print and digital. The editing, formatting, and development of the book itself costs about the same. And formatting it for digital distribution vs. print also costs about the same. The difference is not that much.

    What bothers me is not so much the lack of actual matter vs. digital data but the fact that I pay a price and don’t actually OWN THE BOOK. I own a limited license to a limited number of downloads, unless I break the law and crack the DRM. We don’t pay $9-14 to RENT a movie. We pay that much to OWN the movie. So it should be with ebooks.

  11. 11
    ghn says:

    I must say that I am deeply unexcited about this. If this means another DRM-infected format locked to one particular tech-toy, I can only say that I am quite satisfied with the tech-toys I already have, thank you very much. In addition, since I do not live in the US, anything on their website that I might find of interest, I am asked to go look for elsewhere. Perhaps in the torrents?
    As for B&N opening a new e-bookstore – they _have_ one already. Fictionwise. And I can only say that since they took over, the quality of the site has gone down. Fewer Multiformat books, and more books infested with DRM is the most obvious and most irritating indicator for a long-time customer. Yes I HATE HATE HATE DRM!
    And since the new owners took over, there have been no questionnaires, such as they _used_ to have. Perhaps the new owners are afraid to find out just _what_ their customers have to say about the changes?

  12. 12
    joykenn says:

    Ok, I was impressed when I read the press release UNTIL I actually went to the store.  HATE that they’ve got yet another format with DRM to confuse us with.  Also, found out that Plastic Logic is all set to contract with AT&T for a 3 G network delivery so they do plan on going head to head with Amazon’s Kindle (http://www.slashgear.com/plastic-logic-to-use-att-3g-network-for-ebook-reader-2249993/). 

    Also have you ever heard of Attributor?  Evidently they contract with publishers—John Wiley is the latest—to search out unlawful use of their author’s content on the web.
    (http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6672542.html?nid=2286&rid;=#CustomerId&source=title).  Surely with these kinds of efforts going on it isn’t necessary to lock everything up with DRM so that we don’t own what we bought.  What if I switch from Kindle 1 to Kindle 2?  Can I take my books with me?  Is that why they don’t have an SD card in the new one?  Sigh!  I’m not going to buy my keeper books in digital unless I know that I actually OWN them and can transfer them to another devise or electrocute them if I wish!!!  (Finally I’m an early adopter and this is what I run into.)

  13. 13
    Myriantha Fatalis says:

    Quoth Sandi:

    I mean, there are no ebook retailers that really “sell” you a copy of the book for you to own and pass on like a real dead tree book right?

    Wrong!  Check out Baen Books, as well as the “multiformat” books on Fictionwise.  DRM-free, available for use with a number of programs/readers—usually including Kindle (for all you weirdos who enjoy lugging around a chunk of plastic the size of a paperback, that can’t be used for anything besides reading books).

  14. 14
    Amy! says:

    Myriantha said:

    Quoth Sandi:

    I mean, there are no ebook retailers that really “sell” you a copy of the book for you to own and pass on like a real dead tree book right?

    Wrong!  Check out Baen Books, as well as the “multiformat” books on Fictionwise.  DRM-free, available for use with a number of programs/readers—usually including Kindle

    And beat me to it.  More than that, though (although I adore Baen, and I’m growing fonder of Fictionwise).  For technical books, O’Reilly; for (probably the same 500K) public domain books from Google Books (epub format) the Sony Bookstore (as long as you’re on Windows, at the moment).

    I have an “eBooks” category in my bookmarks; these are only DRM free, because I haven’t yet decided that reading my favorite authors is worth: 1) the cost of paying for their books again, and 2) the time it would take to break Adobe’s inept DRM on a platform other than Windows.  For the favorites already being published by people that don’t think I’m a criminal because I want to read what they publish, I’m getting pretty well bought-up (paying that extra cost so I can re-read favorites; finding new books).

    I really wish that there were an open catalog, somewhere, of publishers/bookstores who don’t hate their customers or use DRM, plus formats.  My eBooks category for bookmarks includes a sub-folder for publishers/bookstores who don’t DRM, but also don’t publish epub (I have a Sony PRS-700).  It doesn’t include a sub-folder for publishers who do epub but use DRM; I don’t care, and won’t consider it until I run out of stuff I can own and back up as I need (and have the time to break the DRM comprehensively).

    Also, quoth SB Sarah:

    The truth is, the actual production cost is not that different between print and digital. The editing, formatting, and development of the book itself costs about the same. And formatting it for digital distribution vs. print also costs about the same. The difference is not that much.

    Uh.  What?  So, paper, ink, collation, binding costs are “not that much?”

    Really?

    So … the difference in cost between mass-market, trade, and hard has nothing to do with cost of manufacture, and most of the difference in retail price is profit?

    Really?

    Now I really, really, really wanna see an example of marginal cost from a publisher (broken down for MM, trade, and hard, and for whatever the common print runs are).  Plus the overheads (editing, formatting, development, art).  Royalties, since they’re stated as percentages (of gross?  net?) obviously are neither overhead nor marginal cost (20% royalty would suggest that the price must be, at minimum, 125% of the marginal cost, plus amortization of the overhead over the print run).  Advances that don’t “earn out” are harder to figure.  Any chance of a publisher actually showing us some real numbers?

    Amy!

  15. 15
    Gary says:

    In the Yahoo Group associated with Fictionwise.com, a wholy owned subsidiary of BN, members are asking what the announcement means to them. I, for example, have purchased 294 eBooks as of tonight (The latest, this evening, being Rachel Vincent’s Prey and a couple of old John DeChancie SF novels). I have the “one-click” Harlequin and Silhouette choices for March and April in my wish list.

    I only buy DRM’d books if I have the means to remove the DRM. I have been burned by Amazon when they stopped selling PDF files and by dying computers and disks. Now I make backups, which most DRM’d files don’t allow. (Or they don’t work when you do.)

    So the big question is whether Barnes and Nobles plans to take all their Fictionwise and Ereader.com inventory and make it exclusive to BS… er, BN. Folks who assumed that BN only had those public domain titles apparently aren’t aware of the subsidiaries.

  16. 16

    Baen books, absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them.  The newest hardback for $24 is available for download for $6.  How can you not love them?  Plus they service all types of readers including my beloved Sony.  They even offer RTF for those who don’t fit in any category listed.

    I don’t want another reader.  I want all these companies to GET IT.  Make the books available to all your customers.  And that one is way too big and fragile.  My Sony fits in my jeans pocket, my mini purse, my hand.

    Thanks, but no thanks B&N.

    Dead77?  Yeah, I’ll be dead and over 77 before I fall for this one.

  17. 17
    KarenF says:

    I’m unexcited about all ebook readers, just because I prefer books on paper.

    However, I’m not sure that B&N expects to sell that many of their plastic logic devices.  The sales push is that their ereader program is a free download for:  iphones, blackberries, laptops, and desktops (Mac and PC), and that you should be able to transfer whatever you’ve downloaded from one medium to the next (so you can read your book on the blackberry on the commute, and then pick it up later at home on your laptop).

    So if you have an iphone, blackberry, or a computer, you could grab the ereader program for free, then test out their system for basically the price of whatever book you decide to down load.  The system may still suck, but you’d only be out the price of the book.

  18. 18
    clew says:

    I dearly want a Plastic Logic but not for fiction; I read lots and lots (but not enough) of science papers, formatted as .pdfs on either letter or A4 paper, with fine-lined graphs and small print: no scrolling and resizing, thank you. I think the Plastic Logic was originally designed for this, and hope they aren’t scuttling themselves by trying to be third in a market behind Amazon and Sony!

    If I’m not carrying around something big enough for A4, I read Project Gutenberg books off my cellphone.

  19. 19
    jump higher says:

    I think it’s cool that Barnes and Noble is going digital.  I like reading no matter where or how.

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