eBooks Are Stuck at Suck

Some of the digerati are all atwitter, pun intended, over [the recent rejection of Seth Godin’s book from the iBookstore][1] because, and this is from an iBookstore reviewer, there are links embedded in the titles of books mentioned in the text that lead to the Amazon bookstore. Now Godin’s essay does not reveal whether the same books are available in the iBookstore or if it was the case that they are not and the only way to link to them was to their listing on Amazon. Now, mind, I also agree that he doesn’t need to link to them at all — surely readers/users could cut and paste titles or authors and search wherever they like — but it could be argued he was offering a convenience. (I also don’t know if the links involved an Amazon promo code which would given him a commission.)

Let’s set all of these considerations aside for a moment and simply admit this: the current state of things has two publishers emerging as dominant in the eBook landscape, Amazon and Apple. Stunningly, these two are also dominant publishers across a broad range of media: music, video, applications. During this transitional period, each is jockeying for at least a substantial share of the market and/or a dominant position in the market, which means they want to give away as little as possible for fear of making it easier on their competitor.

Equally stunning is how the old media companies — both book publishers and the video industry (here I am lumping together both film and television content producers because it’s all becoming video at this point) — are encouraging the two to create walled gardens because they are banking everything on keeping their content locked down in the belief that copying is going to undermine their business. By encouraging the erection and maintenance of walls, however, they are only making it harder on consumers and easier on Amazon and Apple to keep playing hardball with each other, which also trickles down to consumers.

Some brief examples will suffice, I think, to reveal how stupid this situation is:

* In order to read books from both Amazon and Apple on my iPhone, I need to have both their respective apps on my phone, iBooks and Kindle. Not terribly a bad thing, but I also have to keep Stanza and GoodReader around because you never know what file the first two won’t open. If I was given a choice in the matter, I would choose Stanza for eBooks alone or GoodReader for any reading whatsoever. Both are better than the proprietary applications. But I need the proprietary application in order to open the proprietary files.
* In order to read books from Amazon and Apple (or from any non-Amazon vendor like [O’Reilly][3]) on my Kindle, well, I have to download the book and then email it to my Kindle. The only non-Amazon vendor for which this does not suck is [Pragmatic Programmers][3] who are smart enough to e-mail it for me.
* In order to view video from iTunes or Amazon on my iOS device … oh, wait I can’t view any Amazon video on my iOS device. I can only view it through a browser on my Mac OS computer. (To be fair, I don’t know if Android devices also have this problem.) I can, however, view my iTunes videos on Windows PCs — but probably not on the Kindle Fire.

The short of it is this: **too many *either/or*s**. When family and friends ask me about which eBook reader to buy, I really can’t recommend either an iPad or a Kindle right now. In my own household, we have both, but we have been underwhelmed by the fact that my wife and I can’t loan Kindle books to each other, and so we are thinking about merging accounts or simply switching to a new joint account — which would perhaps also allow us to give things to our daughter.

Now, none of this was a problem in the world of physical artifacts: books and DVDs circulated easily in our household. I know content producers are terribly worried about the prospect of me having a copy and then giving someone else a copy, but they also seem terribly excited by the idea that they can force us each to pay for our own copy.

And so my conclusion for now is: they all suck.

**UPDATE**: [Mathew Ingram over at GigaOM wrote much the same thing two days ago][4]. Oh well.

[1]: http://www.thedominoproject.com/2012/02/who-decides.html
[2]: http://oreilly.com/
[3]: http://pragprog.com/
[4]: http://gigaom.com/2012/02/29/how-the-e-book-landscape-is-becoming-a-walled-garden/