Posted by Bob Jonkman on March 5th, 2009
Lately, there’s been lots of online hullabaloo about Kindles and the death of newspapers and journalism.
Dave at Wordsworth made me think about this, and like an old curmudgeon I disagree with everyone about everything.
E-books are not going to be the death of journalism, but they’re another nail in the coffin for newspapers. Regardless of what I’m reading or reading it on, someone still has to write it. There always need to be authors, journalists and bloggers. What I don’t necessarily need is another book, magazine or newspaper to clutter up all my horizontal surfaces.
Journalism isn’t dead, and Marshall McLuhan was wrong — the medium is irrelevant.
Neither are fiction and non-fiction dead, but the sales of physical books will probably continue to decline while the sales of e-books increase. Partly it’s because e-books are displacing physical books, and partly it’s due to long tail effects. Digital books won’t be pushed by your bookstore’s favourite sales force, and so a single title’s sales may well fall off when there’s so much other choice. But more titles can be published: Printing on demand is becoming cheaper, and the vanity press will likely be making a comeback. The total sales of all books are likely to be greater, since many more books can be published at next to zero cost, especially with digital-only titles, distributed online.
So why will I never get a Kindle? It’s not the form factor, although I’d like an e-book reader I can snuggle up with. Somebody needs to mash up a plush toy, a Chumby, and a Nintendo DS (the hinge and double screen would make it a great book analogue!) No, what completely turns me off the Kindle is the DRM, or Digital Restrictions Management. Unlike a real book, you cannot loan a Kindle e-book to a friend. There are no Kindle used e-book stores, and there will never be Kindle e-book libraries. All the convenience I take for granted about books don’t exist on a Kindle.
Unlike the United States, Canada does not have a “right of first sale” in its copyright law. Fortunately, this means authors or publishers cannot legally prevent the re-sale of a book. But with DRM they can technically prevent the re-sale of an e-book. This puts authors and publishers in a position above the law. They are now the ones who get to decide what we can and cannot read, at least on their devices.
So, no Kindle for me, and I’m not the only one.
The other Kindle hoopla has been the Authors Guild vs. Text-To-Speech.
[T]he guild is asserting is that authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books. Later the Authors Guild tried to backpedal :
The remarks have been interpreted by some as suggesting that the Guild believes that private out-loud reading is protected by copyright. It isn’t, unless the reading is being done by a machine. And even out-loud reading by a machine is fine, of course, if it’s from an authorized audio copy.
This is completely erroneous; for an e-book there is no difference between an “audio copy” or a “visual copy” . Once I have a legal copy of an e-book all the author’s rights have been satisfied, and it makes no difference if I consume that e-book with my eyes, my ears or with my fingers on a Braille device. It’s exactly the same bits in the e-book. Fortunately, the Author’s Guild has been held up to ridicule on this. Sadly, Amazon immediately acquiesced, and will be adding still more DRM to prevent us from using text-to-speech! Fortunately, Amazon has been held up to ridicule on this, too.
So, no Kindle for me. And it doesn’t look like any e-book reader manufacturer will get it right — all the other e-book readers have been crippled with DRM too, and e-book stores have to sell at least four different, incompatible formats. Even worse, the DRM is incompatible with itself. If your e-book reader breaks, you won’t be able to use the e-books you’ve already bought on a replacement device. Some e-book readers are keyed to the credit card number you use to buy the e-book, so if you change credit cards you won’t be able to buy new e-books for that reader.
So, no Kindle for me. I’ll stick to real newspapers, real magazines and real books.
And yes, Dave, I’ll still rely on knowledgeable people to read books (or e-books) and recommend them to me. There’s nothing like someone else’s fresh perspective as an introduction to a new author or genre. The problem with Amazon’s recommendations is that they get you into a rut — if I buy science fiction I’m unlikely to get a recommendation for a mystery. One of the highlights of visiting a bookstore is talking to the staff to get their views on what they’ve read. That in-person interaction is a valuable service you can’t get online.