Monday, January 28, 2008

Kindles in libraries? Amazon says "get lost."

Amazon prohibits libraries from lending out Kindles. It's unclear if you can let your spouse use it.

(Hat tip Jessamyn West).

I've refrained from posting about the Kindle because everyone else is talking about it and I don't have strong feelings, except on the licensing issue.

There are cultural plusses from the fact that books are objects people can sell, loan, swap and pass onto your children, and that their continued functioning does not depend on the good will and financial stability of a company. There are cultural plusses from some of the extra things Kindle could do too, but those are the things we could lose.

I'm worried that, for most people, these plusses aren't that important. Shocked as I am by the practice, most people throw away books after they read them. But it's only books for me. I've somehow managed to accept that, when my father dies, his fabulous classical music collection will go to his heirs, but my son won't be getting my music.

Maybe this aspect of the issue won't be noticed until people see how DRM-based solutions cut libraries out of the equation. Then again, Amazon will probably move to allow libraries to provide short-term rentals, and libraries will accept that.

What does the library of the future do? I worry it won't do much more than aggregate rights-managed subscription services. It's already going that way with databases and journals. Yuck.

Think I'm cantankerous? You haven't heard David Lynch on the iPhone.



Blogger Jason Riedy said...

Here's the obligatory Richard Stallman reference. If people haven't read this story (The Right to Read), it's worth a look.

1/28/2008 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, I am interested in your last comment about libraries aggregating rights-managed data, such as subscription databases. I absolutely hate this particular aspect of library services. Given what users have come to expect from their web services, and the popularity of open source and open platforms, how much longer will library users be willing to accept such outmoded forms of service? I would love to see some technology do for bibliographic databases what LibraryThing has done for cataloging.

1/29/2008 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Reading_fox said...

Well libraries don't let you borrow a CD player to play the CDs/audiobooks they stock either.

However Libraries should be able to lend you a book pdf to shortterm read on your own Kindle. That's how it currently works with books etc.

In general though I agree with you - digital media is nowhere near as permenant as a physical copy. BUT there are only finite resources in the world so unlimited physical copies don't work either.

1/31/2008 5:41 AM  
Anonymous lorax said...

reading_fox, that's a misleading analogy.

Libraries COULD lend out CD players if they so chose; the manufacturers don't prohibit it. The reasons why most of them don't have more to do with budget and with the ubiquity of CD players than with legal restrictions.

1/31/2008 1:43 PM  
Blogger Karen Coyle said...

We mustn't talk about "books" as if there is one and only one thing that term applies to. And we mustn't assume that all uses of books must be based on ownership and permanent possession. I make a lot of use of reading devices (from my computer to my Palm to my MP3 player) for transient content. Sometimes that content is in the form of a book, sometimes it's a "document" of another stripe. I delete ones I'm no longer in need of and add others, at will.

I wouldn't expect to own and keep every document that passes across my computer screen, and don't come out of a movie theatre pissed off because I didn't get to keep a copy of the movie. If you want to own a keep a copy, you get a physical book. If you want a copy to carry with you on vacation that weighs virtually nothing, then you make use of a transient copy. They aren't the same thing, and they shouldn't be confounded.

1/31/2008 2:16 PM  
Anonymous khms said...

I always get irritated when I see people comment about things like kindle as if all the e-book world were like that.

It isn't.

From the significantly more than a thousand e-books I carry on my Palm, only a small handful are DRM-protected (and there's little in there that I care about OR that I don't have in non-DRM form).

And while Mobipocket isn't exactly an open format, it still is close enough to HTML that it's feasible to convert - of course, most of those e-books I could simply download in a different format in the first place.

And no, I'm not speaking of stuff I didn't have to pay for. Most of that stuff is either bought at fictionwise or webscriptions.

Non-DRM'd e-books work just fine. Just because the DRMers of this world haven't yet caught up to what most (not all, sadly) of the donglers learned the hard way five or ten years ago, doesn't mean they will not eventually.

2/03/2008 9:40 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

"Most ebooks" is a strange concept. The number is not representative of "most books," which, to people who care about content rather than media, matters more. In fact, only a tiny fraction of books are currently available in digital form.

Fundamentally, big publishers are terrified that something like the Kindle will allow large-scale trading of pirated books. They've seen what it's done to music. It's devastated it. In that environment—when music is available for free over file-sharing services or from a friend with a CD copy—there's an argument for going DRM-free. One way or another, you're already out there.

I will, however, eat my hat if general book publishers follow this line of thought and decide to make their stuff open to free copying. Books aren't like CDs. You can't copy them in two minutes. So your only piracy worries are digital. I don't think it would make any business sense, and, from having worked at a major publisher, I think the risk would be enough to scotch it even if it did make business sense.

2/03/2008 11:36 AM  

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