If you were reading around in the library blogs today, it was hard to escape at least one discussion of the Kindle, the new ebook reader from Amazon profiled in Newsweek.
I skimmed the Newsweek article and listened the accompanying video review. The Kindle does look like it’s slightly better than some previous efforts, but I don’t think I’ll be buying one.
This isn’t because I’m anti-ebook. Far from it. I became an enthusiastic devotee of ebooks three years ago when I loaded Mobipocket onto my then new Dell Axim. The convenience and portability are great, and I love the Mobipocket interface. I also like the ability to create Mobipocket files from Word or text documents, so I can essentially take any text content I find on the web and turn it into a uniform ebook file. Since I don’t buy a lot of new books, it works very well for me. I can download and read plenty of classics from Project Gutenberg and create my own files if I find something I like. This past summer I got a Samsung Blackjack and loaded Mobipocket on it as well, and still love the convenience. Being able to carry several hundred books in my pocket at all times means I never have to be without something good to read.
But I wouldn’t buy the Kindle (or the Sony reader either) for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want a separate tool. I like my Mobipocket because I have the ebook reader along with the email, calender, feed reader, browser, chess program, camera, and everything else fitting nicely in my pocket. If the iPhone ever holds enough music, I’d be willing to add in the iPod as well, but I want fewer devices that do more rather than a separate device for everything. It seems like the things the Kindle can do, I can do now on my phone, and even though the screen might be smaller, the text is very clear.
It also bothers me how rigidly controlled commercial ebooks are. Ebook readers want to try to emulate the book, but only in the reading experience. Ebook readers and publishers are trying to stop many of the other ways people use books. In general, I don’t like the way digital rights issues interfere with ebooks in a way they don’t with paper books. I might be willing to buy a book, since I buy books now, but after I buy the book I want to do with it what I please. If I want to lend it to a friend, regift it to an acquaintance, donate it to a library, or sell it to a used bookstore, I want the freedom to do that. Publishers naturally want to keep me from doing that, though they never could with paper books, and paper books have long sold even though libraries, used bookstores, and reading friends exist.
The stranglehold on information will be difficult to maintain, but as long as it will be illegal for me to do with digital books what I now do with print books, I’ll resist buying them. I have bought a few, mostly reference works, but my ereading is mostly confined to those texts I can get and trade for free. What that means for publishing, I have no idea, but if ebooks are restricted in the way that paper books aren’t, then they’re not as much good to me. I’m surprised publishers don’t start suing used bookstores for reselling their books. One could argue that iTunes does the same thing with music, and one would of course be right. However, even with my iPod I prefer to copy my own CDs rather than buy from iTunes whenever possible. Regardless, as long as I can buy used CDs or legally obtain free music, then I can legally still control what I purchase in a way I can’t with iTunes purchases.
With the Kindle, one can also subscribe to newspapers and blogs for a fee, but again, I can read these things on my phone for free. The idea of paying to subscribe to a blog is bizarre, and perhaps I read that part wrong.
Anyway, I hope for a day when I can do with ebooks all the things I can do with paper books now, but I know that won’t be the case if publishers have their way. If we have ebooks without the freedom to lend, give, resell, or donate them, then in many ways we’ll have a bleaker book future than we could have. This isn’t a complaint against ebooks, as much as I like traditional print books, but it is a complaint against the commercial restrictions that may dominate the future of copyrighted books.
I should add one more reason. 400 bucks? What, are they kidding me?