Of Ebooks and the Dreaded DRM

Some of my books have logged more travel miles than I have lately. I say this because a friend of mine borrowed my Harry Potter books, and she took one all the way to Sweden and back.

Another friend of mine visits my house and we trade a box full of books. I reserve a shelf for books that have been loaned to me that I haven’t finished yet so I know they’re not mine. I have a lot of books, and it is easy to see where people could get confused which ones actually belong to me. They cover most of the walls in my library/office, which is a 17′ by 17′ basement guest room.

One reason I have been so reluctant to invest in ebooks is the borrowing factor. Most of the books out there have something called DRM attached: Digital Rights Management. What it means to me is that a book is not just a book anymore. There are rules with what I can do with it. And I hate “buying” something that has so many rules attached.

Perhaps I ought to feel differently because I am a writer. I hope to one day be published in electronic form. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m published, but the ebook still hasn’t come out yet.) Right now, I have paper copies of my book. I can pass them out to people, sign them (another thing I want to see happen with ebooks), and the owners can pass them out to their friends.

What? Why would I want that? Because that is how we read. I have a book (and I want people to read it!), I pass it along, and suddenly my friends are all talking about this book that we’ve shared. It’s an experience we love or hate, but we have it in common.

I know that also means that my books might be pirated. But the pirates are not the ones who have trouble with DRM. They simply crack it and move on. But cracking the DRM does not necessarily make you a pirate. Or at least I hope not.

I keep thinking of buying an ebook like I buy a regular book. I want to do all the same things. I want to read it on my phone and not just my iPad. Or at my computer. Or from the netbook or on my ereader. I want to share them with my friends and family. I want to get authors to sign them when the opportunity presents itself.

Often I read the news about ebooks and somewhere will be shoved in a little tidbit like a customer couldn’t access her ebooks because her credit card had expired at the website. Wait, really? Does that mean someone no longer owns the books once the credit card expires? But they were bought, paid for, and read before. Just because someone doesn’t update a credit card number doesn’t mean the purchase is in any way revoked. Those horrid offenses against ebook buyers are slowly being fixed, but switching platforms might give you trouble. I might have an iPad now, but what happens if my husband (ever the fun tech gift buyer) gets me a tablet next time the way he’s threatening? [He might not see it as a threat, but I’ve gotten pretty attached to my iPad. Probably doesn’t help he gave me one for each of two birthdays in a row.]

Without a DRM, regular people can use ebooks much more like we use regular books. It’s really hard to see why that would be a bad thing.

Read this blog post

And here’s a petition to at least get the white house on the side of unlocking the DRM for the rest of us: Petition

The only way to move forward is to be vocal about what we want. The best way for it to come out is to be able to share the books across platforms, to swap with friends, to be able to get access wherever you might be. Would you stand for only being able to watch a movie in one room of your house? How about a board game that refused to work because you didn’t have brand specific paper and pencils to keep score? Why do we let this slide for our ebooks, if only because we haven’t gotten them disabused of the notion that they can tell us what we can do with our books and when and where? If we’re going to have a future in electronic formats, we need to have ownership.

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Closing and Changing

The Borders bookstore near me is closing. It’s across the street from Half Price Books and a block down from Barnes & Noble. The HPB moved down the street last year (maybe half a mile), but otherwise all of them had occupied close quarters for years.

It’s sad to have it close. I love the coupons from Borders Rewards that kept me going in and out of the store more often than I would have. So what is it that’s changed for the rest of the store that means it has to close? Is it just more of the “future” of the publishing industry where we’re moving toward e-books and away from printed paper books? I know Borders isn’t closing everywhere, but it’s more than just here.

And what does this mean for those of us who still want to get those traditional publishing contracts – to be in the brick and mortar stores?

What about the libraries? Do you still go check out enough books for them to keep buying? Are we going to get to a place where you need to read everything online? How will we share that with the kids too small to care for the electronic devices? How will we keep the rich detail from the picture books on such small screens?

Do we expect the toddlers to not dismantle the devices? Just yesterday I found the keys my daughter ripped from my laptop at 6 months of age. Who needs home and control, right? I must admit the iPad is nice for her to play around with, except for the excess of fingerprints and other marks she leaves over the surface.

I suppose one thing to look forward to is the child-centered devices may begin reading the stories to kids. Then there will be studies upon studies about how it isn’t the best way for them to absorb the language (without a native speaker to show how the words are formed with the mouth and to keep the child’s attention focused) until at least the age of 3. We’ll begin the debate of whether it’s better to have the child with books rather than yet another animated movie and point fingers at each other for the digital babysitters. (Really, how else do you manage to shower when you’re alone with a small, mobile, curious child?)

The change also hits the authors in their marketing. Marketing is a struggle no matter how you look. Word of mouth about your words, whether in the bookstore or online or any other manner, doesn’t work the way you intend. Somehow a few of us have recognizable names and the rest of us languish in obscurity.

Do future writers still dream old ideas for success? I’m sure some of us do – just as I’m certain some of us are floundering among the changing landscape, searching for the best path to take. Self-publishing has never been easier, but it’s difficult to stand out from the masses and their largely disappointing reputation.

P.S. I apologize for the extended absence. One of my part-time jobs takes more time than I like to admit. I’m enjoying my break and working on getting organized – which includes more time writing and blogging.