Kindled desire

From Caleb I learn that the second generation Kindle is coming out later this month. Yes, I want one, though the $359 price tag would prevent me from buying now even if I didn’t have reservations about it.

And I do have reservations. One is the standard objection that books just feel better. I love my books and don’t really feel at home in a place until I’ve unpacked them. But books take up a lot of space, space that could be devoted instead to things like bourbon and Scotch (no electronic replacements for those on the horizon). I’ve reached the point where storing thousands of books in a device that takes up the volume of one would be very welcome.

The bigger problem is DRM. Buying books on the Kindle is taking a gamble that it will remain a viable format for as long as you want to keep your library. It’s an inconvenience for customers that probably does very little to prevent privacy. John Siracusa has a fascinating article at Ars Technica this month about the frustratingly slow progress in e-books, caused in part by publishers’ insistence on crippling their products with DRM:

Nuances aside, the big picture remains the same: DRM for digital media distribution to consumers is a mathematically, technologically, and intellectually bankrupt exercise. It fails utterly to deliver its intended benefit: the prevention of piracy. Its disadvantages, however, are provided in full force: limiting what consumers can legally do with content they have legitimately purchased, under threat of civil penalties or criminal prosecution. [...]

“Piracy!” the publishers cry. “This is exactly what happened to the music business!” This is a good place to point out yet another reality not recognized by this panic over digital distribution. Whether or not publishers choose to sell e-books, digital versions of their content are already available online thanks to OCR (etc.) and, in the case of the most popular books, collaborative transcription. (For example, when photographs depicting all 759 pages of the final Harry Potter book were leaked, the entire book was transcribed before the official release date of the printed book.)

To sum up, e-books have an incredible upside for publishers and little to no downside, since all the things publishers fear will happen as a consequence of selling e-books have already happened, and will continue to happen with or without the widespread sale of e-books.

Relatedly, Bobbie Johnson argues at the Guardian that the lack of widespread book piracy is one reason that publishers haven’t been driven to create a viable electronic market.

When the Kindle first came out, I told a friend that I refused to buy electronic books if I couldn’t upload them to my computer, search them, and copy-and-paste the text. This seemed like a strong objection to me, but he had a devastatingly simple reply: “You can’t do that with paper books and you buy those all the time.” TouchĂ©.

Even with DRM, the Kindle’s advantages might eventually persuade me to buy one. For now, though, I’m holding out for a DRM-free alternative.

For more on Amazon’s strategy with the new Kindle, see this article in the Wall Street Journal (via Megan).

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