L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

28 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

Bitching about a lack of eBooks

The Japundit blog has been advertising the latest book in Lian Hearn's "Tales of the Otori" fantasy series set in a sort of alternate universe medieval Japan. It sounds fascinating and exactly the sort of series I'd like to buy. There is just one problemette. No electronic edition and no more than about 5 pages of preview text at amazon.

As a result the potential impluse buy that would have been triggered by the Japundit blogad has dissipated. The problem is that, since I live in France, it can be just a tad tricky to trot down to the local bookshop to browse and read enough of a book to make sure that it is good. If it were good chances are high that I'd buy not just the first book in the series but all of them at once (and then probably get hacked off because book 2 suffers from the usual midbook of the trilogy weakness), but five pages isn't enough to go on.

I'm sorry to say that I've been spoiled thanks to Baen and its free library and wonderful webscriptions so that I am no longer willing to fork out a chunk of money on spec. If the first book (or any book for that matter) in the series were available from Baen then about a quarter of it would be up on the internet for free and I'd be able to buy the entire thing for $4 or $5. Since there are significant shelving problems chez moi (see photo) buying dead tree editions on spec is contraindicated because it tends to cause (arguments with the) trouble and strife. Hence my book buying has declined significantly from publishers other than Baen. The only times when I don't buy from Baen are
  1. Book/author strongly recommended by people I trust
  2. Baen author who has books published elsewhere too
  3. Extreme terminal boredom while travelling
  4. Wandering into a second hand bookstore on a visit to some anglophone city
  5. The rare non-Baen author who provides an online edition (e.g. Doctorow, Stoss...)
This brings me neatly to Cory Doctorow's article on copyright in September's Locus magazine. You see the reason why most books are not available in cheap sane DRM-free form is that the publishers have fatally misunderstood the purpose behind copyright and its history. As Cory explains copyright is intended to stop publishers nicking the works that other publishers/authors would like to benefit from, not to stop the reader from treating the book as his property to do with as he wishes. Effectively this worked for a few centuries because publishing (and related technologies such as broadcasting) were limited to a few large entities and so standard commercial contract law could be used to enforce the copyright agreements.

Today, as he and zillions of others have pointed out, computers and the Internet mean that anyone can become an electronic publisher or printer for very very little. The barriers have come down and the difference between the reader and publisher has blurred. The publishers seem to think that this means that readers should sign up to complex license agreements similar to other publishers but readers, on the whole, disagree. Or at least we disagree to the extent that we can see when we are being ripped off. If we have to download it it ought to be cheaper than buying it in the shop. And if its harder to use than the version in the shop then it won't be used. If you sell me eBooks at $0.99 which is highly restricted to only work on one PC that may be acceptable, but I'd prefer to buy a $4 version that is more flexible. If you sell me books at $19.99 and that only work on one PC that is not.

There is, IMO, no excuse for any newly published work not to be made available in electronic form. These days what is sent to the printer is an electronic document. The incremental cost of converting that to PDF (or RTF or HTML or ...) is something approaching 0 - the first text might be a bit hard because you have to read the manual and create the script/batchfile, the second may need a bit of debugging, but subsequent ones are no more complex than "drag, drop, click". The hosting cost is likewise negligable, so why do publishers not look at making more money for free?

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin