On ebooks and being geeky

es anyone else get a kick every time David Hewlett is particularly geeky on his Twitter? It’s really very cute and each time he does something particularly nerd-like (such as cannibalising a power drill to create a power winder-inner for his kite line, heh) it makes me go “he’s just like us!”.

You don’t often get sci-fi actors who are genuinely interested in the genre or from the same kind of geeky background as the viewers. That’s why it’s so much fun when it happens.

I think that’s why it’s so much fun reading the blogs of writers in the genre: they get it, they get us, because they are us. I still remember watching China Mieville during an Eastercon breakfast trying to eat a fried breakfast while holding a book up to read. We’ve all done that. I’ve got a bookchair to resolve the eating vs. reading issue and I’m tempted to carry a couple of extras at cons to hand out to the Mieville’s out there.

That’s why I get so sad when I see authors who state that they don’t read. I’ve never seen it with genre authors (which doesn’t mean that it never happens, but seems to be rare), but have definitely seen it more than a few times with literary authors. It makes no sense to me. How can you write if you don’t enjoy reading?

It would be like an actor who never sees theatre, tv or movies. Or a director doing the same.

Maybe I’m just weird in my expectation?

In other book news, I need to remember to post my March reading. April reading is so far pretty good and I’ve got several of the Arthur C Clarke and Hugo nominees on the to read pile for the next few weeks thanks to a binge at Chapters.

Every now and again, I consider buying some kind of ebook reader. It would be so convenient for travelling. The problem is that I don’t like the DRM on ebooks. Some of the recent Amazon Kindle issues have really hit home the message that you’re renting rather than buying the books. The Kindle can remove any books that Amazon doesn’t want you to have anymore. So if, for example, Amazon has a huge disagreement with Macmillan and withdraws their books for sale, all your ebooks published by Macmillan would have disappeared from your Kindle until the issue is resolved.

For me, that’s the deal-breaker.

When I buy a physical book, it doesn’t matter what happens to the retailer or publisher afterwards. That book will remain on my bookshelf for as long as I choose to own it. Being able to sell, lend or gift away one of my books is also one of the delights of book ownership. I love pimping favourite books and cheerfully lend them out to friends – you can’t do that (legally) with an ebook. Nobody thinks twice about lending their physical books, though, because you own that bundle of pages. I know that, if the book someone has borrowed was a hit, they’ll go on to buy other books (or even that same book) by that author so I don’t feel bad about sharing the love.

Likewise, if I don’t want to keep that book any more I can sell it on, gift it, list it on Bookmooch – there are a hundred ways to pass on a book that I don’t want and someone else does. With an ebook, I’d be breaking the law to do the same thing.

It’s for this same reason that I still buy CDs and rip them onto my iPod rather than downloading. At least my CDs remain mine to do with as I wish and there’s no chance the retailer is going to decide that they need to take them back.

While the DRM on most of these things is too restrictive and gives too much power to the retailer (don’t take my books away from me!), I also think that it’s very difficult to develop a business model for ebooks that doesn’t incorporate some kind of restriction on copying and distributing them. The books sitting on my bookshelves cannot be duplicated and only the most dedicated pirate would buy one and type the entire thing into a computer to distribute illegally. But how can I lend someone a copy of an ebook without, you know, copying my ebook?

For me, the only way that an ebook reader is ever going to be attractive is if there is some way that buying the physical book will also get me the ebook, with the retailer unable to take it back after I’ve bought it. As much as I love books and authors, there is a limit on the number of times that I’m going to pay full-price for the same content. I’ll happily pay to replace my physical copy if I need to (must replace Belgarath the Sorcerer, missing pages due to reading it so often) but not so that I can have a more convenient travelling copy of something on my shelf. For now, I’ll just lug a suitcase of books with me whenever I go away.

I think that this is the problem with ebooks. The readers cost too much for beach-only readers to bother – they’ll still buy something at the airport. People like me love the physicality of books too much to sacrifice that and we don’t want to pay twice just for that travelling copy. The people who are most likely to use ebooks are those who read more than the beach readers and don’t love the feel and smell of books. Unfortunately, these are the people who are least likely to pay full-whack for the ebook and are likely to stick to the cheap or free offers or grab the illegal downloads.

The business model for ebooks is definitely still a work in progress. For now, I’m going to stick with the old-fashioned analog books.

The thought that terrifies me? One day, perhaps not even that far in the future, major publishers will start going ebook only. I shudder every time I think about it.

After I wrote this, I checked out John Scalzi’s blog and thought this article might be appropriate to link in: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/04/07/on-how-many-times-i-should-get-paid-for-a-book/

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