eBooks: No More Ownership?

July 17, 2009

App stores are not the future, says Google

Vic Gundotra, Google Engineering vice president and developer evangelist, told the Mobilebeat conference in San Francisco on Thursday that the web had won and users of mobile phones would get their information and entertainment from browsers in future.

On June 16th, I had this epiphany:

This led to a discussion with @jane_l of Dear Author and we concluded the eBooks would probably all be cloud-based. No one would be able to download them to keep. This is what Shortcovers does right now.

Given what Google’s Gundotra says in the above article, it seems that downloadable-to-keep-forever eBooks are going to be a passing artifact of digital history. Google is clearly all about the Cloud. And the dying dinosaurs of print would love the Cloud too, because then they wouldn’t have to do anything except collect the money that came in. No worries about stupid eBook formats or all that tsuris from readers about DRM.

But this raises some serious questions.

1) If people can no longer own eBooks, what does the price of an eBook “buy?” Only access?

2) If eBooks become access-only, how long is that access granted?

3) Will there be levels of access, with the most expensive one granting “perpetual at-will” access? (“At-will,” of course, would have the usual escape clauses about Acts of God, domestic disturbance, asteroids falling on the server farm, etc.)

4) What happens to the role of public libraries? Would they simply be a gateway to access a subset of eBooks for free, just like they offer today with proprietary databases (Books In Print, etc.)?

5) What about highlighting and notes?

Those who are skeptical about HTML5 adding true eBook-reading functionality to browsers should consider the power of the Palm Pre, which Palm claims is built entirely with CSS, JavaScript, and HTML5 over a Linux core.

This also puts Google’s ambitious plan to power hardware with its Chrome browser in a new light.

And, if you stop to think about it, it opens some social opportunities for eBooks, such as group reading and group annotations (but I wouldn’t want to see group highlighting — I’d bet most pages would wind up rainbow tinted!).

ALL eInk Devices: BAD For eBooks!

July 17, 2009

Do not buy any of these:

Or any other device that uses an eInk display.

I am also including this in the Do Not Buy list:

It uses a transflective non-backlit LCD display. But it’s no good, either.

I have seen what eBooks could and should be — and these devices are like an MITS Altair compared to today’s computers.

How many of you want to be stuck with that?

These devices are not good for eBooks, they do not represent anything other than a blind and ill-fated attempt to create an eBook market, and the more people buy these, the more they prevent true eBooks from emerging.

Using these devices is a vote for the past. Don’t head that way.

Save your money. Save your time. Save the frustration each of these devices will create as you wrestle with them.

You are not missing out on eBooks by not having these.

But those who have sunk their money into these and eBooks for them are at risk of missing out on eBooks.

Pity them.

eBook Bubble Notes

July 8, 2009

The trouble with tracking a bubble is finding its start point.

The first hint of an upcoming bubble was back in January: Samsung’s eInk Papyrus … Thing. That Samsung even bothered to display a prototype of that meant they were gauging interest.

The second hint of the bubble was this: Wireless Sony Reader: Via Verizon Network? When a carrier gets involved, you can be sure they smell blood money in the water.

The third portion of the bubble was sighted when government said it wanted to be involved: Tell The FTC You HATE DRM!

Then in April came the bad news: Amazon Buys Lexcycle/Stanza Reader. To see some consolidation in such a still-young field was troubling.

In May, BeBook announced its two new readers.

But I think the introduction of the Cool-er reader was the true beginning of this bubble. How can someone with any eBook industry knowledge look at the boastful claim, “The iPod Moment for eBooks has arrived!” and not go all WTF?

Such bombast usually indicates the bubble is On.

From this point on, I hope to track the bubble.

June: Quartet Press

July 5: Tyrus Books

July 6: Ditto Book Digital Reading Device Hits the Market

July 7: Sony announces Mac OS X eLibrary compatibility

July 7: Sony PRS-700 discontinuation rumor

July 8: Announcing Enhanced Editions

July 9: Google announces Google Chrome OS — oh yes this is eBook-related. Welcome to the Google eBook Cloudshelf.

There is going to be an eBook feeding frenzy this year. Many, many writers are going to get screwed. Books will fall into a legal abyss worse than that of current print publishing because these writers will be dealing with micro-firms that cannot compete against the tide. It’s not enough just to publish eBooks, as these companies will soon see.

Amazon Kindle, Amazon ePub, The eBook Bubble

July 6, 2009

I made this a Comment over at Teleread. Might as well drop it in here too so I can easily get at it to wave in everyone’s face later on.

I have no doubt that Amazon will have the K reading ePub before the end of this year.

But no one is going to like it.

1) It’ll be Amazon’s own ePub rendering engine

2) It’ll be Amazon’s own DRM

3) They’ll add proprietary extensions to ePub

4) It won’t help any current ePub publishers because the entire appeal of the K is Have It Now OTA downloads. No way will 99% of K owners wait to get home and buy/cable over eBooks.

I’m no longer very enthusiastic about eInk-based eBook devices. I declared them dead once and I’m getting to the point where I regret changing my mind on that. Or perhaps I was just ahead of my time — again.

The iPhone OS platform (iPhone and iPod Touch) have a 40-to-1 advantage over the eInk device population. And that will only grow. Plus, if analyst figures are to believed, Palm is on the cusp of selling more of the Palm Pre in about a month than Sony has of its Reader over several years — over 300,000. That population will also grow as Palm puts the finishing touches on webOS as well as rolls out new cellphone form factors.

So I have to ask, why would anyone want to carry Yet Another Device? The battery life argument is no longer tenable. The Mophie Juice Pack for the iPhone makes it an all-day device now. And the Pre has a removable battery. Also, improvements in chip design will continue to add improvements in run time. Finally, there is Google and its Android OS, which HTC is making compelling via its Sense UI facelift.

People always have their cellphones with them. It takes an effort of will to remember to lug around an eInk device. There will come a tipping point and the advantage will go to devices based on the iPhone OS, webOS, and Android OS platforms.

I predicted months ago we would create an eBook Bubble.

That is now happening.

Just about weekly we read rumors of another device in the works, a cellphone carrier testing and/or developing a device, and a new eBook publisher ramping up.

I’m not yet certain what the end result of this will be. Overall, it can only help to advance the cause of eBooks. But the competition will be brutal and some members of the general public are going to feel like suckers for betting on something new that clearly has no future. Throw DRM and what David Rothman coined the “Tower of eBabel” (incompatible and proprietary eBook file formats) into that mess and I really don’t see how governmental bodies — at the State and Federal levels — cannot help but to be involved. There will be blood.

Read DRMed MobiPocket eBooks On Palm Pre

July 1, 2009

Thanks to Twitter, I was informed about this new eBook development and invited the person to write this guest post. Thanks, Jonathan!

E-book Reading on PalmPre: MotionApps Classic Plus Mobipocket is a Winning Combo

As a longtime PalmOS user, I’ve been very happy using my Palm handhelds as e-book readers. I have (and have read) more than 200 e-books (many from Baen’s free library, others purchased in secure Mobipocket format from Fictionwise) on my Palm T|X (especially after I used the PowerSDHC driver by Dmitry Grinberg to add a 16 GB SDHC card to my T|X). When I received my new Palm Pre last week, courtesy of Palm’s Real Reviewer program, I was skeptical whether I would be able to completely switch from my T|X to the Pre, given how little software has yet been released for the Pre, especially in the e-book reader world (only the Shortcovers online reader is currently available). Happily, one of the very first apps released for Palm’s new WebOS is MotionApps’ Classic (a PalmOS emulator running on the Pre), and I was able to run Mobipocket Reader with little trouble.

While Classic’s emulation is not perfect, and it’s limited to a 320×320 screen (unlike the 320×480 available on the T|X), I was pleased to find out not only did Mobipocket Reader work on Classic, but it even generated its own Secure Mobipocket ID, allowing me to redownload and read my secure e-books from my Fictionwise bookshelf. Installing Mobipocket was a bit of a challenge (since it comes with an installation program rather than simply as PalmOS PRC and PDB files, I had to unpack and install each file separately — which you can find here), but once past that step and after I’d copied my e-books to the ClassicApps\eBooks directory of my Pre in USB Drive mode, I launched Classic, started Mobipocket Reader, and a quick rescan of my library brought my books up.

Classic runs PalmOS apps relatively smoothly, and the issues it still has with animations and sounds do not impact on Mobipocket Reader. Page navigation is a bit clumsy (the Pre’s notifications often bump up against the bottom of Classic’s virtual 5-way navigator, making it difficult to advance pages that way), but after I’d set Mobipocket to accept screen taps as page advance commands, that problem went away.

Classic itself is not cheap (the registered version is $29.99), but it essentially replaces carrying around two PDAs, one for WebOS and one for (most of) the PalmOS apps one still needs. For me, being able to continue reading novels at the checkout counter, doctor’s office and other waiting areas, and to have access to secure e-books even when offline, makes Classic’s price almost worth it for those benefits alone. That it can run almost all of my other PalmOS apps is just gravy. (It also means, by way of shameless self-promotion, that Pre users can read the Mobi version of my new free e-booklet on managing smartphone business/legal risk, Shooting from the Hip, after downloading it here!)

Prof. Jonathan Ezor, Touro Law Center (aka @Prelawyer and @ProfJonathan on Twitter, and Palm Real Reviewer).