Merchants of Doubt

Ebooks, What Gives?

So, I borrowed (from my excellent local library) a paper version of the most excellent Merchants of Doubt, which chronicles motivated denialism in the US starting from tobacco and continuing on to climate change. I liked it a lot (I don’t do too many book reviews!), and wanted to pick up a copy. I’ve discovered, rather recently, that reading on my 3.5 inch smarphone screen has made my reading richer in so many ways:

  1. I cannot forget to pack a book any more, it’s in my phone
  2. The small screen means no horizontal eye scrolling, which makes the reading faster.
  3. All those selling points about eyestrain and e-readers are a bit overstated. I read in 30-45 minute stretches and there is no strain reading 2-3 hours a day.
  4. Brightness is not an issue either, my excellent (for non DRM’ed) books software fbreader lets me adjust screen brightness easily by a simple screen swipe.
  5. One downside, now, instead of my nose buried in a book that I can signal how clever I am with, it’s now buried in a phone, not as cool.

Back to Merchants of Doubt, I wanted to get an ebook version, since I can’t really see myself buying too many paper books any more, and needing to find bookshelves and moving boxes and space.  I had the ability to comparison shop because I read on a vendor neutral device. So, off to the internets I went:

Amazon – $11.02

Barnes and Noble – $14.85

Kobo – $24.19 (Ha!)

Sony – $14.85

Books on Board – Independent website – $14.98

These are all DRM’d, so can only be read by the appropriate readers/software, of course. Anyone who’s unfortunate enough to own a kobo reader will be happy to know that they can expect to spend more than double on just this one book compared to a kindle. This seems a ridiculously large spread for what are essentially identical bits of data sold on the internet. The only reason the spread can exist is that the DRM locks unfortunate e-readers into buying products that are artificially sabotaged to work only on their readers.

And, god forbid you have a fantastic ebook organization and conversion software like Calibre to manage your books for you and convert them between different formats, it will not work with these DRM’d  books.

If you buy a book, or borrow one from BC libraries new, and fast expanding ebook site, it comes with severe restrictions, only a reader software or two, not compatible with the kindle (which is entirely amazon’s fault for not going with a standardized book format), and with various software vagaries. I once “lost” access to 3 of my library books because I authorized a computer in error.

The tragedy for authors, of course (I won’t link, just google), is that it is not that difficult to remove the DRM, and a cursory search on most ebooks indicates that they are downloadable for free, non DRM’d and readable on anything. They can’t even say “no ebooks”, because with the ubiquity of high quality scanners and OCR software, and sites that can scan for $1/100 pages, not much to be done to prevent book digitization.

So, like the music industry a few years back, are we going to have a giant war on book downloaders/DRM breakers soon? Has the publishing industry learnt anything from the music industry? If anything, books are even easier to download, they’re mostly text, so, small files. It is a different world. But, I will never buy an e-reader associated with a bookstore as long as they don’t play well with each other.

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One Comment

  1. Great reminder — my niece is asking for an eBook reader for Christmas; I told her she had one on her lap (a netbook) and helped her to load Calibre and point her toward eBook sources and loans.

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