Thursday, March 11, 2010

The truth about "open"

by Michael

One of my favorite websites, Gizmodo, has a great piece up about e-book interoperability. As they point out, what Steve Jobs meant when he said “open” isn’t exactly what you and I might think of as open. The short story is that iBooks books will only work on the iPad (and I’m guessing the iPhone and Macs, at least eventually), just as Kindle books only work on the Kindle. That certainly isn’t my idea of open. And it’s not great for publishing, either, when people can’t take the books they think they’ve bought with them. It’s not the expectation, and I fear it encourages piracy. What do you think?


  1. Elsewhere, they've said you won't be able to move books from your iPad onto your iPhone, or vice versa.

    And, of course, they snuck a clause into the deal with publishers saying that they reserve the right to charge what they like for ebooks.

    The iPad deal is a terrible one for everyone involved except Apple.

    The Pink Floyd case in the UK might have some implications for publishing, though. The ruling seems to establish that online sales aren't covered by existing contracts unless they are explicitly mentioned.

  2. Anon 11:39 - Can you point me to where they've said you won't be able to move books from your iPad to iPhone? I haven't seen that.

    - Michael

  3. Sounds like "open" needs to be defined a bit more clearly.

  4. Hmmm...I was leaning toward the iPad, more for journals/magazines than books, but this might sway me against. I've had enough issues with the lack of transferability of songs bought on iTunes, even when replacing older devices.

  5. If iPad books can only be read on the iPad, bah, that makes it much less interesting to me as an ebook platform. Now, this might not be quite the same thing as whether the iPad will run the various readers that the iPhone does, i.e., Stanza, eReader, the B&N app, the Kindle app--if the iPad still runs all of those, then the books available to those apps should be available to the device.

    But iPad-specific books aren't interesting to me. I don't need an ebook to be a multimedia experience, so I don't care if the screen has all sorts of fancy clickable or tappable things on it; really, I just want the words. And I want the words in a format that I can transfer at my leisure to and fro across all the devices I own.

  6. I'm not paying for something I don't "own". By my standard. Not someone else's. (But I'd love to have an interactive book for iPad. teehee.)

  7. Open should mean that any device can be used to read any e-book. There has to be a mechanism for both the device maker (here, Apple) to receive a small royalty payment from the site where an e-book was purchased and downloaded (here, Amazon). Myopia in restricting a device to a certain formatted e-book purchased from a certain site = the death knell for that device. I refuse to have more than one e-book reader. For me, right now, it's Kindle.

  8. Yeah, that's the Apple definition of "open", which falls along the same lines as their definition of "different".

    Favoring Apple to spite Amazon is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Without a truly interoperable DRM system (which, at this point means DRM-free) customers are still going to suffer from device lockin. This situation will always leave customers beholden to the manufacturer or content portal and leave the author and publisher working for someone else.

  9. FYI: The iPad can run the iPod Kindle application and B&N has announced a nook reader for the iPad. Since the B&N format is epub, that means it should read just about any ebook.

  10. As for Piracy -- the rise of the eBook is going to make book piracy explode in a way that it has never done before. There will be Billions in losses on top of the approximately $3 Billion the industry loses to book piracy now.

    In the end, the question becomes -- will there be more legitimate readers/purchasers than the number of people who use their iPad to get everything for free?

    The other issue that I don't see Agents addressing is the disappearance of the mid-list. With publishers cutting out mid-list authors, the rise of the eBook/iPad/nook/Kindle gives those authors a chance to take their books directly to the public without bothering to get rejected by an Agent or dropped by a Publisher.

    You have to remember -- 5,000 copies of a book is crud for a publisher, but it represents $10,500.00 to $17,500.00 directly to an author who skips the big publisher and puts his book out on the Kindle for a discount price. ($2.99 or $4.99 respectively.) A few authors have been doing that with smash success.

    Would you write your book and publish it yourself for $17,500.00? I think the answer is "Yes!" for most of those talented mid-listers who have recently been dropped by their publisher.

    If eBooks catch on, it represents sweeping change in the way people read and might represent sweeping change in the entire publishing industry.

  11. Unfortunately, I think piracy is going to be a problem no matter what. A crit partner has her book available in a couple ebook formats and it's still posted on some sites illegally.
    I'm guessing that those who have an ereader probably only have one. So, when they go anywhere, it won't be an issue if they can't put it on their Mac or their iphone or their PC. It's easier to carry an ereader. Yes, it would be nice to move the files around, but I guess that's just not where things are at yet in epub world.
    Still, I wonder what happens when someone buys a different device. Will those who switch from the Kindle to the iPad be willing to purchase their library all over again? If we judge how copyright works with movies, there wouldn't be a way to legally copy and convert books we've purchased. Again, guessing here.
    Being a total geek, I'm fascinated by this topic. The world of technology makes us all want to put things in organized, well-functioning places. We want it to solve all of our problems. Yet, it doesn't always work that way, especially in an emerging market where vendors are struggling for dominance and standards.
    I'm old-school when it comes to reading books, but I can't deny that books seem to look more like real books on the iPad. It might be enough to sway me in the future. But, I'd still read regular books, too.
    Great post!

  12. I don't own a Kindle, but I pined for one when I read "The Children's Hospital" by Chris Adrian. As I read, I wanted immediate online access to look up all those medical terms, but I didn't want to have to put the book down and interrupt my session.

    Another thing was the actual weight of that 600+ page book. I thought again and again how nice a feather-light Kindle would be.

    On the other side of the coin, I'm a writer myself and your points on "open" are well taken. Despite these types of troubles that plague the fledgling epub industry, I would be delighted to have readers gobbling down my material on all those iPads when then finally make the scene.

    I'm stunned by how many of my fellow writers are terrified of the ebook eventuality. They deal with it by refusing to believe it will ever catch on. That's just denial to me. After all, who's buying hard copy encyclopedias anymore? Few will mourn the hard copy textbook. That slim iPad or Kindle will just keep getting more and more attractive to readers of all books, so I guess the rights game is just one we'll have to play.

    Thanks for an evocative post.