The Problem with eBooks, Part 2


As promised, here is my follow-on post to yesterday’s thoughts on eBooks.  In fact, this post covers the issue that vexes me the most.  This is something that I feel needs to be resolved.  If it was resolved today, there would be a large number of happy users.  If it was resolved today, I’d go out and buy eReaders for my family tonight.

The Reread Dilemma

I find that there are two different types of book readers out there.  There are the average/casual reader that will read a book once and rarely pick it up again.  They may read a lot or a little, but they rarely revisit a book.  There are always books that are the exception, but as a rule, this reading group follows this trend.  My wife, an regular reader, falls into this group.

Then there are the more hardcore readers.  IMG00067-20110104-1856These people consume entire authors and genres.  I am like this.  When you follow authors, you realize that you want to reread books frequently.  An author may revisit characters years after introducing them.  Sometimes, this makes me want to read the book that created the universe.   Sometimes I want to reread an entire series.  Take the stack of books to the right as a series I plan to reread (not for the 1st time) by November when the final book is released.

This is why I like to own the books that I read because I never know which books I will reread in the future, when they may be hard to find.  I also enjoy sharing those stories with people.  I look forward to the day when my kids start to consume my books.

Let’s look at this from the eBook perspective.  The current Kindle book model supports the second type of reader easily.  You always have the book.  You couldn’t give it away if you tried.  Forget being the first type of readers  and gifting books to libraries or lending them to friends.  You get the books and you have them forever to reread.

That is fine with me, though I would like to be able to lend them for longer periods.

The two problems are that the first group don’t readily fit into the eBook paradigm yet.  They may buy an eReader, but the are more likely to buy reader apps for their tablets or receive an eReader as a gift.  They will want to lend/give eBooks to others and will find that they can’t.  More importantly, they’ll realize that their friends can’t lend their books either, so that ecosystem will suffer.

The other problem is my current book collection.  I have a lot of books, many that I know I will reread.  Some are large hardbacks, perfect for a reader.  What do I do about those?

A Suggestion

What I want is for my reader app to be able to retrieve my books digitally.  I should be able to scan the ISBN on my book and retrieve my book.  That way I could have copies of my existing books to read and reread.

image Of course, this could be prone to abuse.  That is why the process should be a little more involved.

  1. Scan the ISBN number.  This must be a live picture from the camera and not a stored image.
  2. The reader application will determine if the book is available electronically and notify the user.
  3. To retrieve the book, a second scan would need to be taken showing the ISBN number marked through with a marker.  This must also be a live picture and not a stored image.
  4. The book is then added to the reader application’s inventory.  The user could be charged a nominal fee, say $1-2, for the transfer.

Heck, I’d be happy to go into Barnes and Noble to have them do it to help them protect against fraud.  They could simple stamp the inside cover for future reference.

While many people, like myself, might be hesitant to deface a book, the ability to gain a digital copy inexpensively would be worth it for many books.  This defacement is the one flaw from the book owner perspective.  Many books in my inventory are first editions.  For a vast majority of my books that doesn’t really matter as they aren’t collector items.  For a couple of books that is an issue, but one I could deal with on an individual basis.

While there would a few ways around this process, it would require multiple copies of the book.  As you cannot resell eBooks, abuse would be limited as the gains would also be limited.  Almost the same as copying an old cassette tape or digitizing a CD multiple times.  Even if you could “give” those eBooks to people, it will be limited as there is limited profit in it as books aren’t exactly high-priced items.

One must also remember that there will also be a bootleg book market with or without this solution.

I already know about 13 books, pictured above, that I would make me go buy a Kindle and digitize today if this capability existed.  No hesitation.  I’d then start buying eBooks instead of paper for many books.  Let me tell you, that is a lot of money that would go to Amazon that doesn’t go to them now.

Let’s put it this way…I’ve been known to earn back the cost of the annual Barnes and Noble membership fee in one day.  That is money that isn’t going to Amazon.  That is also money that Barnes and Nobles would like to keep.

So let’s see some innovation.  The tech is there.  It would work with readers on tablets and phones now.  Let’s get a move-on people.

8 thoughts on “The Problem with eBooks, Part 2

  1. Lee Dallas says:

    OK – I was a little snippy yesterday.

    I actually like the convert to digital option you propose though safeguards against fraud would need to be more mature.

    One of the biggest appeals to the idea is that its a mechanism for a secondary purchase. Buy the hardcopy convert to eBook for a nominal fee. For B&N with a brick and mortar footprint – do the conversions in the store. Drives traffic and revenue.

    The conversion option for online sellers could turn customer purchase history into revenue. If you have ever ordered a book – they already know it. Offer eBook conversions 6 months after buying it for the fee. Everybody makes money twice on the same title- except the printers and shippers.


    • Mark says:

      I think you are missing the point. Well, the point as the publishers see it anyway. They intend for you to buy all of those books again at full (ebook) prices. They simply will never give you an option to purchase a discounted digital copy because you own the paper copy. Having spent quite some time in the eBook universe by now I’m aware that the publisher’s point of view is only to sell you multiple formats of the book not make your life more convenient. They wouldn’t even know what to think about your suggestion.

      There may be less than legal ways to get to where you are going but there will never be a legal solution that is anywhere close to what you suggest. Note: I didn’t say unethical, only illegal and especially given today’s IP law, legal doesn’t necessarily mean “morally or ethically wrong”.


      • I understand the publishers point of view, but they need to be careful. If they don’t provide a legal means to solve these problems, other means will develop, which may force them into less attractive alternatives. The music industry lost a lot of money in the Napster days because they didn’t want to change their business model.

        You know who has the most to lose by not solving these problems, Amazon. They have a proprietary book format in the Kindle. Bootleg books in the ePub format would be easier and may actually drive sales of other reading software/hardware, driving a large part of the market away from the Kindle format.

        As I said in my previous post, and Carl mentions below, this is still a maturing market, so there will be change. Like always, it will be slower than I like, slower than it needs to be, and it will eventually get there.


  2. Sander Hendriks says:

    I am one of those casual readers who has so many others things on the agenda that re-reading a book is usually out of the question.
    Owning a book is not important to me. I’ve actually thrown away some older books to make room for new ones. Public library works great for me. Lend a book, read it and return it.

    so, I was thinking that for casual readers like me, there is a great digital paradigm. I stead of selling you eternal rights and ownership on a digital book, why not offer digital books for rent. The price should have to be dropped accordingly of course. This would be comparable to renting a DVD.
    A renting model would prevent problems when switching to different technology (if you want to re-read a book on a new device, just re-rent the book on it) and lending your copy to some else would not be something that many people would want to do and may even be against the renting rules.

    Just get me all Amazon books for a few euros for a few weeks and I may even consider starting to read ebooks.


  3. Laurence:

    I cannot argue with any of the points you made here, and would apply some of them to the world of e-music/Itunes as well. But this is ‘expected” growing pains in an industry that is moving very rapidly. (It reminds me of issues I hear regarding use of Cloud Computing – I cannot relay on this – I do not ALWAYS have web. What about teh 1% of the tiem when i cannpt get access…)
    I think the issues you raise will be managed in short order – just maybe not as quickly as some may like. In the interim we need to keep in perspective the benefits we are already receiving from this technology and allow ourselves to marvel at it – a generation ago the concept was barely believable.


  4. Ah, if only there were a way to rip a book to ePub, like you can rip CDs to MP3s! I have several bookshelves worth of books I’d like to convert.

    Unfortunately, I think our best option at this point is to sell the physical book to a used bookstore and then buy the digital copy. It’s basically the same kind of library conversion that devotees of vinyl records had to make. Sell the record, then buy the CD or MP3.

    To be fair, though, the better e-books are more than a straightforward scan of the text. They include a linked table of contents, ways to jump to the endnotes / footnotes and return to the original text, chapter indicators, etc.

    These extra features aren’t useful for most novels, but really enhance the reading experience in non-fiction works.


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