Feb 042012
 

I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. My favourite format is the mass paperback — until recently.

I received my Sony Reader (touch model) a couple of Christmases ago, and then when I bought the iPad, I loaded on several ebook reading apps: iBooks, kobo, Bluefire Reader, Stanza, Kindle. As a person with a brain injury, I was surprised and chuffed to find reading ebooks is easier than print books. There’s less text on the “page,” and on Sony and in iBooks, it’s easy to highlight and write notes (kobo is a close second), all strategies to help the reader to absorb, process, and synthesize the text. Still, at first I remained wedded to my favourite, familiar mass paperback. But after I became a member of Goodreads and began borrowing ebooks from the Toronto Public Library, I read ebooks more and more often. Before I wrote this post, I last read a print book months ago.

Most ebooks I read are borrowed. Until Overdrive finally created an eReading app, I used Bluefire Reader to read them on my iPad. I wasn’t interested in highlighting, printing, looking up words, or writing notes on these ebooks, so the rudimentary and restrictive practices of the apps and publishers didn’t impinge on me. But this week I wanted to buy three books for my background reading as I begin dreaming up my next novel. I wanted to buy them in ebook format. I wanted them to be as flexible and convenient to read as the mass paperback.

Apparently, I wanted the moon.

Traditional publishers are so scared — and seemingly ignorant of how readers use, lend, give away, sell print books — of what readers can do with ebooks that they insist on DRM (Digital Rights Management) locks. The idea is that they protect copyright.

The reality is they frustrate law-abiding readers and provide no deterrent to thieves.

The real result is that the publisher controls how, when, where the law-abiding reader can read the ebook and do nothing to thwart the pirates. Although ePub is an international standard, DRM locks are not. Everyone but Apple iBooks uses one standard. Apple uses another. An ebook readable in iBooks is not readable in any other app or Sony Reader. And vice versa. And Amazon is outside the ePub universe entirely. Consumer friendly, eh? Not.

Book #1 was available in Kindle format for about $4 cheaper than the ePub version. But I can only read Amazon’s mobi format ebook on my iPad’d Kindle app, which is rudimentary to say the least, lacking the features I need for background reading. I also wanted to be able to read it on my Sony Reader. To compound the insult to the international ebook standard and non-Amazon readers, the ePub version was more expensive than the mass paperback. If I bought it through the kobo bookstore or Sony bookstore, the ePub version would not be readable in iBooks, yet iBooks did not list their ePub version in the Canadian store.

Book #2 was the only book in that author’s arsenal that was not available in ebook format. What gives with the discrimination?

Book #3’s situation was totally ridiculous. It was available in ePub but only in certain territorial markets. So if I was a US customer of iBooks, I could’ve bought it in iBooks ePub. But as a Canadian, I was barred from buying it. My only option was mobi through Amazon’s Kindle store. Territorial rights in the global digital age are not only obsolete but an obstacle to reading. Given I resent buying an ebook I can read in exactly one place, I decided not to purchase the mobi ebook.

I wanted to buy all three in ePub. I could buy only one at an inflated price with limitations on which apps I could read it in. If this ebook did not have a DRM lock, I could’ve read it the way I wanted to on the device I wanted to in the app I wanted to. The upshot is that I’m reminded why I don’t buy traditionally published ebooks beyond what I must, why I prefer buying ebooks by indie authors that are DRM-free, why I will continue to mostly borrow ebooks — and why I will never put DRM locks on my ebooks. I don’t want to annoy my readers before they even load one up.

To check out what I’m reading currently and my Goodreads Author Page and bookshelves, please visit my Goodreads profile.

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