I love eBooks. Then why title my post as I did? Simple. We have problems in the eBook world that need solving quickly. Recently, I wrote about the state of Connecticut’s hearings to see if they could prove collusion by the publishing industry’s biggest eBook players. Do I think this is happening? Yes and I’ll tell you why:
The eBook market is set to go mainstream in the following 12 months. New reading devices are being marketed and what was once a two player market just two years ago (Amazon and Sony) now includes Barnes and Noble, Borders (who until recently sold only Sony products until it debuted its new Kobo reader in June), and several third party players. Readers are coming down in price and are adding a myriad of features to make it easy to take thousands of books with you in a tiny device. The nice thing about the new devices being made is that the consumer has a wonderful choice of features to choose to have or not to have. Maybe you don’t want wi-fi on your reader. Perhaps not having to worry about memory expansion is a priority for you. Now you have choices that can answer those concerns.
The problem with all of this comes into play with the eBook files you purchase for your device. These files are the heart and soul of your reading experience. Without them, you have nothing. The publishers know this and now that eBook sales are beginning to grab a larger market share than just a few years ago, the publishers want to control their profits and keep a handle on how they will allow you to use your eBooks. Prices have risen and now an eBook file can sell on Amazon (or Sony) for about 60-70% of what the printed version sells for. That is wrong. There is no reason the publisher can give for marking up the file to that extent. In my earlier posts, I highlighted the fact that eBooks have no storage problems other than a file server, there’s no printing set up and related publishing costs. There’s no shipping expense to get cases of a popular book to a bookseller. All of these expenses should be taken off the price of an eBook.
The other very large problem the eBook world has and the reason we will not see the eBook market grow as it should is the issue of “Digital Rights Management” or DRM for short. You can read a piece I’ve written about the issue here. In short, DRM is a silly protection scheme that forces you to use your files on a specific device. In the very recent past, the makers of the reading devices had specific coding for their products that you purchased. Sony changed that by going to what is becoming a standard in eBook publishing with the ePub format. Files in this format can be read on all major readers except the Amazon Kindle (why I have no clue). But even with a standard file format, we still have the issue of DRM to deal with.
Let me try to bring brevity to this piece by saying that we need to separate the sale of eBooks from the readers themselves. A true eBook store would sell files that were in a standard format that could be read on any number of devices. The eBook store would be separate from any one reader but could be operated by those companies that produce those devices. It would simply force them to compete for pricing. Instead of shopping only in the Sony Reader bookstore, I could shop at Amazon or even Borders online and purchase book files for my device and if my reader ceases to work in the future, I could easily migrate those files to another device of my choosing. When the publishers learn to decentralize their eBook markets, then I believe they will see their reader sales go through the roof. Are you listening Sony? I mention them because they were the first of the major reader manufacturers to convert to a format standard like ePub. Imagine if their books were all DRM free and could be read on the Nook, a Bookeen, or a Libre device. Fans would flock to their store and purchase files by the bucket load while the other sellers would be scrambling to do the same.
Until the book publishing industry treats their eBooks the same way record companies treat their music files, the eBook reader will be seen as being on the fringe and the average reader will not buy into it. I have several friends who’ve asked me about my preferences in readers and the one thing they all have in common is asking me about being locked in to one device for life with the files they purchase. This needn’t be the case. I’m a very happy Sony Reader user but Sony needs to step out and take the protection off their files and allow their fans to re-download their libraries in a DRM free system. Strip away the layer of complexity that isn’t needed and I guarantee they will sell more readers because they will build brand loyalty just for making it a breeze to use their readers!
Are we ready for the next step? Publishers, talk to me if you think I’m off base. I know I have a few that read this blog and I’m curious what they think.