Why I don’t like EBook Readers and How I Might Come to Like Them

This post here, by the web administrator of Critters.org (a position that used to be called, back in the days of BBSs and modems, Sysop ; a title I still love) outlines, for me, why it is that EBooks are bound to fail.
DRM is only one aspect of it. Digital Rights Management. That means someone has the ability, by inserting a few lines of code and making a deal with the manufacturer of your EBook reader, to limit what it is you read, based on how it is you acquired it.
So, if you had a friend who had written something you wanted to read, and you downloaded it into your EBook reader in a format other than the select few chosen by your EBook manufacturer, you likely would not be able to read it, because as far as their management software is concerned, you didn’t get this in a manner approved by someone else.
I really don’t agree with that. As a matter of fact, that is why I dislike Apple and iTunes and all things iRelated. I have a bad feeling about them and what their attitudes will be to DRM when they capture a large portion of the market. Who was it that said that someone who is capable of giving you all that you want has just as much power to take it away from you? They were right.
But, on the other hand, the reason how Ebooks will be able to thrive is as follows:

EBook readers for around 20$.

This would make them as affordable as a hardback.

-EBook readers that come with a guarantee against failure.

I carry paperbacks EVERYWHERE I go. I mean everywhere. Ask my wife. The supermarket, the mall, the bathroom, the mall bathroom, the supermarket bathroom, weddings, funerals, banquets, parties, dance clubs, bars, restaurants. Everywhere. If I could give you my wife’s email address, you could send her a question about where it is I have not brought a paperback. Yes. I do have them in the bedroom. No, not during that. The lighting is usually low and it keeps sliding off her back.
And because I take them everywhere (but not during that) they get dropped, kicked, coffee poured on them, beer poured on them, chicken wing sauce spilled on them, mixed drinks thrown at them, they get stains on them. A book can be left out and it dries and you can still read it, providing it’s not totally soiled because of a tremendous FUBAR, in which case, it is my responsibility to replace the book and no one else’s (even if someone threw the drink at me that made me use the book as a shield, because I brought the book in the first place to read instead of leaving it at home and paying more attention to the person who threw the drink at me).
Electronics do not have that ability. If the screen of an Ebook gets smudged, it effects it’s ability to respond to my touches. If an Ebook gets wet, even so much as a single drop of beer or water (likely beer) could screw up the whole works. Nope. Ebooks must, must be as durable as a paperback.

-EBooks with DRM totally removed and EBook readers with a completely open source operating system.

I don’t want anyone telling me what it is I can and cannot read, and that goes for the rest of the world. I don’t care what it is they are reading. I really don’t. It doesn’t mean I have to read it. And the minute I start accepting books by someone else’s criteria (I’m all for book reviews and studying literature, just don’t tell me what’s acceptable to read and what’s not – if I wanna read “Hell, God, it’s me, Margaret”, then damnit, I will) that is the same moment that I lose my intellectual freedom.
I’m reading a book of James Joyce’s correspondence and as I read, I can hear his lilting Irish accent, telling me the toils and troubles he went to so that 1000 copies of Ulysses would see the light of day, not to mention what it took to get into the U.S. A DRM controlled Ebook would have meant he would have to spend his time with electronic countermeasures to get it to work, and even then a push of a button could send a signal to all EBooks and have Ulysses deleted so that it would be as if it didn’t even exist. His Harriet Weaver would have had to been a hacker, not a book store owner. That version of her would own a store called Torvald and Co.

-Affordable and reasonably priced EBooks that can be archived for a small fee or downloaded with the option to replace for a smaller fee.

So, if I download a book and save it to my hard drive, the seller does not have a responsibility to have to back up my purchase on their servers. And, if I want that option, I can pay for that option, at a certain rate a year or a flat rate for the life of the company. Or even, a third party storage facility – a library (call it an argosy) that will store it for me, so I can get it where-ever or when-ever I want.
But in any case, it’s mine, mine, mine. Not yours. Mine. And if I elect to give it to a friend so THEY can read it, then we can perform that transaction like any P2P.

And, one more thing. Self-publishing has always been an expensive game. Even if you can source your suppliers right, it could cost upwards of five thousand dollars to print up a thousand copies of a book that you will have to self promote, all while, for the most part, you’ve got a full time job. Okay, there are those that would say that making that kind of a commitment, sacrificing sleep and the comfort of human contact, is what writing is all about, but if you have to sacrifice everything in hopes of maybe having a sale, what’s the point in the sale. Reasonably priced EBooks along with affordable EBook Readers have the potential of really making a difference. Let me pose a what-if scenario.
What if you were to have a blog and you were to follow all of the rules, post at least every other day and be sure to read other blogs and comment so that they in turn will comment and you generate a blogosphere. That might take a year but not much longer. Let’s say, after that year, you had 215 people in your blogosphere who gave a shit about what you had to say. Enough so that they might pay 1.00$ to read a short story you have written (because it is about a topic that your blogospherians all know about or it has a series of characters that your blogospherians care about). Let’s say that short story was 5000 words. Let’s say that you could manage 500 words an hour when you write your story (that’s 500 words that are edited and good to go) ; that story would take you 10 hours to write. If each one of those 215 people were to spend 1.00$ a month on 5000 of your words, of which you typed at a rate of 500 words an hour for 10 hours, that writer would be making $21.50 an hour.
That’s not a bad wage for a part time job.
And that is just for starters. If you don’t get better and your readers get bored, you suffer from the law of diminishing returns. You’ll have to constantly up your game. As you improve, and word gets around, your blogosphere will grow. If it grows by 10%, then so does your hourly wage for the same amount of work. And then, if things get really rolling, within a year, at 215$ a month, that’s 2580$ you’ve got plus 60 000 words of a short story collection that will be virtually assured of some sales, and with a big enough crowd, you might sell more. Sure, it’s a risk, but not as much of one.

EBooks can do that! They really can! Everyone can afford an EBook and internet connections are everywhere and people won’t begrudge spending a dollar on your story – they have the knowledge they are supporting the arts and are only out a buck if it turns out that, despite them being friends or having followed your blog, that you suck like a hooker who’s past due on her rent.

So, as long as EBooks are affordable, accessible, and we are free to do with them as we please, they will work. However, if they can’t be beer proof, I want someone to come up with a clear plastic sleeve for my Open Source EBook. Like a skin that I can write on and graffiti up so I can be like all the other cool kids.

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