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Why I Won’t Buy Today’s E-Books

A stack of old books

I’m a huge believer in having control over content that I purchase. I refused to use the iTunes Store, which otherwise provided the best online music experience, until the songs were available without the DRM restrictions hitherto demanded by the rights holders. I still prefer the humble DVD[1] to other ways of getting video which are bound by the artificial (and ineffective[2]) restrictions demanded by the rights holders.

I was interested to read Diane Coyle’s assessment on many of the shortcomings of e-books. I’m not a big reader myself, but books, electronic or otherwise, are an important part of society and of culture — and I too share some concerns that today’s e-books systems fail to offer important functionality that analogue books have had for generations.

Sharing, lending and borrowing of paper books is an important part of the whole book experience. Unfortunately, it’s something that is either obstructed entirely by today’s commercial e-book systems, or is an optional (and unavoidably platform-specific) feature that the publisher can refuse to offer on a whim.

Diane Coyle’s observation on this situation:

You can’t share books on a device. I can’t even get e-books I bought on one device onto another device I own, although no doubt one of my domestic IT support staff (sons) could do it for me. I certainly can’t read the e-books my husband downloaded because he’s onto his next e-book on his iPad. E-books torpedo domestic and friendly sharing.

Multiple, competing proprietary standards for reading books, where users have no ability to move their content from one format to another, is a really awful idea. We are inclined to accept this kind of incompatibility in newer media forms until one format wins — Betamax and VHS, HD-DVD and Blu-ray — but there’s never been incompatibility between owning hardback and paperback books, for example!

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