Creating some good healthy competition for the likes of Amazon and iBookstore, Google has opened its online ebook store. Ebooks are available for Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod and Web reading. You can keep your ebooks in your Google library for access from different devices and readers, always maintaining sync with where you left off. Downloads are offered in Adobe PDF or EPUB formats. Google keeps insisting that its books are not compatible with the Kindle, even though they offer PDFs which are easily supported by later model Kindles. I’m not sure what this double-speak is about. You can also convert Google’s EPUB format to Kindle-friendly MOBI format by going over to download a free copy of the Calibre ebook management software that enables simple conversion and transfer. I downloaded a free Google ebook of Sherlock Holmes stories and converted it for my Kindle in seconds. The result looks just like a book purchased from Amazon for my Kindle. In fact, some of the books I’ve purchased directly from Amazon have shown such grotesque typos and formatting errors that I wonder if anyone is doing any proofreading at all anymore. That’s mainly the fault of the ebook publishers, but Amazon could certainly crack down on what amounts to seriously broken merchandise. Competition from the Google juggernaut is a welcome bit of relief.
Google is capitalizing on their enormous library of scanned books for some of their offerings, especially in the free download area. Most importantly however, Google is allowing independent bookstores to sell Google ebooks through their own retail sites. The revenue from such sales is shared with the bookstore owners. I also understand that the revenue split with publishers is very fair, with the publishers getting 70% and 30% going to Google.
Open Letters Monthly has an article called In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider in which he argues that books on shelves perform the function of reflecting memories back at us. They are a constant reminder of the various events, stages, and emotional states of our lives. We look at our shelves and can instantly catapult ourselves back in time to events surrounding our reading of various volumes.
Schneider mentions a 16th-century memory theater that used images and symbols of the cosmos to inspire observers and enhance their intellectual powers. Books, for Schneider, do something similar when they are visible on our shelves. I agree up to a point. I am often taken back in time by my own books upon their shelves. But so am I transported by nearly every object in my home. Objects all have this power. Books are not exceptional in this regard.
Is it ethical to steal an eBook if you’ve purchased the hardback version? Sure. Stealing the hardbacks themselves is much more fun though. Is it ethical for a publisher to charge what they charge for hardbacks? No way at all. Sorry publishers, your pricing sucks and you know it. So, certainly it’s ethical to steal an eBook if I’ve been robbed by the hardback price already.
Now of course all the minimum wage proof readers in New York City will pounce on me and call me terrible names because they dread being turned into temp workers.
But stealing books is a real talent. You need a big army jacket that has lots of giant pockets inside and out. It’s best to steal them from large grocery and discount stores. eBooks are too easy to steal and you never really know what’s waiting for you on the other end of a download link anyway. The photo is of me demonstrating my own book-stealing technique. I have amassed quite the respectable library this way. But I never lend books out because they seldom make their way back home.
Here is an effort by a New York Times writer to answer the question of whether stealing ebooks is ethical or not if you’ve already bought the hardback.
But here’s a better piece at The Millions about an eBook pirate who’s pretty clear about what he likes.
Also, if you want to see how stealing books actually improves the world and culture, read The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño.
I don’t understand much about the book business. But I do know what makes a person want to go and be somewhere. I read a good blog post at The Devil’s Accountant about the troubles small bookstores have with the existing book business and the emerging business of ebook publishing. Small bookstores have to purchase books at wholesale for too much money and can’t make enough profit when they sell at retail. That’s true. But most movie theaters can’t make much money selling tickets either. They sell candy and sodas at big markups to make good money. In fact, there’s no such thing as the ‘movie business.’ There’s only a candy selling business that uses movies to bring you up to the candy counter.
An important point I’d also like to make about independent and small bookstores is that most of them really suck. Seriously. Most small bookstores are just a modest room full of books on poorly built shelves. Dead boring. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a crappy independent bookstore. Good riddance to them. Most independent bookstores can’t hold a candle to any Barnes & Noble or a Borders. Don’t open a bookstore if all you want to do is sell books. You’re an idiot if you do. And I won’t give you my money. I’ll give it to Amazon. They are not boring. They are smart and interesting. I enjoy watching them slaughter dull little bookshop owners every single day. It’s a fascinating and wonderful bloodbath. These booksellers are being eaten by lions and their screams are rare amusement.
There’s been a huge battle of the ebooks going on between Amazon.com and publisher Macmillan. Last week, Macmillan, in response to rotten Apple’s announcement of $14 and $15 ebooks on its new iPad, insisted that Amazon give Macmillan the right to choose its own higher ebook pricing for the Kindle ereader device. Amazon got peevish about the deal and simply de-listed all of Macmillan’s books. I thought that was a nice nasty smack in the kisser for a doomed publisher at the time. I was feeling so good about Amazon and its Kindle and so snitty about Apple’s iPad that I was within 60 minutes of plunking my digital money down on a brand new shiny Kindle. But wait! Amazon caved! They rolled over and gave Macmillan what it wanted.
So now, dear reader, your Kindle ebooks from Macmillan will cost more. Frankly, I was always kind of miffed by the whole $9.99 price tag on Kindle ebooks. Too high. Ebooks are invisible. You can’t stack them and put boards across to make a coffee table. Ebooks don’t have nice covers or fancy paper that you can bend and spill coffee on. I don’t know about anyone else reading this blog out there, but when I walk into a book store I’m just a customer. I don’t frankly give a damn about how the publisher is doing or how Amazon is getting along, or care a whit for Steve Jobs’ health, or the status of your average mid-list author and how he or she’s going to pay their mortgage. I don’t give one syllable of a damn. Continue reading
Cartoonist Lucy Knisley has a comic online called ‘Downloading Optimism: Pessimism Virus Detected.’ It’s a funny but very direct assault on the tendency in some quarters to fret and worry about the emergence of digital books and online reading as the driving force behind the new world of publishing. She doesn’t understand why some of our most creative writers and artists are feeling so gloomy about their prospects in a digital publishing world.
She’s been reading enormous amounts of online text since she was a little girl. Her point of view is dead on the money. One little thing I know is that I began publishing for kids online back in 1995. The kids came and were reading lots of stories. Let’s say a bunch of them were only 5. Well, they’re 20 now, and they are making it plain that they want their books on screens just as often as they might want them on paper. You ignore them at your peril.
I found this comic via Boing Boing