I love the concept of ebooks, just like I loved the idea of digital music since the birth of the mp3. While it would take something major for me to even think about parting from my paper books, there is something endearing in the thought of a portable format, something you can backup, and that allows you to read hundreds of books on a device the size of a paperback.
However. Let me tell you a little story.
I have recently started reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion saga starting from the second book, “Paladin of souls”, as I was told it’s the best one and it stands on its own (and it’s really an amazing book so go read it now).
I decided to read the first book as well but, since I needed something new to read on my PC during breaks, I thought to see if there was an ebook edition available that would cost me less than a paperback. Since I use Calibre on my laptop, it also had to be something without DRM.
I’m not an expert on ebook stores but I knew I couldn’t buy on Amazon, as Kindle books have DRM. So I turned to Google for help, with the simple query “bujold curse chalion ebook”. The results? About 30 download links, a PDF, and a few legit bookstores.
I tried again, this time adding “drm-free” and “buy” as keywords. Yet again no luck: the illegal results yet again overwhelmed the legal ones.
I kept at it for another half-hour, ignoring all the Rapidshare links that would give me a nice and clean drm-free epub with just one click, wading through the FAQs of several websites to see whether or not they support DRM (some work really hard at hiding the fact that they do).
The net result:
– legal drm-free ebook: none.
– illegal drm-free ebook: everywhere, 0$
– legal ebook with DRM: available for 8$, doesn’t work on Calibre
– paperback book: 6-8$
Summing up, this means that a digital edition of The curse of Chalion would cost me just as much as a paperback, only it’s harder to find, doesn’t work on my platform, and restricts my rights of use. My decision? The hell with it, I’ll go buy another book.
Now I’m sure this wasn’t an isolated case: I would’ve had the same result searching for Gaiman, or Pratchett, or anyone else. With the exception of Baen and a few others, no one wants to publish copyrighted books without a drm scheme.
However, those two little questions keep popping in my head: why should I buy a digital book for the same price as a paperback, or more? why should I buy an inferior, restricted product when a better one is available for less?
And the answer is: I shouldn’t, and I won’t. Until commercial ebooks start working like books, my library will be fine without them.
PS – The situation is not much better for audiobooks. I recently subscribed to Audible, willingly ignoring the DRM restrictions because it looks like a good software and has a wide library, only to find out that many audios are not available in my country anyway. However, I can buy those very same audios on CD just fine from Amazon, which is Audible’s owner. *headdesk*