12 December 2008

From error to error, one discovers the entire truth.
    - Sigmund Freud

I've just spent the last three hours being aggravated. Not in the usual, "ooh-I'm-so annoyed" kind of aggravated that I now and again hit, but in the "get-me-a-handgun,-I'll-solve-this-problem" kind of towering rage that I reserve for real idiots. The "idiots" in this case are an author, a bookseller, and the developers of a digital rights management scheme.

I didn't start out aggravated. I started out interested in purchasing a book that a friend recommended. I buy books all the time. Lots of books, lots of subjects. 

My spouse believes that this book-buying compulsion is in fact one of my biggest character flaws--there's no problem that I'm reading as much as I am, it's that I seem to feel the need to actually possess the books, have them in my personal library, which is now considerable, numbering in thousands of volumes. My spouse and I have had several intense conversations about this very topic over the years, and although I have tapered off a bit (liberal use of the public library in our town), I still augment my personal library by anywhere from 50-100 volumes every year.

This morning, I decided that I had to have the book my friend recommended. However, it's out of print. I hunted everywhere, and the only copy I could find was an ebook. I decided to buy it. I thought it would be a simple transaction.

I also have a goodly collection of electronic reading material--mostly in the form of PDF, text, and word processing documents--on my computers. I've been buying ebooks for years, and have never had any problem with them. I move them from place to place, shuffle them around in various directories, load up my PalmPilot or my Axim when I travel and space is at a premium, and generally just do what I want with them. What I don't have, however, is a firm commitment to buying a dedicated "reading device" (think Kindle, or Sony's machines)--those things are a layer of technology I've never really considered necessary. My philosophy is that simpler is always better, and anything that stands in between me and my reading is just bad.

Okay, so I found the book on eBooks.com. I put the book into my shopping cart, entered my information, and clicked "Buy." My expectation was that I would receive an electronic receipt that would give me instructions for downloading my $13.95 purchase. Please note, this is a 71-page ebook I'm talking about. For $13.95. Still, I was willing to pay the price, and when the receipt appeared, it also contained a series of instructions. Uh-oh.

First off, I read that while I could indeed download my ebook, if I'd prefer to read it freely online, all I had to do was click "Read now." A proprietary, server-based reader (eb20) would open, and I could use the book from anyplace I happened to be, just so long as I had a connection to the Internet. That seemed reasonable--after all, a 71-page book would probably take me less than half an hour to read, and if I used it as reference material, even less than that. I clicked "Read now."

A new window opened, and the eb20 reader loaded my new ebook. I waited for the load to complete, and saw the table of contents appear on the left panel of the reader. The title page was visible in all its electronic glory. I was ready to read. However, that wasn't to be. Even though my laptop has plenty of power, memory, and all the other requirements listed for the reader, the eb20 reader would not display a single line of the book's text, other than that title page. I don't think eb20 is quite ready for primetime.

I don't give up easily. I closed the reader, and went back to the receipt page. 

This time, I did as instructed for local reading--I downloaded and installed the Adobe Digital Edition reader, and activated it. Next, I downloaded the ebook, as instructed. What I discovered after the download completed, however, was that I'd only downloaded a pointer to the book, a 1K file that when clicked, would open the Digital Edition reader, and download the actual PDF. I was indeed able to see the full text of the 71 pages using this method. However, the user interface for the Digital Edition reader is way too slow, clunky, and limited for my reading purposes, so I closed it down, and decided to try another PDF reader, my trusty Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional.

What I quickly discovered is what makes people froth at the mouth when they think about Digital Rights Management (DRM). Not only could I not open the PDF, even though I jumped through every registration, activation, and verification hoop Adobe presented me with, but I was finally told that I'd have to contact the seller to have them confirm that I had the right to the PDF I was trying to open. Oh, really?

Let's get this straight--I paid $13.95 (this is real money, folks) without a complaint, expecting to own what I bought, but instead I learn that before I can even get access to what I purchased, I have to get permission from not only the bookseller, but the people who made the reader?

I don't think so.

Here's the deal: When I buy a book, what I do with it and how I use it after I buy it is my business, and nobody else's. When I finish reading it, I expect to be able to shelve it for future reference, give it away, throw it away, or shred and burn it, if that's what I choose to do. I do not want to discuss my ownership rights with my opthalmologist (the flesh-and-blood equivalent of a reading device purveyor), or the people at the bookstore who sold it to me. It's my book, and my business. Nobody else's.

There is an excellent post about this very subject (Why Ebooks Haven't "Taken Off" and How I Wasted $150 of My Time on a $9 Ebook). You can read it, and then all the responses, and see how angry this subject can make people.

I'm so completely turned off by this experience that I seriously doubt I will ever again consider purchasing an ebook. I absolutely will never again consider buying an ebook from the vendor. Ditto that for products from Adobe. I'm done with them. They've told me what value they place upon the good-faith transaction I entered into with them.

And finally, no more books, no matter what, from the author, or the publisher. If I see the author's name, or the publisher's imprint, I'm going to think, "Danger, Will Robinson," and back right off.

Excuse me, I have to go see what's new at the public library.


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