Brave New (Writing) World: Publisher vs. Retailer vs. Manufacturer

Ebooks are about to become big business. How do I know? Two news items from last week:

None of this would be happening if these businesses didn’t think they could make money selling ebooks. And that’s great news for us here at Book View Cafe, because we launched this enterprise in the belief that ebooks were about to hit the big time.

But those news items also make something else clear: The road leading to easy, universal access to ebooks is still full of potholes.

Print books still have one incredibly important feature that makes them preferable to ebooks: As long as I can get my hands on a copy of a book — and it’s never been easier to find a book, with publishers, bookstores, online retailers, and a myriad of used book dealers offering items for sale — I can read it, no problem.

But with an ebook, I have to make sure I have the right device — or at least the right software — to read it. For example, Amazon’s ebooks can only be read on the Kindle. And while the Kindle is now available as an iPhone app, or for free download to a PC (the Mac version is still coming), the fact still remains that you can’t read an ebook published for the Kindle on your Sony E-reader. Or your Nook.

It’s because of all those different kinds of limits that we offer Book View Press books in a number of formats. We want you to be able to read our books no matter what kind of device you have.

And in the end, that’s why I haven’t bought a Kindle. I don’t want to buy — or even download for free — several different devices so that I can read books from a variety of retailers and publishers. I want to acquire one reading device and to be able to download books onto it from any source of ebooks out there.

I don’t think this is an unreasonable or irrational desire. Nor does it mean manufacturers can’t make and sell different kinds of e-readers. Some people are probably happy reading books on their smartphones. Others will like the iPad, since like the phones it provides a variety of other applications, but it’s large enough to make it easier to read print. Dedicated devices like the Kindle will appeal to others, who only want books on their device. A few are probably fine with reading on their laptops or even desktops.

But nobody wants their book selection limited by the hardware selection. And believe me, writers don’t want readers’ access to their books limited by hardware, either. We want ebooks to be more accessible than print, not less.

That day is coming. It can’t get here too soon.

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The Shadow ConspiracyRocket Boy and the Geek Girls

Nancy Jane has stories in both of the anthologies recently published by Book View Press: “The Savage and the Monster” in The Shadow Conspiracy and “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars” in Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls.

Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available for free here.

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Brave New (Writing) World: Publisher vs. Retailer vs. Manufacturer — 4 Comments

  1. “For example, Amazon’s ebooks can only be read on the Kindle.”

    For the record, this isn’t actually the case, although this myth gets repeated a lot. (This also holds for the Sony reader/store, and the B&N reader/store, and so on ad infinitum).

    If the e-book is ‘clean’ – not infected with Denial of Reading Malware – there’s free, open-source software that will convert any e-book format to any other e-book format quickly and easily without requiring any particular technical ability.

    If the e-book file is infected, there is free, open-source software available that will disinfect it. Some requires no technical ability beyond that required to use Google to find it, some requires that the end-user be able to open a command-line (although there is work being done to create a simple, unified, graphic front-end for people uncomfortable with command lines). Using this software may or may not be legal – the question of removing DRM for personal use hasn’t really been tested even in jurisdictions with fairly draconian laws on the subject – but it does exist.

    NB: To stave off potential outrage, I am not suggesting or advocating using these technologies for anything other than to allow you “to acquire one reading device and to be able to download books onto it from any source of ebooks out there.”
    Authors deserve far more than the crust being tossed their way by the Big Six (who are the only people seriously pushing DRMed e-books), and I’d never dream of depriving them of that crust, stale and mouldy as it might be.

  2. Peter, I’ll amend my comments to observe that there’s no easy way to get a book published for the Kindle for any other reader. I can’t just go to Amazon, buy an ebook, and download it to a Sony reader or in PDF format on my laptop. It takes all of the tech side of my brain just to publish stuff on BVC. When I buy books, I wanna just buy books (preferably without DRM).

  3. Oh, I’m absolutely with you on that – I just want to buy the book and read it without having to worry about this nonsense. If I buy a paper book I don’t need to worry about keeping track of what store I bought it from so I know which pair of reading glasses I need to put on to be able to read it, and I don’t need to jump through hoops if I want to read it in bed instead of reading it on the bus or sitting at my desk and doing something productive in lieu of actually working, and the day can’t come soon enough when the same thing is true of an e-book.

    In the meantime…well, work-arounds exist. Needing to use them is an inconvenience most people can’t be bothered with, and they tease us with visions of what *could* be if we didn’t have to contend with a multiplicity of formats and DRM schemes, but they exist, and people are actively working on making them easier to use.