At least two newsletters arrived in my inbox this week using this stock photo of books. I’ve seen the image used elsewhere, but seeing it twice on the same day made me wonder “Whose books are these?” @ me on Twitter if you know.
The [National Library of the Netherlands] has put a considerable number of illuminated Medieval manuscripts on-line. Reasonably high resolution pages are available not only for viewing but also for download. (I have no idea what the usage rights or fees are: I could see myself using some of these foe lecture slides.)
[National Library of the Netherlands]: http://manuscripts.kb.nl
A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.
[Moleskine is now offering custom photo books](http://www.moleskineus.com/moleskine-photo-books-photo-albums.html). They look quite nice, if also a little more expensive than similar books printed elsewhere. If anyone order one, let me know what the quality is like. I’m intrigued. They’re offering 25% for the time being, which brings their pricing into the realm of competitive.
This is [a troubling story]: a Norwegian woman appears to have run afoul of Amazon.com and they won’t tell her why nor what she had done. Her account has been terminated and all her DRMed content is revoked: the contents of her Kindle are gone.
No matter her innocence nor her guilt, if you read the responses from Amazon: they aren’t going to tell her anything. At all.
I think I’ll stick with paper books for a while. I don’t see Amazon sending thugs to my house to grab them back if we have any kind of squabble.
And that’s the problem with DRM content that remains only licensed to the consumer: you’re renting and you only get to continue to rent at the pleasure of the landlord. You don’t own it.
[a troubling story]: http://www.bekkelund.net/2012/10/22/outlawed-by-amazon-drm/
One year ago today [Paul Carr reviewed Booktrack](http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/04/booktrack-just-a-horrible-idea-really-horrible/). And the world was a better place for his wit.
[Sarah Houghton is breaking up with eBooks](http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/2012/08/ebookssuckitude.html). As a public librarian, she has worked hard to make ebooks not only available in her library but she has also worked to make them work the way they should within the ideal of a library. Given the current landscape, filled with restrictions of all kinds and real lack of clarity, Houghton has decided that she just doesn’t think she can advocate for ebooks in public libraries:
> I’ll continue to support positive steps toward eBook independence like Open Library, Gluejar, the Hathi Trust, DPLA, Project Gutenberg, and projects like those undertaken at the Douglas County Public Library and Califa. However, I’m finished promoting an inferior eBook product to our patrons.
* [Open Library](http://openlibrary.org/)
* [Hathi Trust](http://www.hathitrust.org/)
* [Project Gutenberg](http://www.gutenberg.org/)
Some of the digerati are all atwitter, pun intended, over [the recent rejection of Seth Godin’s book from the iBookstore] 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]) 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] 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]. Oh well.
Carr’s argument is, in part, that the music industry is already doing this: buy the atoms (the physical copy) get the bits (the digital copy). It is also, in part, the sense that many of us have: why do I have to pay twice for the same content?
I am a big fan of both [Pragmatic Programmers][pp] and [O’Reilly][op] because both will bundle bits with atoms, or atoms with bits, for a discount that varies by title. In fact, O’Reilly deserves an especial tip of the hat for their recent move to make buying eBook versions of some of my shelf favorites so easy and so affordable. ($5 for a number of my favorite titles.)
Sometimes I want paper, sometimes I want my phone or my Kindle or my computer. The publishers that give me that choice will quickly become my favorites. (And so I am buying more books from [O’Reilly][op] in particular.)
Nothing too new in [David Kazzie’s report], which is delightfully detailed, that getting in Amazon’s KDP Program was a boon to sales of his ebook. It echoes pretty clearly comments made recently by Marco Arment in his 5by5 podcast that the one, true, way to insure success was to get on the App Store’s recommended or top lists. Historically, this is not unlike being on the Billboard charts or the NYT Bestseller lists, but in this case the list maker is also the distributor, who also happens to be the store owner. To some degree, this is the much sought after disintermediation that some internet advocates have championed, but are we so sure that getting rid of *all* the middle men is a good idea?
Did we learn nothing from the scouring out of middle management that happened in the 80s and 90s that left corporations trying to “manage knowledge” — because it turned out that that was what a lot of middle managers did?
Nice to have. I find that I only really enjoy using SafariBooks Online on the iPad. Their DRM consists, really, in reproducing the printed page in a way that makes it downright unpleasant to work with their books on a computer: that is, the books are not simply transformed into easy-to-use HTML. Instead, you have flippable pages. Even though I am getting more use out of the platform than I ever have before — and I have been paying %10 a month for a while now — I find myself considering canceling because the usage is so limited. (I’m told the mobile interface is the way to go, I will check this out later.)
If I were to set up my own business right now, it would be built around an old-fashioned, mechanical printing press. Minibuk is not doing that, but they are offering people the chance to publish their own books, but real paper books, not e-books. They offer perfect bound, spiral, and saddle-stitched bound books. They are all the size of a small index card, 3 x 5, and intended, from what I can tell of their own promotional materials, as promotional materials themselves. Want people to remember you? Hand them a small book after your talk. It’s an interesting idea.
I like knowing the outcome of things in which I am deeply involved. And so I am trying my hand at designing the basic layout for _Genius Loci_. What amazes me is how much I have forgotten: I paid off my graduate school debt working with Pagemaker, which is InDesign’s antecedent — Adobe having bought the application from Aldus, or acquired Aldus (like they would later acquire Macromedia).
Here are some useful links:
* [A Site about Nothing](http://www.asiteaboutnothing.net/c_indesign.html) has a nice page which gives the basics of getting type to sit on a baseline and capturing it with paragraph styles.