eBooks – product or service?

Apparently the EU has decided eBooks should be taxed as services (link) instead of goods (like physical books).

I don’t think it’s that simple. 

When Digital Products Are Services

eBook “retailers” like Amazon are essentially offering you a licence to access a digital product, not ownership of a copy of the product. 

Of course, their casual wording might lead you to believe otherwise:



But you’ve purchased a licence, not a book. 

Compare it to NetFlix. You pay a monthly fee to access a library of digital content. It happens to be the same library everyone else gets too, not a customized library. We are more comfortable with the idea of subscription because we aren’t picking specific movies, and we even expect that some titles will disappear. 

These are services – the companies sell access, not goods. 

When Digital Products Are Goods

When I buy a book from Humble Bundle or Baen though, I’m buying a book (aren’t I?). I’m allowed to use it in certain ways (e.g. on multiple devices), and they’re not able to revoke my licence (I don’t think). There is no DRM to lock me into a platform or a service, and the expectation is that I will manage my purchases honestly and appropriately. 

And I’m glad they provide the ability to download my books at any time, but I don’t expect them to maintain my library for me. I keep my local copies, just in case. 

I’m certainly thinking of an eBook as a thing I’m buying, not a licence I’m buying. I want permanent access.

Can’t the Retailer and/or Publisher Choose?

I think there is room for both types of access, but it’s currently not clear to the consumer what they’re paying for. 

It would be nice for the publisher, or possibly the publisher and retailer together, to decide whether they’re licensing or selling (or both), and then price differentially and accordingly. 

Don’t forget

I have no legal training. I’m just making lay observations, so don’t interpret any of this as legal advice, silly.

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What if ebooks had come first?

I like to read books. I always have, and I expect that will continue for the rest of my life.

But I’ve changed in my reading habits a lot over the last few years. Now I read far more ebooks than print books, and I listen to audiobooks as well. Most recently I’ve started exploring graphic novels, mostly digitally on my iPad.

When I talk to people about reading ebooks (usually novels), they either hop excitedly foot to foot inquiring about the Kindle titles I love or they scrunch their faces as though tasting bitterness in their old-schoolery while proclaiming they prefer print books.

Why the polarity? Why do people love one or the other?

Why ebooks are better

They’re sometimes cheaper (not always).

They’re easy to get on release day, or any other day. They’re always available and never out of stock.

You can bring (and read) hundreds of them anywhere without lugging anything you wouldn’t already have (phone, tablet, etc.).

They’re not heavy (ever try to read a Brandon Sanderson hardcover?).

They’re not lost in a basement flood, they can be archived, and they can’t be stolen by literate, opportunistic ruffians in the coffee shop.

You can share your notes (even voice notes!) with a social network.

They can synchronize across devices, and with audiobook narrations.

You can adjust the type and screen to account for your failing eyes, the brightness of the room, your font snobbery, and the colour you want the “paper” to be.

From a publisher’s/distributor’s point of view, they require no storage and no shipping; that is, no per-unit cost. They can therefore maintain a back catalogue into perpetuity at no additional cost. Books can even be updated to correct typos, improve covers, and so on.

Why print books are better

You can share them easily.

There is no question that you own it, and you’ll always be able to read it.

You can write in them with a pencil.

They work when you’re out of power.

You can leaf through them quickly, which is helpful for some times of reading.

You can’t change the type, colour, or where stuff is on the page (that’s a good thing).

They don’t depend on screen resolution to look good.

But what if we had had ebooks first?

But of all the reasons people list for preferring print books, the one I hear most often isn’t such a “logical” reason: it’s just that people “are used” to them. It’s almost an argument from nostalgia.

I think if we’d had ebooks before print books the market would be different.

People buying print books would be incredulous at the delays (“You mean I can’t just click the button and start reading?!”), and at the limitations of the format (“I can’t embiggen the font!”). They would feel cheated at only being able to have a small number in their bag at once.

But print books would still have their place, because they truly are better at some things. They’re better when you need to look at a series of charts. They’re awesome for marking up. They are locally very shareable.

Sometimes digital text is later produced in print formats. For example, a series of blog posts might be sold as a paperback book (even while remaining free on the web). Or an ebook is successful and then has a print run. This is often to hit both markets, I’m sure, but sometimes it’s because a text is better represented in print. The authors whose books are published with gorgeous covers, creamy paper and stitched signatures revel in the work of art they were a part of. They may love the pagination, or how they were able to choose the font to evoke emotion instead of relying on Caecilia.

I love that there is a market for both, and I’m sad that many books will never make it into my digital library because of a publisher’s retention of rights without the will to digitize. I hope that authors and publishers will make both forms available to us, and I’m happy that print-on-demand will make it reasonable to do so without many of the costs of warehousing and shipping.

If ebooks had come first we would still have both forms, but more people would think more kindly of them.

What I’m Reading

I saw this post by @PernilleRipp via @OSSEMOOC today:

First, go and read the article. Great advice.

Now, I’ll share what I’m reading right now. See how I was inspired?

  • Gabriel’s Journey (Book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption) by Steve Umstead (Kindle; just listened to #0 in audiobook)
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (audiobook; second time through)
  • Play by Stuart Brown (borrowed hardcover; haven’t actually started yet)
  • Star Trek: Ongoing (graphic novel/comic series; just finished issue #32)

What are you reading?

First look at Liberio beta, a slick, free eBook publishing service

My friend and colleague Jennifer Keenan (@keenanjenn) asked me recently on Twitter:

I had not, but we both requested invites for early (beta) access. When I had a few minutes I started to play around with it, and I’m really impressed.

A screenshot of the Liberio login screen on a computer

 

It’s still in beta, so not everything worked perfectly (but nearly so!). Overall it’s pretty awesome.

I wrote a short story (originally published here) and so I tried making an ePub file using Liberio.

You have a library of your own stuff. When you click/tap on the “plus” item, you can either select a Document from your Google Drive or upload a file from your computer. I grabbed a Google Document, and it was ready in seconds.

Libary view.

 

You have some control over the settings in your published book. Here are the basics:

Edit Book screenshot.

Expanding “More Options” gives you these choices:

Edit book advanced options screenshot.

I especially liked the License and Rights section, which gives you “All Rights Reserved” and then a half dozen Creative Commons choices.

Pro features aren’t available yet. Also, I’m not a pro :)

I didn’t try uploading a cover image (because I have neither mining photos nor pictures of silver), but the option is there.

When you’re ready to publish, you save your changes and then choose a sharing method. Just saving will upload an ePub file to your Google Drive. You can download to preview the file in your reader of choice (the site doesn’t display for you, but that’s hardly a problem these days), and you can share via email or social media.

Sharing options in Liberio.

For comparison, here are the versions produced by Calibre and by Liberio as viewed on my iPad Mini. Note that publishing in Calibre provided more control but was rather finicky. I think I like the Liberio default better, and being thoughtful as I create my Google Doc would give more control, I imagine.

Calibre-generated eBook viewed in iBooks on an iPad Mini.

Produced by Calibre.

Liberio-generated eBook viewed in iBooks on an iPad Mini.

Produced by Liberio.

The site looks great on my iPad and iPhone both, although there were a few intermittent browser issues. Some problems may have to do with the wifi here, I’ll admit. Being mobile-friendly makes it much more useful in then K-12 context, I think.

The view on an iPhone

Liberio also gave me an email address to send feedback to, and they’re very responsive so far (both by email and on Twitter at @LiberioApp). I’m looking forward to a few tweaks and updates, and I’m hoping this could be an easy way for students to publish online. This is one to watch, for sure.

Great apps for reading comics and graphic novels

Last week I griped about the problems reading graphic novels on my iPad (gentle rant here). While I haven’t solved the problems of the portrait-only-and-can’t-zoom Kindle app, I found two others which are even more awesome than Cloudreaders (it’s still good, if less polished, and has some unique features – you can get it here). Neither can read the DRM-crippled Kindle comics.

Chunky Comic Reader

Screenshot of Chunky Comic Reader for iPad.
This app is brilliant. Really, really great. It has an interface that effectively disappears while you’re reading. I don’t just mean that the icons and buttons aren’t visible; I mean that you forget that there are controls because everything is so completely intuitive.

When I finish a book, it brings up a thumbnail of the cover of the next book. Tapping it takes me there.

When I read in landscape mode, I scroll down the page. Swiping brings me to the top of the next page, which is exactly the behaviour I want (Cloudreaders doesn’t do this).

It integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, and a few other services, as well as Mac and Windows shared folders, FTP sites, and more.

Apparently there is right-to-left reading for all you manga aficionados.

The developer is responsive on Twitter (@ChunkyReader) and seems friendly (I didn’t have a problem; I just tweeted some kudos).

The app is $2.99 now FREE, which is a great price for such a seamless interface. Plus it has a nice icon (actually, I liked the previous icon better).

Darkhorse Comics

Screenshot of the Darkhorse Comics iPad app.
I haven’t tried the Android version, but the iOS version is sweet. I bolstered my library on Free Comic Book Day and now have 32 titles to churn through. It won’t let you import non-Dark Horse comics, but they have an extensive selection, so I’m okay with that for now. Otherwise the app functions exactly as you’d expect (that is, like Chunky Comic Reader but for DH’s DRM titles).

Breaking books on the big screen

I saw this link go by on Twitter, so I clicked it. It’s not what I thought it was, but it’s worth watching:

No Books Were Harmed In The Filming Of This Video

What I thought it was

How many times have you read a book, enjoyed it, and then watched the disappointing “film adaptation”?

I thought this was going to be a review of a book-turned-movie that was awesome and true to the original. It was awesome (particularly the word “read” and the picnickers), but not what I expected.

Why do we want books on the big screen?

But it got me thinking about adaptations. I read a book, love it, and want to see it honoured in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the parts of books that I love most are the most difficult to translate into film – character motivations, internal struggles, narration,…. I can’t imagine why I think my favourite books could possibly make it onto Blu-ray unscathed, but I usually ponder it a little after finishing each brilliant story.

I realize that many movies come from books, and that seeing the movie on its own isn’t necessarily disappointing. I’m not anti-film, I’m just sad for what’s lost in translation.

Maybe shorter books do better

When I see an adaptation of a long book, I know how much had to be cut to fit it into 90 minutes (or 178 minutes – I’m looking at you, Fellowship of the Ring). That sometimes is material that should have been cut from the book before publication, but more often it’s the stuff that makes the story richer for the reader.

Perhaps a short book stands a better chance of surviving the transition to the screen.

Good examples?

Are there books you loved which were adapted very well to film?

I’d love it if filmmakers tried to be careful. Wouldn’t it be great to watch the closing credits at the theatre and see “No books were harmed in the making of this film”?

A very brief audiobook review of Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Where to get it

The Audible edition was narrated by Noah Galvin and was 6 hours 23 minutes long. The print version is 226 pages.

The very brief review

4.5 stars. This book was interesting, painful, reflective, well-written, and well-narrated.

The brief review

I always find “coming of age” stories strangely compelling. I think perhaps it’s because the characters always make different choices than I made in high school, and that sets me a-pondering. In this story the main character, Charlie, recounts his first year of high school through letters he writes to a stranger. The letter writing part is unnecessary and doesn’t really add to the story for me. Charlie has some issues which he’s only partly aware of but which are mostly apparent to the reader/listener. It’s about friendship, choices, drugs, identity, love, mental health, and the early 90s.

The language of the book is beautiful. From beginning to end the words are thoughtful, inspiring, and gorgeously poetic. I might have to read a text copy of this book because although the narration was excellent I want to re-read and revel in the prose.

So I’ll recommend it. Enjoy.