Why Hasn’t the Ebook Caught On Yet?

You may haimageve heard about the Amazon Kindle. This device for $399, is supposed to be the newest ebook device on the market. The Kindle has received mixed reviews. Some people expect this device to launch a revolution, others are waiting to celebrate it’s failure. I am neither enthusiastic nor pessimistic. I don’t plan on buying a Kindle, but I applaud Amazon’s efforts to produce an ebook device and overcome some of the hurdles to ebook use.

When I read articles and blog posts about ebooks, I keep hearing a common theme: people just like real books too much. I’m not sure I completely agree with that statement. Sure, some books are best in print. Holding the book is a nice experience, but to be honest, not all books are deserving of this treatment. Some books frankly aren’t worth more than one read and could easily be read in electronic format.

I honestly do like the idea of ebooks, but I have avoided adopting the format. For the time being, I am sticking to print books with a few exceptions. Several years ago, when the "Left Behind" books were popular, I was interested in reading them. One day at Target, I found the Left Behind Library CD-ROM. This program would plug into an electronic Bible encyclopedia (can’t remember the name right now) and included all ten of the Left Behind books written to that date in Microsoft Reader and Palm Reader format. I have no idea what has happened to Microsoft Reader, and I know that Palm Reader has been bought and rebranded into something else. In any case the CD-ROM was $25 for ten books, so I bought it. I had a Palm Zire at the time and Microsoft Reader installed on my desktop computer, so this worked out very well. I still have the CD-ROM around somewhere. I will spare you a discussion of the Left Behind series. I didn’t read the final book, nor have I read the prequel to the series. The other exception is that I will take .pdf files of public domain books and publish them through Repligo to read on my Pocket PC. I am currently working through War and Peace. Sadly, there just isn’t a good .pdf reader for the Pocket PC platform. You can download public domain books at Manybooks.net.

Why haven’t I adopted ebooks yet? I’m a computer geek and highly enthusiastic about technology, so why am I not "all over" ebooks? I have several reasons.

  • Conflicting platforms: so far, no ebook format has become dominant or entirely reliable. How do I know if I decide to buy into a certain platform that support will continue, and how do I know if the current reader is any good?
  • DRM: DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. I wish they would change the acronym to something more appropriate like CURM (Customer Use Restriction Management). To be fair, content producers do have a right to earn a living from their content, but DRM automatically assumes that PAYING CUSTOMERS are potential criminals. DRM also places what many consider to be unreasonable restrictions upon purchased content. When I buy a paper book, I can read it, mark it up, give it to my wife or a friend to read, and if I move into another house, the book can go with me. I’ve been through a total of five Pocket PCs and four Windows Mobile operating systems in the last four an a half years. What if I had invested in an ebook for my first Pocket PC with Windows Mobile 2002, then found out that the ebook was locked to that device, or the reader software is not compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 or WM5? I would not be able to "move" the ebook to another device, even though I had legally purchased both the ebook and the device.
  • Price: honestly, I have no idea how much of the price of a book goes to the author, his or her agent, and the publisher and how much is manufacturing and distribution costs. All I know is if the paperback book costs $15, I’m not going to be too eager to pay $14 for a 200kb download.
  • Content: if I buy into a certain platform, what are the odds that I will be able to acquire enough content for it? Will the next New York Times bestseller be available? If I discover a new author, can I get his or her books on this platform?

Perhaps I do need a new "business model". Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect to buy an ebook and have it last long enough for my grandchildren to read it (if it’s a really good one). Until my concerns about DRM, platform stability, price, and content are addressed, I’ll just stick to regular books (and public domain .pdf books).


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