Monday, July 20, 2009

Books aren't dead - Just brains: Kindle and 1984

"Good fame is like fire; when you have kindled you may easily preserve it; but if you extinguish it, you will not easily kindle it again."

Obviously the good people at follow the golden rule of drug dealing, "don't sample the product", otherwise someone might have come across Bacon's word of wisdom and so would have avoided the Great Kindle Debacle. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about (believe me, I don't blame you) Amazon recently decided that it would retroactively reverse purchase decisions concerning the electronic version of George Orwell's 1984 on its Kindle e-book reader.

On finding out that the version they were selling was in fact not licensed for the North American market they decided to wipe it off everyone's Kindle (which connects to the internet via Wi- Fi) without actually asking permission. So people who had bought the book through Amazon woke up to find that there edition had suddenly vanished (click here for more details from New York Times).

Although I do not own a Kindle (Call me dumb but shelling out 300 dollars to read a book seems a mite stoopid) the story caught my attention as it does concern the idea of copyright and DRM (digital rights management). The first point that struck me was why is a book written over 50 years ago is still covered by copyright, you'd have thought that half a century was more than enough time to make your money on any piece of writing.

Second and perhaps more importantly the whole Kindle furor has raised issues about who gets to decide what you see, read and listen to. Apparently, people can wipe stuff off your hardware without your permission and it is all perfectly legal. At least that is Amazon's argument according to company spokesman, Drew Herdener,

"When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers,"

Yes, but without asking them first, Drew. So what's next? Spyware from itunes to check you have only legitimate downloads on your ipod? Or perhaps a DVD that silently contacts the authorities should you try to feed it an illegally obtained copy of Desperate Housewives? Why stop there? Perhaps we should allow the police to get serious about such copyright abuses and since 95% of all music downloads are illegal they shouldn't need to bother with such nit-picking details as a warrant since it is obvious, virtually everyone is guilty.

Actually, the whole Kindle story smacks of the kind of stupidity that comes from studying too much for that law degree/MBA instead of getting an education. You can be sure that whoever made this call spent four years demanding that the campus library stay open 24/7 and that Saturdays should be considered a normal working day for staff. How else can you explain a decision that has cost millions in bad publicity and made a laughing stock of the product Amazon is trying so hard to launch. This is stupid gone to college, dumb with a degree, morons with MBAs.

Once again I struggle to understand why somebody would buy a Kindle when there are a plethora of cheap laptops for the same price and less which can be used to download any number of books free of charge from the internet. What's more they even have a colour screen!!!!! How very 1984.


Jude said...

I wasn't aware of this latest Kindle controversy, but I don't see that Amazon had a choice if they didn't legally own the copyright for that version. Also, I only "know" a couple of people who own Kindles (they're both "famous" children's authors--Lois Lowry and Julius Lester) and they love them because they're older, arthritic, can adjust text size easily, and feel that after the initial cost, the fact that Kindle books are significantly cheaper means that they don't feel cheated.

teacher dude said...

The had the choice of handling a copyright infringement in a different manner, less invasive than wiping data off people's devices. This is a very dangerous precedent.

Actually, if cost is a factor than a cheap laptop which access to the internet is the way to go. there are loads of audio and ebooks which can be downloaded from Librivox etc.

abravanel said...

Normally I would accuse you of giving ideas to the corporations but this time you're lucky: Sony already beat you with their rootkit.

Btw as an avid ebook consumer I can tell you that a huge part of the Kindle hype is due to the format of the ebooks - reading stuff in pdf is simply not practical in a small screen.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you say regarding DRM and digital rights. And most especially about whichever nitwit didn't consider the disastrous PR implications of Amazon's digital equivalent of sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to take their book back.

It seems someone else at Amazon has got a brain, at least, as they've quickly announced that they won't be doing _that_ again. But I imagine they've lost a lot of trust already. Clowns.

As to why someone would buy a Kindle? Well, first off, if I pay $300 for a Kindle (or whatever the equivalent will be if it ever actually comes to the UK), it's not because I'm paying $300 to read a book.

No, I'm paying $300 to take a choice of 20 books with me on holiday without breaking my back, say, or to read a book _and_ all my RSS subscriptions (like the one to your blog!) in the park at lunchtime.

As to the laptop comparison, that black-and-white screen is actually the answer to "why not a laptop?" The e-ink display is far more readable in bright light, plus it's vastly more efficient, only using any power when the page is turned. Will you still be reading that book on your laptop at the end of your 7-hour flight? Or in the coach journey on the way back from your electricity-free camping holiday?

On the whole, I'm torn. I can see myself really enjoying the Kindle. But yes, it's as pricey as the new generations of tech always are, i.e. too pricey unless you have a real and regular need for its advantages. And Amazon's Big Brother approach to DRM certainly isn't helping them sell it to me.

Plus, of course, given my reading habits, I'll wait for the edition with the anti-mist screen that _floats_ when I drop it in the bath, rather than incurring a hefty insurance claim...

teacher dude said...

I still think that a Kindle is a very expensive way to read a book. The ebooks which are available aren't that cheap, considering the minute cost of storing and transmitting the data.

They'd make a useful tool for students wanting textbooks but I think their appeal to the general reader is pretty limited.

Plus the whole DRM issue is a real drag on their widespread adoption.