Here’s a rant. If you come across any inaccuracies or blatant factual untruths, feel free to call me out on my bullshit.
Can I rant about the e-book industry for a sec? I’m a proponent of digital books, comics, magazines, and e-readers in general, and I’ve been slowly transitioning into the digital format, but there’s something that’s been really bugging me about digital property management surrounding e-literature.
Remember like ten years ago, when digital music was still a new thing and there was all that bullshit with Digital Rights Management? If you bought a song off iTunes, you could only access the music file through iTunes or one of your handy iDevices and if you transitioned away from it you would lose that song you paid for. Eventually digital music providers got over that fuckery and now you can go on Amazon, buy a song, and a neat little mp3 will download right onto your computer (summed up very nicely by The Oatmeal). For the most part, it’s your file. You can play with/on whatever will support the file format, edit it, copy it, send it to a friend on the other side of the planet, whatever. Try to buy an ebook from Amazon through the Kindle store, and things change real quick.
The attractive thing about ereaders and digital literature in general is the wide variety of devices, applications, and stores as well as the sheer convenience and availability. Rare items are easier to hunt down and new releases don’t go out of stock. I myself have had a Nook Color for almost two years now and it…functions. For a while the Nook Shop had an okay selection of comics but this past summer they really expanded it. I filled my digital shelves with pixels upon pixels of e-comics, but I hit a wall when I attempted the logical next move: moving them onto my computer.
One of the handy things about the Nook is its partial independence of its own store. If you have outside e-book files, you can slap them right into the device and read them all you want (provided they’re in the right format). You must only plug the USB cable into your computer and you have access to all the folders and files (ironically, it’s a convenient way to add music). Unfortunately, if you try to find all the books, comics, magazines, and newspapers that you purchased and downloaded from the Nook Shop, they’re simply not there. The folders are, but they’re all empty. Those files that you paid for somehow don’t exist because they aren’t really yours. The latest edition of Atomic Robo is the property of B&N and you paid 99 cents just for the privilege of looking at it with their devices, apps, and services. They even have a lending function, where you can temporarily loan your books to other Nook users, which seems really cool until you realize that that shit is yours, you shouldn’t need permission to send it to anyone, and there definitely shouldn’t be a damn time limit on how long they’re allowed to possess it. If you want full access to that file, oh fucking well. If you want to get a new e-reader or tablet somewhere down the line that’s not a Nook, you better hope it supports the Nook App. Otherwise, all that shit you bought is gone.
Some digital book publishers, in an apparent effort to be slightly less dickish, are gracious enough to give us access to the files. They’re provided in extra special formats that can only be read by that device or application, and nothing else *cough* Graphicly *cough* iBooks *cough*. Kinda fucked, right? Right. It’s like buying a print book from a bookstore and only being able to physically open it when you’re in that bookstore. Yes, you own that book, you can carry it around in your possession, cuddle with it, rock it to sleep at night, tell it scary stories around a roaring campfire, and when you get the urge to read it you can walk on down to the bookstore, crack it open, and enjoy. However, if the bookstore is closed, that book that you supposedly own is sealed tight. If the company goes bankrupt and is forced to close all its franchises, that book is sealed forever.
In spite of all this, I’m still an ardent supporter of digital publishing. It’s not only a ridiculously simple and convenient method of acquiring and organizing literature, but it saves millions of acres from being ravaged by the deforestation necessary to produce the paper for the printing industry. There is a significant environmental impact due to the process of creating/powering the devices, but that’s improving. Frankly, it’s the way of the future, and it’s still in its confused, frustrating, dysfunctional adolescence. If you want to get into e-reading, I would highly encourage it. There are a lot of sites out there with pretty decent selections of open format e-books, like this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. Until the mainstream digital publishing industry catches up, go ahead and fill your e-reading need with all manner of direct downloads and torrents. Just shoot a donation to the author if you’re not broke, and fight for more open formats and DRM-free files. After all, if you actually want to keep that book you paid for, you’re a criminal either way.