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Anyone who claims that readers can’t and won’t and shouldn’t own their books are bent on the destruction of the book, the destruction of publishing, and the destruction of authorship itself.
December 29, 2009 11:25 AM   Subscribe

How to Destroy the Book. "The anti-copyright activists have no respect for our copyright and our books. They say that when you buy an ebook or an audiobook that’s delivered digitally, you are demoted from an owner to a licensor." (Previously).
posted by Lobster Garden (203 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Doctorow can be a sloppy writer sometimes:

"Designing a book reader so that books can be removed from it without the reader’s knowledge or consent violates Chekhov’s first law of narrative: any gun on the mantelpiece in Act One is bound to go off by Act Three."

If it violated the law, people wouldn't have to worry about the gun going off, would they?

I think it's probably fairly well established by now that Doctorow doesn't like DRM, anyway.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The phrase "on the wrong side of history" applies here. The question is to whom does it apply?
posted by squalor at 11:38 AM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The second page of this essay is more interesting than the first.

I’d like you to have better license agreements on your works. Here’s a great license agreement for an ebook, because everyone’s asking me, “What’s a good license agreement for an ebook?”:

Don’t violate copyright law.

It’s four words long! And it’s everything you need to do to uphold copyright law in your books. Anything else is purely confiscatory of your readers. Your readers know what that license means. They don’t know what the 26,000 words [in total, for an iPhone user to buy an audiobook through the iTunes store] mean.

posted by dng at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


We're all on the wrong side of history. History is on the other side of where we are now, with tomorrow as the wall.

Whoops. Dropped my bong.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2009 [44 favorites]


Newsweek: Do you think that the ink-on-paper book will eventually go away?

Jeff Bezos: I do. I don't know how long it will take. You know, we love stories and we love narrative; we love to get lost in an author's world. That's not going to go away; that's going to thrive. But the physical book really has had a 500-year run. It's probably the most successful technology ever. It's hard to come up with things that have had a longer run. If Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognize the physical book and know how to operate it immediately. Given how much change there has been everywhere else, what's remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.
posted by mattbucher at 11:51 AM on December 29, 2009


But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.

I dunno. We still use cups and wheels and knives.
posted by dng at 11:55 AM on December 29, 2009 [89 favorites]


I'm a couple of years into being a reader of e-books and Doctorow did bring up issues that have bothered me. I definitely support the efforts of writers and have no problem with them holding their copyrights. I want to buy books with the knowledge that money is going to support the writer. But Doctorow is right, I want to be the owner of that copy of that book. I rarely reread books (too many new ones to give a try), and prefer to give them away. I'm hoping the market will drive e-books in that direction. I noticed that the new Barnes and Noble reader is supposed to have a loan feature. I also want to have a donate feature.
posted by Edward L at 11:55 AM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Designing a book reader so that books can be removed from it without the reader’s knowledge or consent violates Chekhov’s first law of narrative: any gun on the mantelpiece in Act One is bound to go off by Act Three."

I think the author of this puzzling sentence is straining hard to squeeze in a Checkhov reference by any means possible.
posted by Ratio at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


In the last century a few people got rich by selling our culture to us. Now those people are irrelevant. They are going to inflict as much pain as possible arguing that fact. Eventually newspapers, the music industry, even movie studios will be long gone and we will be still telling stories.
posted by agent of bad karma at 12:00 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


I've pretty much stopped reading physical books, except in the case that it doesn't exist in the e-book format... it's just too convenient to decide I want a book and have it on my nook 5 minutes later. I can understand the concern, though.

I think a solution that would work for me would be to let the consumer buy a licence to a particular book, and then have the book available to that person no matter which service they want it from. Switch to a Kindle? Your library is waiting for you.

That would require all entities involved to be more focused on the consumer than is probably likely, though. Government might have to get involved.

The ideal solution would be to pay the author directly, and get a file that I can do whatever I want with. Don't see any of the companies involved supporting that, though.
posted by Huck500 at 12:03 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


They say that when you buy an ebook or an audiobook that’s delivered digitally, you are demoted from an owner to a licensor.

as much as Doctorow engages in hyperbole when discussing these things, this is one of his major points that is not in any way an exaggeration. He's completely right that the legal recourse of publishers in any medium has been to reduce a legal user to a licensor of the media he or she consumes. It's abominable, and that's whether you support or despise piracy. The simple truth is that, whether piracy is right or wrong, the response to piracy has been to punish the legal purchaser - not the pirate - and to take from them their right of ownership, effectively taking the same amount of money and selling something lesser and then pretending you've sold them the same thing.

I believe this is the kind of business model that the buying public will reject, and that they will voice their rejection monetarily. Even if they don't resort to piracy, people will stop buying books on license, the industry as a whole will suffer unless they start respecting the will of the buying public to own the books and media they purchase.
posted by shmegegge at 12:05 PM on December 29, 2009 [16 favorites]


That is the first thing I have ever read by Cory Doctorow. The writing was terrible. The sentence structures were awkward and the arguments did not flow very well at all. To anyone else who feels the same way though: try to look past the stylistic faults. This was a really interesting read that took a surprising turn early on in part 2 of his elegy. I think despite its awkwardness, this article is a succinct criticism of the notion of "licensing" creative works to the consumer.

I signed up for the free audiobook promotion at Audible two months ago to see what it was like. Then I had the unfortunate realization that I had to install their ugly, clunky, borderline unusable software to listen to the book. Then I realized that I would only be able to listen as long as I was a member of Audible. Then I read that I would only be a free member for the duration of the two-week free trial before my credit card would be hit with a charge and my paid subscription would begin. Then I realized they made it difficult to put the same book onto different media, for instance, my iPod and on CD so I can listen on the bus as well as at home. And that was pretty much the end of that for me. I canceled my membership before they hit me with an unadvertised recurring fee and uninstalled that vomit coloured monstrosity from my computer.

Owning a book shouldn't be that difficult. Imagine buying a book and being told that you are legally only allowed to read it in one spot. Or a movie that becomes fused to the first player you put it in. The worst part about these inconveniences is that no matter what these people do to the products they distribute, the DRM can and will always be stripped. As long as I have a recording interface and a line out on my laptop, I can clean and redistribute Audible books.

I agree with Doctorow in his redefinition of the term "pirate".
posted by battlebison at 12:06 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


I noticed that the new Barnes and Noble reader is supposed to have a loan feature. I also want to have a donate feature.

I'm all for a "buy this for a friend" feature. Tech has done an awesome job of making sure artists can't get paid; maybe it's time for the shoe to land on the other foot.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:06 PM on December 29, 2009


"They say they’re only trying to preserve the way it’s always been. They claim that their radical agenda is somehow conservative. But what they really see is a future in which the electronic culture market grows by leaps and bounds and they get to be at the centre of it. They claim that this is about ethics, but anyone who thinks about it for a minute can see that it’s about profit."

BoingBoing, Kindle Edition. $1.99/month.

Doctorow is a buffoon.
posted by Ratio at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


I have a solution. Can we just call people like Doctorow "leotards"? I am willing to offend dancers. They think they all so lithe and shit.
posted by everichon at 12:14 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


That is the first thing I have ever read by Cory Doctorow. The writing was terrible.

My favorite thing ever written by Cory Doctorow.

It encapsulates him utterly.
posted by Ratio at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


I think the author of this puzzling sentence is straining hard to squeeze in a Checkhov reference by any means possible.

Seems like it would be easier to just refer to books as the mighty nuclear wessel of the information age.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


I noticed that the new Barnes and Noble reader is supposed to have a loan feature.
posted by Edward L at 11:55 AM on December 29 [+] [!]

Nook's sharing feature seems a little half-baked.

As a new Kindle owner, I'm still not sure books are going to go away, not entirely. The Kindle's faults have been expounded on at great length elsewhere (the Kindle 2 is terrible for comics), but what I find it useful for is saving long articles online for later reading. Merlin Mann wrote an excellent post about this.

Also, we'd lose book stores, and that's wrong on many, many levels.
posted by gc at 12:16 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


does the new definition of pirates include those using dirigibles in the commission of an international crime?
that would be a sky-punk awesome definition.

America got a "wild west"... and that was just because of the ability to exploit a little land... there are 3 dimensions of earth atmosphere to occupy, and exploit, millions of cubic hectares! Upon which to be pirates in the dirigible sky punk pirate world of tomorrow.
posted by infinite intimation at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.

The arrogance of the anti-copyright, pro-technology crowd is what really gets me.

The book has been around for longer than 500 years. It is less resource-intensive to create than a Kindle or similar technology, and transmits knowledge more equitably.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


"I think a solution that would work for me would be to let the consumer buy a licence to a particular book, and then have the book available to that person no matter which service they want it from. Switch to a Kindle? Your library is waiting for you."

This assumes a permanence of institutions and of databases, and a willingness to let some institution/entity know exactly what you have in your library.

At the risk of being accused of hipocrisy, as I am contractually obliged to allow my publisher to publish electronic version of my novels, which are often in DRM'd formats, the solution I follow is not to buy an electronic text which I don't fully own; i.e., I don't buy DRM'd eBooks. Which is why most of my electronic reading at this point comes from Project Gutenberg.

I have no objection to the the idea of an online lending library which came with DRM'd files (I've been a subscriber to Rhapsody for many years, and this is basically their model), but I don't buy DRM'd music electronically, and I wouldn't buy a book that way, either.
posted by jscalzi at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


We still use cups and wheels and knives.

Oh no! Not in my house you don't!
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 12:29 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doctorow is a buffoon.

Only 30% of a buffoon. The other 70% of the buffoonery goes to Amazon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Amazon responded to this intelligence by revoking the book 1984 from its customers’ ebook readers."

Nah, Cory, you insufferable twit, maybe they just unpublished it.

I'd love to point this out over at BoingBoing, but I'd probably be censored -- I mean disemvoweled -- for doing so.
posted by Ratio at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


[few comments removed - please update your addresses, you must have missed the "we don't call people retards" memo.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


ATTN: battlebison

Tunebite and Audiobook Cutter also MP3TAG. Fun and devious software.
posted by bjgeiger at 12:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.

I dunno. We still use cups and wheels and knives.


Wow, somebody still uses cups? I thought everyone switched over to e-cups in, like, 1999.
posted by notswedish at 12:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


All I need is my inclined plane.
posted by Babblesort at 12:38 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Can we just call people like Doctorow "leotards"? I am willing to offend dancers.

You, uh, forgot about the gymnasts, didn't you? Lithe is not quite the word for them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:40 PM on December 29, 2009


Can we just call people like Doctorow "leotards"? I am willing to offend dancers.

I just call him "Corky".
posted by Ratio at 12:42 PM on December 29, 2009


Also:

[Insert standard derision for people on MF spewing inchoate loathing of Cory Doctorow here]

Ratio:

"Nah, Cory, you insufferable twit, maybe they just unpublished it."

The point to be made here (which Cory has in fact made) is that Amazon's unintentional sale of an edition of 1984 which it should not have sold should not be an excuse for Amazon to reach into the electronic book readers of the people who have purchased the book to pull the text out of it. Whether one wants to call that "unpublishing" or "revoking" is trivial.

That you are more apparently more pissed off at Cory for not using your preferred choice of words for this action than you are at Amazon for rubbing its customers' faces in the fact they don't actually own the works they paid to own is interesting.
posted by jscalzi at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


I was surprised to find Cory lurking on the other side of that link. I was dead sure this was going to be about Sherman Alexie's recent Colbert Report nuttery.

In one little six-minute interview, Alexie:

1. Conflated "piracy" with "open source culture"

2. Took a swing at "white folks" for being silly enough to allow eBooks to destroy their culture.

3. Insisted that he would never let his books be published in electronic form as a matter of principle.
posted by ErikaB at 12:45 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ratio: ""Amazon responded to this intelligence by revoking the book 1984 from its customers’ ebook readers."

Nah, Cory, you insufferable twit, maybe they just unpublished it.

I'd love to point this out over at BoingBoing, but I'd probably be censored -- I mean disemvoweled -- for doing so.
"

What great serendipity with the post immediately below yours.
posted by aerotive at 12:46 PM on December 29, 2009


The phrase "on the wrong side of history" applies here. The question is to whom does it apply?

I'm sorry, but my 33 GB collection of DRM-free ebooks says that Cory and I are on the winning side. Eventually some jerk will make a portable reader that carries them all and supports all my formats.

Eventually newspapers, the music industry, even movie studios will be long gone and we will be still telling stories.

That's a loss, not a triumph. At least as far as newspapers are concerned. Trained, professional journalists can only exist within the framework of some kind of for-profit, big media that can pay their salaries and travel expenses. These folks are decidedly better at telling stories than the amateurs that will be left.
posted by clarknova at 12:49 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


What's best is watching Doctorow crawl over the rocks of arguments Richard Stallman made almost 30 years ago while holding out his glittery, cheap pebbles.
posted by jscott at 12:51 PM on December 29, 2009 [14 favorites]


Cory Doctorow Visits a Radio Shack
posted by jcruelty at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


jscalzi, I think Ratio likes the word "unpublished" for a reason, or, more accurately, about 2553 reasons. Remember that? I guess elephants don't forget that violets are not blue-
posted by localhuman at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Localhuman:

So we're equating Amazon reaching in a vaporizing a book that its customers paid for, with Boing Boing removing content on its own site, an action which Cory himself had little to do with.

Please see my previous statement, re: standard derision of inchoate loathing.
posted by jscalzi at 12:57 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Nah, Cory, you insufferable twit, maybe they just unpublished it."

The point to be made here (which Cory has in fact made) is that Amazon's unintentional sale of an edition of 1984 which it should not have sold should not be an excuse for Amazon to reach into the electronic book readers of the people who have purchased the book to pull the text out of it. Whether one wants to call that "unpublishing" or "revoking" is trivial.

That you are more apparently more pissed off at Cory for not using your preferred choice of words for this action than you are at Amazon for rubbing its customers' faces in the fact they don't actually own the works they paid to own is interesting.


Nah, dude, the choice of words thing was definitely just a coy attack on Cory by reference to the 2008(!) "unpublishing" fiasco at Boingboing. There was a thread here. . . .

As far as the 1984 cockup goes, the important question is not whether it was a mistake -- duh! -- but whether it has any real wide-ranging implications for the future of books. A new delivery mechanism demands a new social organization for book distribution -- just as the copyfighters have been telling us for ages when it comes to music. But suddenly Cory is inches away from those conservatives who fetishize the substrate and think what makes a book special has something to do with the glue.
posted by grobstein at 12:57 PM on December 29, 2009


interesting

I feel ok in simultaneously finding Doctorow grating and in being uneasy about the tradeoffs represented by Amazon's electronical book reading apparatus. And on the THIRD hand watch me now I also feel 30-odd years of affection for bound and printed matter.

* hurls rope into air, ascends *
posted by everichon at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


As an artist, I've adapted to technology. I started as a painter. I still paint, occasionally I even display paintings. I worked hard to learn the skill, and I use it to prove I have skills.

However, once I moved to digital work, I've been able to make a living. I constantly have to reinvent myself and expand my knowledge base.

If it's something that I am proud of, I keep it close. I don't expect to get rich off of it. I keep it in my portfolio or give to family and friends. Some day I may cash this in towards the end of my career.

If it's something corporate, I cash the check and forget it because it's gone. I assume anything done for a paycheck is out there for anyone to share. I've had to many broken promises for bonus or royalty checks to ever consider ever getting rich.

I'm not going to be one that fights either way. I don't understand the laws and don't care. I just roll with it, look at the big picture, and keep on creating.
posted by agent of bad karma at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's best is watching Doctorow crawl over the rocks of arguments Richard Stallman made almost 30 years ago while holding out his glittery, cheap pebbles.

I'm not sure I even understand this metaphor, but I enjoy listening to Cory's talks much more than I like listening to Stallman. I think they both take extreme stances so that those of us who generally agree but perhaps not to as great a degree have something to point to and say "well I'm not saying THAT..." And at some level it's only through activists like Cory and etc that many people even know what the Right of First Sale is, or why it's important or why a book and an ebook are not legally equivalent entities. Or what DRM is.

Personally, I wish there were more librarians espousing these general ideas because lord knows we're even more negatively impacted by the shift to digital media and DRM encumbrances. And at the same time we've got Amazon trotting out the whole "Hey we sold more ebooks than "real" books on Christmas Day!" as if

1. that's not totally selected data to try to drive home their brave new future where they make even more money per unit than they already do
2. those numbers reflect any real trends in the larger universe except that more people buy ebooks nowadays, from online retailers, to fill gadgets they got that same day.

If I had to pick Bezos or Doctorow to be stuck on a desert island/life raft/dinner party with, I don't think there's any contest. You don't have to love the guy, but his mind is fancy and I appreciate that.
posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


Conflated "piracy" with "open source culture"

It's not hard to see why, since they're both working towards the same end. Open source culture intends to promote a culture where everyone gives away their work for free, and piracy promotes a culture where everyone takes others' work for free.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:02 PM on December 29, 2009


So we're equating Amazon reaching in a vaporizing a book that its customers paid for, with Boing Boing removing content on its own site, an action which Cory himself had little to do with.

I agree that these are different. For starters, Jeff Bezos apologized for the 1984 matter on the front page of the Amazon.com site.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:06 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


The whole hubbub over book ownership and DRM kind of reminds me of the DIVX (Digital Video Express) fiasco originally foisted on consumers by the now defunct Circuit City. They sold you a disposable disk that would allow you to watch the movie for a limited time, then self-destruct. What appears to have killed off that technology was the competition offering non-DRM movies. Okay, that and it was a stupid idea that didn't work.

The problem with ebooks is the very popular Kindle has set a precedent and now has so much market share that publishers have no incentive to offer non-DRM titles electronically. People will eventually figure out that they're paying $10 a title just to borrow the ebooks, but they'll likely accept the trade off for convenience.

There's a book-delivery system that I haven't read much about when it comes to this issue: Community libraries. I'm curious about their place in a future without printed books. Will they eventually lend ebook readers?
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:06 PM on December 29, 2009


The point to be made here (which Cory has in fact made) is that Amazon's unintentional sale of an edition of 1984 which it should not have sold should not be an excuse for Amazon to reach into the electronic book readers of the people who have purchased the book to pull the text out of it. Whether one wants to call that "unpublishing" or "revoking" is trivial.

And the point I'm making is that Doctorow is being intellectually dishonest. He moans about Kindle DRM while quietly pocketing a percentage of BoingBoing's Kindle subscription fees. On BoingBoing, he ceaselessy bloviates about readers' rights and then looks the other way when a vast swath of content from his own blog is deliberately vaporized.

If he was half as principled as he claims to be, he'd have quit BoingBoing in June 2008. Of course he didn't, and he won't, because it's his biggest soapbox, and he would perish without the attention.
posted by Ratio at 1:07 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


There's a book-delivery system that I haven't read much about when it comes to this issue: Community libraries. I'm curious about their place in a future without printed books. Will they eventually lend ebook readers?

They've already started.

posted by Lobster Garden at 1:09 PM on December 29, 2009


Secondly, Bezos offered to return the book with annotations or give a $30 refund.

Whatever you think about Bezos or his business, when they make a mistake that affects their customers, they usually try to own up to it.

I have yet to hear Doctorow ever admit to being wrong about anything he's said or done that turned out to be based on faulty premises.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:10 PM on December 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon, that's a common misconception. "Open source" isn't the same thing as "free." The operating system (Unix) that serves as the underpinnings for the latest MacBook is open source, but Apple is still able to charge for it.

Books are another excellent example of something that is open source. They are created using a free system (language) and yet we pay money for them.
posted by ErikaB at 1:14 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure I even understand this metaphor

I'm mostly saying that Stallman looks at the big, big picture and constructs rock-solid arguments and positions on things long before they even become a major issue (he was worried about things like e-books decades ago). Doctorow is reactive, and has cute glittery language with terrible back-end support that sounds good but falls apart.

At the end of the day, Cory is awful with facts. He's good at blowing out a lot of verbiage and having it stick, but he's awful at back research and reasoned arguments. He's literally awful. His attitude is to let "the crowd" fix his problems. That's no way to live.

Stallman brought up the free software movement by bootstrapping, and it was built out of anger at his friends being taken away by a company that hired them to make a product. His solution was to sit there, for months, and implement every feature of that commerical product until the company was run out of business. It destroyed his hands, but he did it.

Doctorow is good at whipping up crowds to some extent, and so is Stallman. I'm sure that Doctorow's more of a joy to speak to on the whole, because his surface-level scooping of fads and trends ensures he always has an opinion on things Stallman pays attention to. But I'd rather be on that island with Stallman, even so.
posted by jscott at 1:15 PM on December 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Open source" isn't the same thing as "free." The operating system (Unix) that serves as the underpinnings for the latest MacBook is open source, but Apple is still able to charge for it.

Apple as a corporation is only an "open source" proponent to the extent that the term makes it money. The philosophy of individual open source proponents is to release the product for free. The kernel of OS X is called "open source" because I can download and compile it for free. The operating system, with all the graphical UI goodness that makes OS X unique, is not "open source" and is not available for free, to the best of my knowledge.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time I move house, the hugest issue is the large number of books I have to take with me. Boxes full of the things. Even when I thinned my library to get rid of the crud I had inevitably collected, what did I do? Took them to a second hand bookstore for credit for more books.

props to artee bees who, if they don't want your book, will donate it to the local hospital saving you the trip
posted by Sparx at 1:23 PM on December 29, 2009


jscalzi:

Can you point out where, in this discussion or the thread I linked to, I've written any sentence about Cory Doctorow that contains, your words now, inchoate loathing , about him? [1]

I'm one of a few here around Mefi that enjoys a lot of his work. My only problem is with BngBng, and your insinuations make me like it even less.

1: Actually, you can search the whole site if you're bored, search the whole internet. I've never written anything untoward of Mr. Doctorow, and I'm kind of confused as to why you're insulting me as such.
posted by localhuman at 1:25 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think we need a voice to call out issues like this. My biggest complaint with Doctorow back in the "unpublished" kerfuffle was exactly this: now it's hard to take him seriously as that voice when Amazon unpublishes 1984.
posted by tyllwin at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interestingly enough, many kindle books aren't actually as locked-down as might be expected. All the free gutenberg books they carry are unencrypted azw's, and can be shared between accounts, and opened with the mobipocket reader instead of the kindle-for-pc application. Every self-published book I've found has been an unencrypted azw, same with magazine subscriptions.

I used to work with windows media DRM, and it has some scary options on what the player is supposed to do when it runs across unauthorized content, options that included deleting not just the unauthorized content in question, but all content associated with the same content provider.

I signed up for the free audiobook promotion at Audible two months ago to see what it was like. Then I had the unfortunate realization that I had to install their ugly, clunky, borderline unusable software to listen to the book. Then I realized that I would only be able to listen as long as I was a member of Audible. Then I read that I would only be a free member for the duration of the two-week free trial before my credit card would be hit with a charge and my paid subscription would begin. Then I realized they made it difficult to put the same book onto different media, for instance, my iPod and on CD so I can listen on the bus as well as at home.

You can use iTunes to play them without any additional software, realizing that does nothing for you if you hate itunes too. I've found it works just fine with audible for me. Maybe the free-trial books expired when the trial ended, but books you purchase from audible are yours forever, regardless of current subscription status. They are also dead simple to burn to CD and transfer to iPod, and have no restrictions preventing you from using both at the same time that I've ever seen. Now if audible ever goes belly up, any books you haven't burned to CD will be lost once their authentication servers go down, but blank CDs are cheap.
posted by nomisxid at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Then I had the unfortunate realization that I had to install their ugly, clunky, borderline unusable software to listen to the book. Then I realized that I would only be able to listen as long as I was a member of Audible. Then I read that I would only be a free member for the duration of the two-week free trial before my credit card would be hit with a charge and my paid subscription would begin. Then I realized they made it difficult to put the same book onto different media, for instance, my iPod and on CD so I can listen on the bus as well as at home.

EVERY major media discussion of ebooks talks about the stupid little superficials to the exclusion of important facts like these, probably because that media trusts big big companies much more than groups like the EFF, and because a lot of their stories have their ultimate origins in press releases. They just don't know, or care, enough about the issue to take a good, public look at it.

NPR even makes use of Audible to provide audio versions of their shows. That hurts their credibility a little in my eyes.
posted by JHarris at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2009


Conflated "piracy" with "open source culture"
It's not hard to see why, since they're both working towards the same end. Open source culture intends to promote a culture where everyone gives away their work for free, and piracy promotes a culture where everyone takes others' work for free


OK, I'll bite the bait BP. That's plain dishonest. No matter what your stance on piracy, you should find no fault with an artist freely licensing their work under creative commons (a perfectly legal use of existing copyright law)

More to the point, where do you draw the boundaries between one creator's "work" and another's? Should James Cameron compensate Homer for writing a Hero's Journey? Should the Beetles have compensated Bill Haley for composing Rock and Roll songs? Open Source Culture *as movement* is about recognizing that culture is built through shared ideas, and that we profit more when those ideas are less jealously hoarded.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:29 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Open source" isn't the same thing as "free." The operating system (Unix) that serves as the underpinnings for the latest MacBook is open source, but Apple is still able to charge for it.

Apple is able to charge for it because significant portions of OS/X are *not* open source. The parts that are -- the "FreeBSD" parts, if you will -- are indeed free.
posted by Slothrup at 1:31 PM on December 29, 2009


I thought it was decent, but share that the second half of this is the better part. The first part has needed some more publicity for a while now. I'll buy a ebook reader when it lets me give a book to a friend, and they get to keep it permanently.

One of the major issues that we need to deal with in a transition from a society of things (books) to a society of data (ebooks) is ownership. In a society of things, if I give something to someone it is automatic that I don't own it any more. It's so much easier (and safer) to copy something than it is to transfer ownership in the society of data.

This is a bit pedantic, but this isn't an essay. It's a speech which was transcribed. Some of the "writing" is a little less obtuse and forced if you read it aloud (or at least in your head). Especially some of the repetition.
posted by jamuraa at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2009


Ratio:

"And the point I'm making is that Doctorow is being intellectually dishonest."

Not in that post, you weren't.

And no, he's not. Re: the Kindle subscription thing, as Boing Boing is still covered by a Creative Commons license, and is accessible elsewhere even if something happens to the Kindle feed. Being upset at the BB people for taking a profit from the subscription fees is like being upset that they take a profit from advertising. There's nothing in Cory's ethos which suggests he's not allowed to make money if people want to offer it to him.

Re: Boing Boing taking down their own information on their own site, so what? The suggestion that people don't have the right to do whatever they like with their own site, and their own intellectual property, including taking down some or all of the information on it, is a curious one, if that's what you're suggesting, and in any event it's an entirely different thing than a commercial retailer reaching into an electronic device they sold to a customer and revoking access to information to a text they also sold to a customer, for which Amazon was not and never was the owner or creator of said intellectual property.

Making an equivalence between the two events is cheap and easy fun, but it's not intellectually rigorous, and one's inability or unwillingness to distinguish between the details two events does not make Cory intellectually dishonest.

Certainly Blazecock Pileon, Amazon offered refunds or replacements, after substantial hue and cry, but it's missing the point that Amazon felt it had the right to zero out access to a work a customer already paid for, and believed he or she owned. Whether you have ever heard Cory admit to being wrong is again an entirely different discussion, and really not at all related to the retail abuse Amazon perpetrated.

So, yet again: Standard derision regarding inchoate loathing.

Localhuman:

The statement is regarding the equivalence made, not your explanation of it.
posted by jscalzi at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


Words are the most curious things, especially the more common ones. Like 'book'. When we talk about them, it seems so clear to us what we're talking about, yet there's so much confusion involved. In this case, people are confusing the physical book with the text contained in it. It's true that (physical) books have been around for much longer than 500 years and have not changed much, but at the same time, what's contained in these books has changed a lot. Gutenberg couldn't probably even dreamed of printing the books they printed in the 19th century; I don't think many people in the 19th century could imagine the books that are printed today. And the things that we call books (or literature) still keep changing, constantly evolving.

When people talk about books, what they seem to have in mind is classic, timeless pieces of literature. Yet not all books are as timeless as others. I have here on my desk a Socialist Realist novel that I got for free from a secondhand bookstore. This book had zero value for them - or even negative value, as it was taking up space that could have stored a better-selling book. I must admit that I'm not reading it for its literary value (even though I can't say that it doesn't have any - it's actually quite well-written). Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever did. Perhaps it would have been better if it had never been printed. Perhaps. But the fact is, it was printed and it has zero value to today's readers.

This isn't something that happens to just one genre, though. So many books that were once popular are all but forgotten today. So many books that are popular today will be forgotten tomorrow*. And I think this is escpecially true for today's books, but also today's mass culture in general. There are so many books (and films, and songs) that are only meant to entertain us for just one moment, only to be forgotten. They are not something you hold on to - they're meant to be consumed and then dumped in a yard sale or a secondhand bookstore.

The publishing models used today have in many ways co-evolved with the kinds of works published. The licences are the way they are because they presuppose that the book licenced is not going to have value for the reader forever. In this case, it's not really that big a deal if you lose a book from your e-reader, since you weren't going to read it twice anyway. You already got the entertainment value out of it; you might have just as well deleted it after reading (or maybe a few months after). About the only thing, I think, that keeps people revolting over this is our habit of having to own every damn thing. I guess it might be time to change this habit.


* Or at least that's what I keep telling myself every time I see the piles upon piles of Twilight books in bookstores.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2009


No matter what your stance on piracy, you should find no fault with an artist freely licensing their work under creative commons (a perfectly legal use of existing copyright law)

I don't find any fault it, and have noted my support for Creative Commons in the past in other threads. I'm making no value judgements in stating that, factually, both open-source culture and piracy culture are both striving towards the same end: that items of value are given and taken without any exchange of money or other items of value. It's not hard to see why the two philosophies are conflated.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on December 29, 2009


Apple as a corporation is only an "open source" proponent to the extent that the term makes it money. The philosophy of individual open source proponents is to release the product for free. The kernel of OS X is called "open source" because I can download and compile it for free. The operating system, with all the graphical UI goodness that makes OS X unique, is not "open source" and is not available for free, to the best of my knowledge

That's true, and it reinforces my point. Apple (and Google, and a host of other companies) were able to create great products at lower cost for us because they could leverage the work donated (freely) by other creators. We have all benefitted from their contribution, even if the resulting work isn't also free of license restrictions (although Apple and Google both make significant contributions to open source projects).
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2009


Re: Boing Boing taking down their own information on their own site, so what? The suggestion that people don't have the right to do whatever they like with their own site, and their own intellectual property, including taking down some or all of the information on it, is a curious one

There's not much difference between how the Boing Boing clique defends their censorship and how Chinese nationalists defend their censorship. We're independent, we can do what we want to, we answer to no one, and how dare you accuse us of hypocrisy?
posted by shii at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Doctorow has a pretty impressive bio:

Cory Doctorow is the modern incarnation of the public intellectual. And this is why, to quote Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.
posted by orthogonality at 1:41 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


both open-source culture and piracy culture are both striving towards the same end: that items of value are given and taken without any exchange of money or other items of value. It's not hard to see why the two philosophies are conflated

That's still a bit narrow a comparison. While piracy implies avoiding payment, Open-Source culture advocates would have no issue with an artist charging for their work, even if it was open-licensed. I know lots of photographers who both upload their work, and sell prints.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:44 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have yet to hear Doctorow ever admit to being wrong about anything he's said or done that turned out to be based on faulty premises.

He sorta kinda half-apologized to Ursula K. Le Guin once.

Four days earlier, after mistaking her for being a Canadian SF writer, he hilariously took the credit for Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize. This is my second all-time favorite thing that Doctorow has written.
posted by Ratio at 1:44 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


shii:

"There's not much difference between how the Boing Boing clique defends their censorship and how Chinese nationalists defend their censorship."

Easily the stupidest equivalency of the thread so far. Seriously, genuinely a jaw-droppingly stupid statement. I'm just going to stand here and admire it in all its glistening, pulsating stupidity.

I'm also going to step out of this thread now because the thought of someone else making a statement of greater stupidity will cause me to add despair to my previously mentioned standard derision of inchoate loathing.
posted by jscalzi at 1:47 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Going beyond who made the point, I too am glad this point is being made. I agree with jscalzi and that is why I refuse to buy an ebook reader or any ebooks because they all rely on DRM. I vote with my dollar. I love books and an ebook reader looks so cool and I know that I would love to be able to download a book almost instantly. However, I believe I should own books that I buy and so I wait.

Personally, I think this will play out similarly to the way the whole digital music thing played out. Eventually all of the major retailers convinced the publishers to allow sales of music that was DRM free. I also waited to buy digital music until copies without DRM were available for sale.

One thing I thought I would link to is David Pogue's recent article discussing this issue. The reason that I find it interesting is that Pogue is very familiar with technology, yet he also makes a living off of book sales. So, he is a reasonable person, but is very nervous about losing his income. I admire the fact that he is willing to experiment with his own books.
posted by bove at 1:52 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I think a solution that would work for me would be to let the consumer buy a licence to a particular book, and then have the book available to that person no matter which service they want it from. Switch to a Kindle? Your library is waiting for you."
This assumes a permanence of institutions and of databases, and a willingness to let some institution/entity know exactly what you have in your library.

Not necessarily. You could receive from a publisher, a token, cryptographically signed with your public key and the publisher's public key. This would serve to identify both of you; then you could give a copy of this token to the vendor/bookstore, in return for the book. Of course, you'd need to cover the vendor's costs, so maybe, $8 for the token paid initially to the publishers, and $2-$5 paid each time yuou redemed it at a vendor.

The publishers would compete to select/produce books (data), and the vendors would compete to come up with the best or cheapest transmission/delivery/presentation frontends (UIs).

I might get all my Marxist erotica via Amazon, and all my Republican anime slash fiction from Barnes and Noble, and only my credit card company and thE government would know I read both sorts of trash. :)
posted by orthogonality at 1:53 PM on December 29, 2009


Ratio, whatever the opposite of a man-crush is, it's even less attractive.
posted by yerfatma at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


the modern incarnation of the public intellectual
His arguments are groundless and his statements ineffectual
My feelings that regard him are decidedly nonsexual
He is the incarnation of the public intellectual!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:56 PM on December 29, 2009 [16 favorites]


Actually, now that I think about it, I can't think of an ancient, awesome technology like printed books or the wheel that has been phased out. I don't think printed books are going anywhere.
posted by fuq at 1:56 PM on December 29, 2009


I like transparency and openness. DRM grants me neither.

Big Boing would like me to like transparency and openness, but they'd also really appreciate it if I never hold them to any such standards. They'd also really like it if we'd all just forget that those nasty double-unplusgood unpeople ever existed, and if we slip up and mention them Big Boing will correct us by sending our vowels down the memory hole.

(and that's why I don't read BoingBoing or like DRM: both would like to frame this to me in terms of "owners" exercising their "rights" and remind me that I'm a poor little peon who isn't owed anything by any of them and should be lucky to get what I've got)
posted by ubernostrum at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


genuinely a jaw-droppingly stupid statement

JAW DROPPING!

My jaw dropped too. But I was yawning.
posted by Ratio at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2009


So I typed out a whole long screed about why I think this article is obnoxious ass-kissery and the speech itself is basically just another poorly thought out end-run around DRM and little else, but you know what? There's a much shorter way of saying it:

I totally agree with Doctorow on this. I don't like DRM, I like actually owning the things I buy, and I like paying authors for what they do. That's why I read books. The end.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:59 PM on December 29, 2009


Certainly Blazecock Pileon, Amazon offered refunds or replacements, after substantial hue and cry, but it's missing the point that Amazon felt it had the right to zero out access to a work a customer already paid for, and believed he or she owned.

I don't think there has been as significant a push to move books into the digital medium as has been done by Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Sony tried it for a few years prior, but they did not have the distribution network, books and technology in place to make it all work.

The reason that purchasers of digital copies expect to own their copies is because, for so long, books as a physical, analog device have simply been too difficult to duplicate. There are copy machines, granted, but I assume everyone here knows the difference between holding a stack of copy paper in one's hand, and holding a musty hardcover.

In any case, ownership of a physical book is still a relatively novel idea in the history of books, given that some countries ban some literature. So ownership as a concept is a pretty murky idea, once we start to dig a little deeper into what rights a government actually acknowledges with respect to the written word.

Leaving that aside, the technical differences between a digital copy of a book and a printed, analog copy seem obvious. Understandably, as a result, there is an ongoing dialog in the marketplace about how digital copies should be distributed, and who has what rights.

Given that something of this scale has never before been done, I'm willing to forgive Amazon its sins while it sorts out the balance of rights between writers and consumers, which the digital medium has put into flux.

Amazon and Bezos could have kept stumm after the 1984 debacle. They were at legal risk from the initial copyright violation and could have just left it there. Instead, they acknowledged that customers have certain expectations about their purchases, and they responded accordingly and, in my opinion, fairly. They put money and developer resources to getting people legal copies of their books back, with annotations.

Regardless of what motivated the initial decision, fixing it is no less significant. Every time a similar case comes up in the future, Amazon will have to ask itself: Will this be another 1984? They have to think more carefully about what the consequences are.

Given what has happened so far, I'm pretty optimistic that Amazon (and Apple, when its tablet gets released) will ultimately have a system that holds equal respect for both the writers and the consumers. Amazon, at least, seems to have displayed that they are making progress on the issue.

Whether you have ever heard Cory admit to being wrong is again an entirely different discussion, and really not at all related to the retail abuse Amazon perpetrated.

I could not disagree more. This entire post is about Cory Doctorow getting on his soap box about a subject he claims to hold dear to his heart. In the end, it turns out he's seemingly a fraud about eBook and digital publishing systems. He makes money from the same arrangement he's railing against.

So as far as being on a desert island, I'd choose Bezos over Doctorow in a heartbeat. Bezos might be a selfish, calculating capitalist, but at least he seems to be honest and fair. I don't think I could trust Doctorow enough to safely toss a banana over to his side of the island. He'd eventually argue the entire island was his and make me feel bad for not handing it over to him.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:00 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


eBooks Outsell Print Books And Free eBooks Are Biggest Bestsellers.
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Four days earlier, after mistaking her for being a Canadian SF writer, he hilariously took the credit for Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize. This is my second all-time favorite thing that Doctorow has written.

I like where someone points out that the facts are wrong, and Theresa "OMG someone posted a photo on my blog I am shutting it down" Hayden, as moderator, says "lighten up".

I get a lot done with the saved minutes of not having boingboing in any of my feedreaders.
posted by jscott at 2:03 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Easily the stupidest equivalency of the thread so far.

Beaten in a one-punch knockout in the very next post, which substitutes Doctorow's sins, whatever they are, for what TJ was talking about in the "I tremble for my country" quote.
posted by jfuller at 2:03 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ratio, whatever the opposite of a man-crush is, it's even less attractive.

It's called inchoate loathing. Which, for Doctorow, I carry in abundance. It serves no real purpose. It's a little dumb. And I openly admit it.

But, on the other hand, Doctorow's a creepy, dangerously misinformed man-child with a huge audience, and he deserves to be ridiculed for the mandible-loweringly stupid things he says and does in public.
posted by Ratio at 2:07 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


BP I'm still chuckling that you're arguing that open source culture = piracy. On Metafilter, a community weblog, which is as pure a practical manifestation of "open source culture" as one could want.

Takes gall, it does. Color me impressed.

If you can explain how Metafilter = piracy, I dare say you will have won the day.
posted by ErikaB at 2:10 PM on December 29, 2009


BP: "Apple as a corporation is only an "open source" proponent to the extent that the term makes it money."

How are they making money from releasing Grand Central Dispatch under an Apache License?
posted by mullingitover at 2:15 PM on December 29, 2009


I think Bezos would try to sell you your half of the island back to you, while Cory would insist that you both share the island's resources equally.

Which you prefer depends entirely on your idea of "fairness." Let's not pretend that there's a right or wrong answer on that topic.

(Having given it thought, I would have to choose Cory. But only if I had a magic weapon that blew up adverbs as he reached for them.)
posted by ErikaB at 2:15 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


That is the first thing I have ever read by Cory Doctorow. The writing was terrible. The sentence structures were awkward and the arguments did not flow very well at all.

Well, then... you still haven't ready anything written by Cory Doctorow.

From the very top of the first page of the speech:

From his speech on copyright at the National Reading Summit. Transcribed by Jade Colbert

He didn't write this. Chances are he was not even reading a written speech or else they could have gotten a copy of it to enter into the website. I think it was likely delivered from notes and then was transcribed from a recording. That's why it's a bit of a mess. People don't talk like they write.
posted by hippybear at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


BP I'm still chuckling that you're arguing that open source culture = piracy.

I'm not sure what you're chuckling at, as I've argued that they work to the same end. I don't agree that this is saying they are equal, though I can see why the author in question would conflate the two.

If you can explain how Metafilter = piracy, I dare say you will have won the day.

I'm not your dancing monkey, sorry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2009


...my 33 GB collection of DRM-free ebooks... Eventually some jerk will make a portable reader that carries them all and supports all my formats.

Sony? Works great with PDF and text.
posted by exogenous at 2:21 PM on December 29, 2009


How are they making money from releasing Grand Central Dispatch under an Apache License?

For the same reason it released iTunes and Safari for Windows: If Apple gets you using its software, you're more likely to buy Apple hardware, which is where it really makes its money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:21 PM on December 29, 2009


ericb: eBooks Outsell Print Books And Free eBooks Are Biggest Bestsellers.

Yeah, I think Jessamyn refuted that already, upthread.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:24 PM on December 29, 2009


BP: "For the same reason it released iTunes and Safari for Windows: If Apple gets you using its software, you're more likely to buy Apple hardware, which is where it really makes its money."

Did I miss the part where they released the code for these applications under an open source license? GCD is now first-class Open Souce and can be ported to operating systems which don't make Apple any money and could even compete with OS X Server. The examples you give are only free as in beer.
posted by mullingitover at 2:25 PM on December 29, 2009


You have no idea what an Apache license is, do you?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:26 PM on December 29, 2009


(last comment was directed to BP)
posted by entropicamericana at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2009


I'd forgotten this comment of mine mocking Cory, until Potsy recently favorited it. I'm going to publish it in the Kindle Store.
posted by orthogonality at 2:29 PM on December 29, 2009


jscott: At the end of the day, Cory is awful with facts. He's good at blowing out a lot of verbiage and having it stick, but he's awful at back research and reasoned arguments. He's literally awful. His attitude is to let "the crowd" fix his problems. That's no way to live.


I used to really like reading BoingBoing, I like what Cory stood for and I found some interesting things there. Then he wrote a post about something that I actually knew quite a bit about. And I realised he was basically making it all up. He had a preconceived line of argument (in this case, 'OMG government censorship') and he was going to make that argument, no matter what the facts were. Sure, it was an area that I wouldn't expect him to be an expert on - but if you don't know, you really shouldn't be making definitive statements of fact about something. [And if he'd even read the executive summary of the document he was writing about, he'd have seen that he was wrong].

That's when I stopped reading him - if he's shown I can't trust him on that, why would I risk trusting him on something else?

[However I would like to be stuck on an island with him instead of Bezos because he would probably construct some kind of steampunk raft with a Disney motif and we would sail to safety, stylishly]
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:29 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Did I miss the part where they released the code for these applications under an open source license?

WebKit is the core of Safari, which I believe is still open source and is analogous to releasing the Darwin kernel or the GCD SDK to the public.

It's all about the bottom-line for Apple: If these technologies gain a foothold in the marketplace, I'd argue that this encourages interoperability with and, ultimately, adoption of Apple hardware and operating system software.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 PM on December 29, 2009


You have no idea what an Apache license is, do you?

I do. I released a small library to the public under it. What's your real question?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:35 PM on December 29, 2009


I don't understand the Apple wank here. Apple releases IP under open-source licenses because they make their money by putting all the pieces together in a hardware/software/support package. IBM, Sun, and Google do the same thing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


BP: "It's all about the bottom-line for Apple: If these technologies gain a foothold in the marketplace, I'd argue that this encourages interoperability with and, ultimately, adoption of Apple hardware and operating system software."

So your charge against Apple is:

- they're contributing to open source projects in a significant way and even creating new projects which might actually help their competitors
- developing and publishing tools to benefit all developers,
- allowing standards-based interoperability and frees everyone from proprietary lock-in
- and this is a bad, selfish thing because Apple might indirectly benefit from this healthy ecosystem?
posted by mullingitover at 2:49 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, a handful of early-generation devices that are expensive baubles for the blogger class are going to destroy a medium that's saturated the planet for thousands of years.

Plastic doodads selling for $300, that require a complex networking infrastructure are going to sweep those quaint $6.99 paperbacks into the dustbin of history.

That seems reasonable.

Or else, it's just another sort-of-cogent piece for the bonfire of Doctorow's bonfire of self-regard.
posted by mrdaneri at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


So your charge against Apple

I have no charge against Apple. What the hell are you blathering about?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 PM on December 29, 2009


Yes, a handful of early-generation devices that are expensive baubles for the blogger class are going to destroy a medium that's saturated the planet for thousands of years.

When libraries start throwing out thousands of books and replacing them with a handful of Kindles, yeah, I think that's a legitimate concern.
posted by Lobster Garden at 3:02 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


When libraries start throwing out thousands of books...

It's telling, to me, that no one has followed their lead.
posted by jessamyn at 3:04 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


every time a similar case comes up in the future, Amazon will have to ask itself: Will this be another 1984? They have to think more carefully about what the consequences are.

Indeed, I bought one of the likely-not-entirely-legal Andre Norton collections that several people are selling thru amazon's kindle store, primarily to see what would happen to it once they notice.

Plastic doodads selling for $300, that require a complex networking infrastructure are going to sweep those quaint $6.99 paperbacks into the dustbin of history.

The prices are coming down. In addition to the near clone of the kindle that is the nook, B&N also run fictionwise, and it's stable of e-readers including one as cheap as $90 (has a built in analog modem for downloading books, no internet connection required). What's odd about fictionwise is their micropay rebate system, where you get a certain percentage of the purchase price (sometimes 100%) as credit for additional ebooks. The kicker is that fictionwise offers most of their books in both DRM-free and DRM-encumbered formats, but the micropay rebates are only on the titles that are only available in DRM-encumbered formats.
posted by nomisxid at 3:14 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


BP: "I have no charge against Apple. What the hell are you blathering about?"

Mea culpa. Your point is that Apple is only using open source for its own ends and not because they actually care about improving the ecosystem which gave them their technology base in the first place. I took this to be an affront toward Apple, but upon review this seems to be something you're cool with.
posted by mullingitover at 3:18 PM on December 29, 2009


Lobster Garden, thanks. I hadn't read that and now I'm nonplussed.
posted by mrdaneri at 3:20 PM on December 29, 2009


You have no idea what an Apache license is, do you?

*Closes saloon_piano.ogg. Inches towards OLPC XO-1.*
posted by kid ichorous at 3:34 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's telling, to me, that no one has followed their lead.

Indeed. From the article:

Asher Chase, 16, a junior, says anyone who thinks digital books are the future should read a digital book. He remembers his English class last year being assigned Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on their laptops.

Taking notes on the text? Forget it. "It was terrible: 'Shade, file, edit, highlight.' We were like, 'Wow, reading books on computers is awful.' "

posted by Amanojaku at 3:35 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, a handful of early-generation devices that are expensive baubles for the blogger class are going to destroy a medium that's saturated the planet for thousands of years.

You know how these days you can get a cheap digital watch or calculator at Gas&Go for $3.99? Or that everyone in Africa who can afford one has a cell phone? And how microchips and storage get cheaper every day? And how screens get cheaper every day? Especially the screens that they fabricate using conventional paper presses? And that we're currently communicating using a technology and medium that didn't exist two decades ago?

Sometimes the rules change.

I've seen quite a bit of scorn for Cory's character and writing; but this is merely attacking the messenger for a hint of apparent hypocrisy rather than actually addressing the message. A mass delete of a co-blogger's web-published work is not the same thing as the mass and remote deletion of the books you own on the machine you own. Imagine how this would play out in Iran or China.
Court Order: "Delete all extant copies of Random Manifesto from every cell phone/ebook/etc.."
Middle Manager at Amazo-oogle-hoo!: "Sure thing". *presses delete*

Is that the kind of world we're willing to live in?
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:49 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is that the kind of world we're willing to live in?

Empirical evidence says "yes". After all, most of us are aware that the following is quite possible in the United States, today:

Secret Court Order: "Tell us everything you know about suspected terrorist Slothrup"
Middle Manager at Bingoogl: "Sure thing". *presses send*
posted by Slothrup at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


jscott: At the end of the day, Cory is awful with facts.

Much as Cory-hating annoys me, this really is true, and it's the most significant weakness in his fiction. Many of his SF'nal premises are laughable on the face. He's a good enough story-teller that he often goes interesting places with them. But the absurd premises put me in such a place that I really have to work to get into the stories.
posted by lodurr at 4:07 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is that the kind of world we're willing to live in?

Resounding yes, based on anecdata about the tradeoffs I and my friends and colleagues all make with everything from Gmail to debit card use. All of whom, I should add, are pretty conversant with the issues and technologies involved. Uneasy, but not uneasy enough to forgo the cool shit.
posted by everichon at 4:10 PM on December 29, 2009


blazecock pileon: The philosophy of individual open source proponents is to release the product for free.

You are incorrect. The philosophy of individual open source proponents is to release the source code for their product.

Whether they give it away or not is up to them, but that's got exactly nothing to do with whether it's open source.
posted by lodurr at 4:14 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, a handful of early-generation devices that are expensive baubles for the blogger class are going to destroy a medium that's saturated the planet for thousands of years.

No, obviously not. But when everyone is carrying around a device sized somewhere between an iPhone and a Kindle, with a color multi-touch e-ink screen, that can do music, videos, games, web, e-mail, GPS... yeah, books are all but dead

That device is going to be hitting early adopters within the next few years. Older people with sentimental attachment to paper may never give up their dead tree books. But this is going to be a very socially disruptive process, and it makes sense to have a public discussion of it, rather than letting the rich publishers who know they're the first against the wall when the digital revolution comes lead the discourse
posted by crayz at 4:17 PM on December 29, 2009


I'm also going to step out of this thread now because the thought of someone else making a statement of greater stupidity will cause me to add despair to my previously mentioned standard derision of inchoate loathing.

You don't get to walk around condescending everyone here just because you are a friend of Cory's. So, you know, you can smoke that or what have you.
posted by cavalier at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


BP I'm still chuckling that you're arguing that open source culture = piracy. On Metafilter, a community weblog, which is as pure a practical manifestation of "open source culture" as one could want.
I am not sure I understand what you mean by that. Could you please explain?

Many or perhaps most of us had to pay money to post here.

And I don't think we have the right to duplicate Metafilter's content, republish it, modify it however we want, et cetera. Do we?

By signing up for an account, did you implicitly give away your legal right to prevent me -- or in fact anyone, not just Metafilter members -- from republishing your posts? And not merely to Metafilter, but, say, in a book? Perhaps a for-profit book, of which you will see no money? I understand that "republish for profit" is not a requirement of "open source", but you're talking about "pure" open source, and complete lack of restriction is as pure as open source gets.

Also, the moderators have complete control over what you are allowed to post. They delete whole posts, they delete whole comments, and they modify posts. Perhaps they modify comments too, I can't think of whether I've seen that or not. All of this is often done without the say-so of the authors, and without any possible means of appeal other than to the moderators themselves.

This really doesn't sound particularly "open source" to me, and certainly not "as pure a practical manifestation of 'open source culture' as one could want". I think you might be confusing "enlightened despotism" with "open source culture".
posted by Flunkie at 4:20 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I could have my books in the way I have my record collection -- have 30,000 of them immediately on hand, searchable, copyable, and accessible from a pocket-sized device -- I would gladly trade the physical book for the digital book. And I expect that's where we're headed.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:21 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I could have my books in the way I have my record collection -- have 30,000 of them immediately on hand, searchable, copyable, and accessible from a pocket-sized device -- I would gladly trade the physical book for the digital book. And I expect that's where we're headed.

Yeah, well .... y-your Kindle isn't going to smell nice when you open it up seventy years from now! And have you ever tried pressing a flower in a laptop? Huh? Have you, smart guy? Didn't think so.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:29 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.

You know, there was a time shortly after the birth of photography that many people wondered if paintings would soon become obsolete.

The same kind of stupid people.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:34 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


After all, most of us are aware that the following is quite possible in the United States, today:

Secret Court Order: "Tell us everything you know about suspected terrorist Slothrup"
Middle Manager at Bingoogl: "Sure thing". *presses send*


This, except it wouldn't even need to be secret. The newspaper article would read "suspected racial separatist/cartel member/gun runner/kiddie-porn watcher Slothrup's computer files were obtained today as part of an ongoing investigation" and not only would nobody care, most would be A-OK with it.
posted by hamida2242 at 4:35 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


AZ: "If I could have my books in the way I have my record collection -- have 30,000 of them immediately on hand, searchable, copyable, and accessible from a pocket-sized device -- I would gladly trade the physical book for the digital book. And I expect that's where we're headed."

This. The lack of a search function in books drives me nuts, and they're as heavy as bricks. You're all invited to the party at my place when physical media croaks.
posted by mullingitover at 4:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Trained, professional journalists can only exist within the framework of some kind of for-profit, big media that can pay their salaries and travel expenses. These folks are decidedly better at telling stories than the amateurs that will be left.

Is this a joke?
posted by limeonaire at 4:37 PM on December 29, 2009


You know, there was a time shortly after the birth of photography that many people wondered if paintings would soon become obsolete.

You don't even need to really go outside the medium of literature. We've seen it go from hand-copied media to the printing press to paperbacks and so forth. The buck won't stop at books, not by a long shot.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:42 PM on December 29, 2009


Cory Doctorow is the PETA of consumer rights: he's fucking incoherent and ridiculous but gives the issue some exposure.
posted by tehloki at 4:44 PM on December 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


Also...

If I could have my books in the way I have my record collection...

I highly doubt this would change anything. Think about how you digest music. Three minutes here, five minutes there, one track flowing into the next without any concentration or thinking required. Contrast that to a book. Books take time. It doesn't matter if it takes you a couple more minutes to find the book you were looking for when it's still going to take you a week to finish it. If your music took a week to finish you probably wouldn't care if they were all instantly digitally accessible in nanoseconds, either.

On the other hand, magazines or newspapers, which match more closely with the small-digest format of music, would be perfect for the Kindle and its ilk. Unfortunately the newspapers are still dragging their asses with KindleKontent (the New York Times, for instance, doesn't include their crossword puzzle (among other things) for the Kindle subscription. Seriously, guys?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:45 PM on December 29, 2009


Civil_Disobedient: You know, there was a time shortly after the birth of photography that many people wondered if paintings would soon become obsolete.

You mean they haven't?

"Obsolete" does not mean "disappears." Horses & buggies are obsolete, but 3 days ago 40 miles south of here a family of 4 was injured in a horse & buggy accident. Letterpresses are obsolete, but some small companies still make money selling small runs of letterpress editions.
posted by lodurr at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can read books a bit at a time, they're much more amenable to that use case than music is. Definitely agreed that magazines and newspapers are a more natural fit though.
posted by breath at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2009


You know, there was a time shortly after the birth of photography that many people wondered if paintings would soon become obsolete.

I'm not saying that printed books will definitely become obsolete. I'm saying that it is a possibility that we need to consider and take steps to prevent--at least those of us who feel it is something that needs to be prevented. It's true that no other library has yet replaced its books with Kindles, but then again it's only been a few months.
posted by Lobster Garden at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2009


Why are people saying such bad things about Cory Doctorow? Count me among those who don't understand why he is so loathed by (seemingly) so many.

The only thing I know about him is that he is a published author, writes a popular blog, and seems to indulge in hobbies that seem silly or obnoxious, depending on your perspective. I see that some say the issue is that he's not particularly bright but that is not rare. Has he actually done anything to deserve the enmity?
posted by cell divide at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2009


Well, in keeping with the books and painting theme, yes, books will probably continue to exist, even if most people end up reading their material electronically. The means by which words are conveyed has been ever-changing, but paperbacks didn't kill hardcovers. I can't really say I understand the fuss. If a better means of bringing words to people is created, that can only be a good thing, yes?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:59 PM on December 29, 2009


Yes, a handful of early-generation devices that are expensive baubles for the blogger class are going to destroy a medium that's saturated the planet for thousands of years.

Totally agreed on the state of the art for digital reading devices now, but as sebastienbailard said, there are billions of people right now who can't get a printed book to save their lives (literally!) but have mobile phones or will shortly.

There will never be a Barnes & Noble, or any kind of mass physical book distribution infrastructure, in the rural third world. But there will be ebooks.
posted by nev at 4:59 PM on December 29, 2009


I think that it's silly to fear that books will be made obsolete by the Kindle and its ilk. They will be made obsolete eventually, but something that is so obviously superior that it would seem foolish to cling to the old form factor. Definitely not anytime soon. Can you think of an obsolescence event in history that wasn't as obvious as the sky is blue when it happened?

I think maybe book-lovers' concerns on this front are that they are insecure that their use cases (writing in margins, reading in low light, traveling with reading material, going off-grid to read) are uncommon and therefore will be trampled by the revolution. But I think that it's obvious that there are enough of these cases, and enough users of each, that the benefits of ebooks are not nearly enough to conquer them all.
posted by breath at 5:00 PM on December 29, 2009


> Has he actually done anything to deserve the enmity?

Why, yes, he has something to do with Boing Boing, at the mere mention of which, most of Metafilter has some sort of reflex and turns into a foaming, raving pile-on.

He also has been writing pretty much the same thing about DRM for ten years, which I would summarize in "anything with DRM on it is fucking crippled on purpose, and you shouldn't buy it" which is a point of view I personally agree upon but, you know, since it's Doctorow, then he has to be GRAR WRONG. (and, if not patently wrong, we can always pick on the prose).
posted by _dario at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are, of course, many kinds of books. Some are more amenable to digitization than others.

I have a crapload of O'Reilly animal covers in my library; some are timeless, some are pointless (Windows XP annoyances? Why do I still have that?). Most of these would be immensely more useful as searchable, online references (which is why I subscribe to Oreilly's Safari site).

I have a bunch of cookbooks cluttering up the kitchen. I'd much rather be able to search by ingredient instead of spending time horking through the index, trying to find out if it's "Pulled Pork", or "Pork, Pulled", or "Barbecue Specialties, Pork, Pulled" that they put the food under.

Every so often I schlep to the beach; not often, I'm pasty and I code for a living. When I'm there, i have no interest in pouring 800 grit into my electronics, so it seems like paper makes a lot more sense- and who the hell needs to have a search engine baked into "Flowers in the Attic" anyway?

Some books will, indeed, be made obsolete by the Kindle; books for nerds, books that need search, books that need wiki. Most books - the vast majority- will be available in different formats for different markets, so you can download the bits or read the paper.

DRM is likely to go away; it hasn't stood up in ANY technology that it's been tried in for more than a few years. It's inherently a stopgap solution- there's always the analog hole if you can't reverse engineer the encryption. Once a market gets to a certain size, the DRM always seems to evaporate- manufacturers discover that in a mature technology market, the DRM-free version of the product gains a compelling market advantage- as happened with music and iTunes. The alternative is that the DRM becomes so ridiculously easy to crack that standard systems are developed that easily and transparently break it, as happened with DeCSS and DVD's.

The important question is the degree of control exercised by the platform vendor, and whether that degree of control will persist in a mature market. History suggests that the platforms tend to become less controlled over time, and open standards tend to accumulate.

I suspect that we'll see more ebook readers over time, and their impact will be most widely felt in reference and technical publishing. These are the users who most need their information to be unencumbered, so there will be significant incentives for platform vendors to loosen things up.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:24 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


> There will never be a Barnes & Noble, or any kind of mass physical book distribution infrastructure, in the rural third world. But there will be ebooks.

Why is that we're collecting funds right now to finance school libraries in rural China which will be filled with soon-to-be-obsolete paper books?
posted by _dario at 5:27 PM on December 29, 2009


because people do short-sighted things?
posted by lodurr at 5:27 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can you think of an obsolescence event in history that wasn't as obvious as the sky is blue when it happened?

What do you mean by "when it happened?" It took about 10 years for digital cameras to go from near-useless geek toys to destroying film cameras. It took about 5 years to go from 16MB flash MP3 players to iPods destroying the portable music player business (and CDs along with it). This very fast transition from 1st gen tech to a revolution that destroys the existing analog/proprietary technology is pretty typical of digital technology
posted by crayz at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2009


While struggling to understand where all the Doctorow-hate was coming from, I was struck by the answer: he's successful. The End.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2009


As for the BoingBoing 'unpublished' FIASCO OUTRAGE CONTROVERSY, I take the view that it's their blog and they can do whatever they want to it.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:24 PM on December 29, 2009


Please let the record state that I regret ever having said the words "open source" in a thread not directly related to it*. Lobster Garden, I'm truly sorry.

I don't think The Powers That Be realize (or care) what a big factor second-hand shops play in my personal reading economy. I don't remember the last time I bought a new book**. And my book-buying is significantly subsidized by my ability to re-sell my books back to the second-hand store, in exchange for more.

I can't come up with a reasonable way that a legitimate second-hand eBook market could be run. The term "second-hand eBook" doesn't even make sense.

Without the ability to A) buy used copies at a reduced price, and B) sell off the books I've already read, any given eBook reader is going to have to REALLY make it worth my while.

Restrictive DRM isn't the way to do that. I've already given Audible and the Seattle Public Library's crackpot system the kiss-off w/r/t audiobooks for that very reason. Having a system which - accidentally or not - is able to reach into my library and delete my books is also not the way to do that.

* Although in my defense, it's Sherman Alexie who said it, not me. And I notice no one's taken up defending his conflation of "white folks" with "the publishing industry."

** Actually I do, but I don't want to seem like I'm sucking up.
posted by ErikaB at 6:25 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why is that we're collecting funds right now to finance school libraries in rural China which will be filled with soon-to-be-obsolete paper books?

I never said the books themselves would be obsolete.

I stand by my assertion that in the same way that most of the world has leapfrogged over wired telephone, the third world will leapfrog over the truck-based physical supply chain that brought thousands of books to every American suburb.
posted by nev at 6:35 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah well, like lots of others, what he's been successful at is self-promotion. The End.

crayz: "It took about 5 years to go from 16MB flash MP3 players to iPods destroying the portable music player business..."

So the vanilla mp3 player (no video) I bought yesterday is like an anti-iPod? Cool. (I'd buy an iPod except that I dislike iTunes and won't have it on my computer. Is that so wrong?)
posted by sneebler at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


sneebler, you can have a iPod without ITunes -- get Songbird, or gtkpod, or any of several other ipod managers.

You can even use an iPod without the iPod firmware, by replacing it (on many but not all IPods) with Rockbox. Rockbox will even play Ogg formatted tunes, though it's weaker on video than the Apple firmware.
posted by orthogonality at 6:48 PM on December 29, 2009


tehloki: "Cory Doctorow is the PETA of consumer rights: he's fucking incoherent and ridiculous but gives the issue some exposure."

Sure, but what good is it if your cause is only known for its incoherent and ridiculous supporters?
posted by mullingitover at 7:36 PM on December 29, 2009


because people do short-sighted things?

And a lot of people live their entire lives while other people are arguing about standards. There's the utopian vision model of the whole thing, and there's the "what we use while waiting for the utopian vision to get implemented" and they're very different things. I like that Cory has a vision. I also like that there are tons of public libraries filled with real books that people read by the millions that are there for them while the ebook debate rages on. And I'll personally bitch about Overdrive and their shitty software and their business model and how public libraries shouldn't give them another DIME as often as people will listen to me. I know it makes me a crank but I think it's important. Everyone's got their pet topics.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Overdrive, that's the one! I tried it once, and it was soooo awful that I uninstalled it and never used it again.

Which is a pity, because the idea of listening to audiobooks for free over the internet through the library system is SOFUCKINGCOOL. Alas.
posted by ErikaB at 7:44 PM on December 29, 2009


I have a 1st Gen Kindle. It's fabulous for what I use it for, which is primarily public domain books available for free. (I might add, Cory's books have all been published for free reading.) I use the Feedbook download guide for the Kindle.

Don't get me wrong, I still buy a ton of books, some new releases and a I'm a regular at the used book store, and I borrow books from the library that I think I'll only read once or I'd be embarrassed to have on my shelves, (secret addiction to bad chick-lit mysteries) but I'll be damned if I'll pay for books I can't then pass on to someone else.

But using the Kindle to feedbook download the thousands and thousands of freely available public domain works because I happen to be sitting in the waiting room of a ballet studio and feel the urge to read Kafka is wonderous.

As well, Amazon does a lot of loss-leader books for free, and has a large, albeit often badly formatted, selection of free public domain books.

But I agree that DRM books are evil, and I unilaterally refuse to buy them.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:47 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


OverDrive. Yeah, that's the one the Toronto system uses. It's great fun. If you're having technical problems, just peruse the FAQs or the Help page. And may God have mercy on your soul.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:04 PM on December 29, 2009


nomisxid: Sorry to disappoint you, but the Andre Norton collections are perfectly legal repackagings of public domain works from Project Gutenberg. Apparently she didn't renew the copyrights on a number of her works, which you had to do for things published before 1963.

Check out the Science Fiction Bookshelf for more "name" authors who let stuff slip into the public domain.
posted by fings at 8:30 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


While struggling to understand where all the Doctorow-hate was coming from, I was struck by the answer: he's successful. The End.

Yes, that must be the reason. Wow, you've really opened my eyes.

Now that I have been enlightened, here is a partial list of successful people who really annoy the fuck out of me. If only I could get past my jealousy over their success! Oh, how I would cherish them as the treasures they truly are! Alas.

Sarah Palin
Gallagher
Glenn Beck
Courtney Love
Kirk Cameron
Dane Cook
The members of Nickelback
P. Diddy
Joe Lieberman
posted by Ratio at 8:59 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


All my books came with a brilliant form of "DRM." It was a pain in the ass to copy them, and then distribute the infinite facsimiles, chain-letter style, to thousands, if not millions, of people I only knew by nicknames like "C00k1e_lover_67".
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:33 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If only I could get past my jealousy over their success!

Well, dumping your vexation in our laps is certainly a productive response.
posted by Ritchie at 9:36 PM on December 29, 2009


That said, I have to admit, perhaps to the wrong crowd, that I do not see the sense in ebooks. I'd rather have the book, as an object, comas and all, than something on a screen. These are fundamentally different products. The book is a physical object wedded to content, whereas the ebook is merely content. And while information is the reason we have books, books have formed a life of their own in our culture and will continue to do so.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:42 PM on December 29, 2009


Three minutes here, five minutes there, one track flowing into the next without any concentration or thinking required.

Belatedly, this is not how I consume music.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:49 PM on December 29, 2009


While struggling to understand where all the Doctorow-hate was coming from, I was struck by the answer: he's successful. The End.

You're not successful if you have to dissemble to make a living. Or maybe the standards have lowered for what "success" means.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If there is one change to this site I would pay good money for (note: I would not actually pay for this), it would be for people on Metafilter to just for the love of god shut up about all the things they hate about Cory Doctorow every time his name comes up, and that other people would ignore them when they fail to do so.

Man, it is so tedious. Please consider turning the searchlight glare of your disapprobation towards people who do evil, rather than annoying you in their clumsy efforts to do good.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:26 PM on December 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


You know, there was a time shortly after the birth of photography that many people wondered if paintings would soon become obsolete.

yeah, the woodblock printing market is as good as it ever was.

your Kindle isn't going to smell nice when you open it up seventy years from now!

The leather case for my kindle DX smells like the nastiest junior high PE basketball you ever smelt. I keep hoping it will age to something more agreeable. Oddly enough, the equivalent cases for the Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 didn't smell at all.

Thanks for the info, fings. if my 'experiment' had any rigor, I would have looked up more than the fact that Norton was still alive, before assuming malfeasance.

books have formed a life of their own

And with a few thousand physical books lining the walls, I would have to agree with you. =p

But now, I want to be able to live in a place I can afford, with room enough to move around in something not too Collyer-ist of a manner, so I'm OK with eventually trading in all my unillustrated books for ebooks.

No (current) hand held e-reader will take the place of my Great Book of French Impressionism, with it's massive full-color reproductions of the masterworks of that era, but there are lots of books without any meaningful pictures, for whom the only experience I care about is the content. In 20 years, we could have some sort of nanobook that truly replicates the experience of turning pages and smelling of age or newsness as desired, yet still can be reprogrammed with new content in the blink of an eye.
posted by nomisxid at 10:30 PM on December 29, 2009


The more I think about this, the more I realize this argument conflates two different things. Books and ebooks are very different technologies, yes, but they are very different products as well. The expectations of one should not be applied to the other. While we own books, as objects, we do not own the content, as per copyright law. Since ebooks are mostly, if not only, content, it stands to reason that our use of that content is limited. While much DRM goes too far, it will be necessary to have some imposed limits to the use of ebook content.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:49 PM on December 29, 2009


I have to say that I can't stand any of the licensing schemes they have for ebooks. How can you stand to pay for something you don't really get to keep? I mean, sure, they can't revoke your license in some schemes. But your forward compatibility is going to be limited. Consider the mp3 - it has been around for over 15 years. The cell phone I use for a media player is probably a more powerful computer than the desktop I ripped some of the early songs with. They still work, and they work on anything. I'm pretty confident they'll always work.

Do you think the kindle is still going to be around, using the same DRM, in 10 years? What about 20? What if it goes five years and never catches on? What if it gets badly outcompeted by a better device? You're going to end up straight-jacketed onto one publisher / manufacturer combo that might crash and burn and could easily end up marginalized and crappy. Look at what the people who bought into the playsforsure scheme ended up with; doesn't work on an ipod, doesn't work on a zune, and I bet half of the other media players and cell phones on the market don't support it either. And that was one of the better early DRM schemes.

You can't predict where technology is going, and if you accept these kinds of restrictions, you can virtually guarantee you won't keep permanent access to your media or at least won't get to use it the way you want. Hell, probably the first thing I'd want to do if I had an ebook reader would be to stuff everything I bought onto my cell phone so I can read it if I don't have the reader along. Can I do that? Will I be able to reliably do that in the future, with any cell phone I choose (so long as it could technically support the function?) You know the answer to that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:00 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a book of "cautionary verse" printed in 1623. I can open it at any time, turn to any page and see any character printed thereon 386 years ago. It's possible that my ninth-great grandchild will be able to do the same 400 years hence. I've seen nothing to suggest that electronics will offer anything remotely comparable.
posted by carping demon at 11:14 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


True, but on the flip side if said book was digitized then a vastly greater number of people would have the opportunity to enjoy it in the here and now, no? And you'd still have the physical book as well.

I understand what you're getting at, though. I think Jeff Bezos is over-reaching in his statement that ebooks will displace real books. But then, he's a CEO, it's kind of his job to boost the technology sold by his company.
posted by Ritchie at 12:01 AM on December 30, 2009


The either-or debate about paper versus digital books is, I'm sure, going to just be a nerd exercise. It's not VHS against Betamax. It's more like a plastic pack of sandwiches versus a sandwich on a plate - essentially the same thing, but appropriate for different situations.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:40 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Richard Stallmans's thinking on this subject was referred to by jscott in the discussion above. An article by Stallman on this subject is called The Right to Read.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 2:45 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


lodurr: "Obsolete" does not mean "disappears." Horses & buggies are obsolete, but 3 days ago 40 miles south of here a family of 4 was injured in a horse & buggy accident. Letterpresses are obsolete, but some small companies still make money selling small runs of letterpress editions.

Well, by that standard print is already obsolete as online views of periodicals has already eclipsed print views.

But it's telling that the "book-killing" device heralded in this discussion something that's vapor-ware: full color, multi-format, and adaptable to people with ages from 3-130.

I was seriously thinking about getting one of the ebook readers for Christmas. But ran into another snag on top of needing to put out as much as a $600 investment for my household: authors and works who are not only out of print, but are unavailable in ebook format for any price. I can, however, pick up used copies for $1.50, or seek a copy out through interlibrary loan. Our physical book knowledge-base may be slow and physically cumbersome, but it at least ensured that works by authors I love still existed in a readable form when publishers stopped seeing them as worth publishing.

The impulse to turn library stacks into coffee shops is a short-sighted one until the legal wonks and the technology catches up to the archival purpose of libraries.

Marisa: I can't really say I understand the fuss. If a better means of bringing words to people is created, that can only be a good thing, yes?

Well, this is a misunderstanding about what the fuss is about. No one particularly cares about the Kindle, Nook, or Stanza on the iPhone. What people are fussing about is the argument that monochrome, single-format devices coupled with strong DRM schemes that stand in the way of long-term archiving justify abandoning library and literacy programs that use older technologies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:42 AM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


yeah, the woodblock printing market is as good as it ever was.

I don't know about "as good as it ever was," since it probably had a high point in China some centuries back that will never be reached again. But in the west, artisanal printing (letterpress, woodblock, etc) has grown at the same time as the internet, and is much larger now than it was for many years. It's not the central communications technology that it was centuries ago, but it isn't vanishing into the ether, either.

None of the current e-book devices are any threat to the printed word. For that you'll need stability, low cost, clarity of DRM issues, and all of the other issues that people have mentioned here. And even in a fully e-book world, all those hipster luddite poets are still going to be insisting on printing their poems on real paper, so the paper book is never going to fully vanish. But I will not be surprised to see, in not many years, the e-book almost completely take over the market for new bestsellers and the other more openly commercial wings of publishing -- cookbooks, self-help, etc.

So I think you'll have a more bifurcated market, with the artsier stuff on paper, plus fans buying heirloom copies of the latest Dan Brown blockbuster, and with most sales coming via electronic copies. It's a few years off, and I think it will only happen when the publishers make the DRM concessions that will allow you to treat an e-book much more like a real book -- loan it to friends, give it to your mom, scribble in the margins. I see that as pretty much inevitable if they want to really get full market penetration, which is still an uncertain thing.
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did someone mention sandwiches?
posted by sciurus at 6:38 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Books and ebooks are very different technologies, yes, but they are very different products as well. The expectations of one should not be applied to the other. While we own books, as objects, we do not own the content, as per copyright law.

And I think the question, for me anyhow, is who is trying to obscure the very real difference between these things? I mean to me I could see why an ebook might be useful in some situations and I know why books are useful to me in many situations and I can even see why an ebook might be preferable to a print book in some situations (really, the keyword searchability of an ebook makes me drool just thinking about it). But I'm clear that there's a big difference between them and I'm clear that for now I'm really okay with the "limits" on most paper books compared to the limits on ebooks.

And that's just for me personally. Right now there is no lending model for ebooks that's withstood the test of time. Everyone who is lending ebook readers right now is doing so with a sort of handshake agreement from the vendors that it's okay to do so, or no agreement at all (Playaways are an exception, but they're a little ridiculkous). People trying to build in "lendability" to digital media are why we have insanely crappy products like Overdrive which, while barely functional, are basically unusable by novice users or people with certain OS/MP3 player combinations. Put another way, explaining these technologies causes us, as librarians, to either have to lie to patrons about how computers work, or lie to them about how capitalism works, or tell them a very unpleasant story about why we pay money for such crappy software.

So, the lack of a lending model doesn't really affect most people in, for example, the US at least at first, but the shift to ebooks changes the relationship between public libraries and content and the reading public. Not a huge deal maybe and not one that libraries shouldn't be effectively responding to instead of sitting by and complaining about how "computers are hard" and whatnot. But I think it's a pretty salient point. Libraries are huge purchasers of books, especially new titles. Making the line between books and ebooks seem fuzzier is one way to try to get people to expect this content not just from their local retailers, but also their library. But when your library purchases an ebook, they're getting much less stuff for their $25 or $9.99 or whathaveyou, then when they purchase a book that they can lend effectively until it falls apart. This distinction is huge, and important, and ignored.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 AM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think that "they have cell phones" is drastically understating the issues involved in third-world technology access. Cell phones are a natural progression from the previous dominant communication technology in most of the world: radio. But even there, reception is spotty and they are not sucking on a fat pipe of 3G either. I talked with someone who was doing work with an urban university in Africa a few years back who shook her head at the design issues because that university still depended on a dial-up connection across international lines to access the internet.

While they could certainly have Gutenberg, the issue of geographically-limited publication rights might cripple any recent content distribution that depends on B&N or Amazon. Academics freely ignore this in using the Right of First Sale to ship copies to colleagues in the mail. A nice thing about books that's been leveraged by missionaries and educators alike is that you can build a decentralized distribution network by setting up a bookshelf in a public building, and peer-to-peer networks by passing books along. I don't see that this is possible given the current client/server licensing schemes. These work well when you have nationwide pipes that try to ensure 24/7 uptime to the Amazon/B&N servers.

The people setting up library programs in China are quite well aware of electronic distribution systems on the horizon. They also probably made an assessment that technical, legal, and political issues associated with electronic distribution at that location will take time they don't have the luxury to wait for. And they likely understand that while a printed book has decades of usability, the current generation of ebook devices and nebooks will go the way of the VIC20 and the Apple II in a decade.

elwoodwiles: The expectations of one should not be applied to the other. While we own books, as objects, we do not own the content, as per copyright law. Since ebooks are mostly, if not only, content, it stands to reason that our use of that content is limited. While much DRM goes too far, it will be necessary to have some imposed limits to the use of ebook content.

Well, that's sort of the problem, isn't it. Copyright law does give us broad liberties in regards to the content of books that are not granted under DRM. I can move books from shelf to shelf, I'm limited in the number of devices I can store a DRM eboook on. I can photocopy the entire book for my personal archival use, or photocopy a limited number of pages for use in a class. I can cut the book apart to make a work of art. I can buy a book, keep it for a month and give it to other people.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:13 AM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


[Insert standard derision for people on MF spewing inchoate loathing of Cory Doctorow here]

Please see my previous statement, re: standard derision of inchoate loathing.

You keep using this word...
posted by jock@law at 7:26 AM on December 30, 2009


I know "inchoate" is not proncounced "in-ho' tay" but it entertains me to pronounce it that way nonetheless.
posted by everichon at 7:51 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


http://www.diybookscanner.org/

Just throwing this into the pot. I don't know what I'd think of someone scanning the latest 30USD Discworld book and uploading it, but
...
Students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks—20 percent of tuition at an average university and half of tuition at a community college. Textbook prices have increased at four times the rate of inflation since 1994 and continue to rise. - http://www.calpirg.org/issues/affordable-higher-education/affordable-textbooks
...
I don't think I'd raise an eyebrow at someone scanning or downloading a copy of a 125USD calculus or statics&mechanics textbook. "Oh, but we've discovered so much new calculus in the last few years."
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:08 AM on December 30, 2009


diy bookscanner is by "MeFi's own" by the way.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on December 30, 2009


I often suspect that if Doctorow paid his five dollars here and posted on an infrequent basis, that much of the rage against him would subside and he'd join the select group of authors hailed as "metafilter's own...".
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2009


Four days earlier, after mistaking her for being a Canadian SF writer, he hilariously took the credit for Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize. This is my second all-time favorite thing that Doctorow has written.
posted by Ratio


I won't argue with you about Doctorow because I don't know much about him. However, from your comment I was expecting this was some sort of insane and dithering credit taking which would be roundly mockable. It turned out it was him mistaking where she was from and then going "rah rah team!" as if his home team had won the Stanley Cup or whatever. Seriously, there is no way to read what he wrote as if he "took the credit."
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:45 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can photocopy the entire book for my personal archival use, or photocopy a limited number of pages for use in a class. I can cut the book apart to make a work of art. I can buy a book, keep it for a month and give it to other people.

When one wants to do those things, they should buy a book. If those practices aren't important to you, buy an ebook. They ability to manipulate physical books doesn't translate to ebooks, by agreement, but also by the physical nature of the two products. One being an object, the other being code.

I agree it's frustrating that publishers have over-reacted and enforced some silly restrictions, but I'd figure such restrictions would make ebooks unappealing and therefor a commercial failure.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:54 AM on December 30, 2009


KJS, he's been a member since 2002.
posted by sciurus at 9:32 AM on December 30, 2009


sciurus: Yes, but he's only posted a handful of times since then, the last in 2006. (In contrast to Stross, Shetterly, and Savage who I seem to see on a monthly basis and frequently name-dropped.)

elwoodwiles: When one wants to do those things, they should buy a book.

Which wouldn't exist as the most vocal ebook advocates suggest. But in regards to music, I can, and do, exercise my privilege to burn mix CDs for friends from works that I purchased electronically.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:41 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah I just figured you didn't know since you suggested he drop a fiver for an account.
posted by sciurus at 10:27 AM on December 30, 2009


The ability to rapidly search within a text, for one word, a phrase, a quote or anything more, is, to me, an incredibly useful advancement.
This does not negate the beauty, use, purpose, artistic merit, or intrinsic value of a book with bindings.
Everything in its right place.
Is it cheaper to 'ship' bit's than to ship books?
This isn't simple, and can't be relegated to a basic booksvsbits battle; when I think of all the data transmitted by people on their cell phones, and through satellite tv every day, I see a wireless transmission of data, in massive quantities, not unlike the revolution of flexibility and 'lower cost of entry' that the invention of Movable Type brought... which brought people to see the lives of others they otherwise would never meet, and concurrently, never get to read the books and thoughts of. And what is being transmitted in those signals? Reruns of Lost? Txt MSgs w no nfo in thm? Imagine if a greater portion of the radio signals we transmit around the globe contained encoded hypertext capsules of the last 10 000 years of collective wisdom, knowledge and information. Remember how much changed when people could make pamphlets and disseminate their writing to people at a pace that had been unmatched? This is what hypertext can be... (or rather has already begun it's journey of being)

Dan Brown can keep his copyrights. People somewhere will continue to pay for his books. That is not the kind of thing that people want opened up.

But really, this is not something that will change, so we will keep putting band aids on third degree burns, expecting a miraculous healing (soy sauce?).
Just like cell phones are expanding to be had by so many more people, including strong advancements towards wide access within developing nations, there is so much to be said for bringing the collective knowledge of humanity to humanity. A reader can hold thousands of books for a small community. Rather than book by book costs of distribution and shipping such massive quantities.
But if libraries come to rural China, and use physical books, and that works... YES! This is great!
However, as a fun aside, <jocular) once Fahrenheit 451 comes true </ jocular), the book burning would be much more spectacular with e readers (Sony will finally get to ADVERTISE the awesomeness of exploding Lion batteries!)... will we all in fact eventually find ourselves welcoming our discovery channel hailing explosion mongering e book burning fire-person overlords? (presumably, all from the stealthy luxuriance of our Buy n' Large hover chairs?)
yes, then I realize that Fox corp seems dead set on stopping google from indexing the FACTS of OCCURRENCE that is "news" today... and think... people with more power than I, do not even want me to be able to easily know what HAPPENS in the world from day to day, Here I am speaking on knowledge, wisdom, and information imbalance... and realize; yep, I'm pretty much an unrealistic ideologue on a treadmill of ideas.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:31 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Right now there is no lending model for ebooks that's withstood the test of time.

As digital books become predominant, I doubt this will be a constant. As with any new technology, the kinks get worked out.

But when your library purchases an ebook, they're getting much less stuff for their $25 or $9.99 or whathaveyou, then when they purchase a book that they can lend effectively until it falls apart. This distinction is huge, and important, and ignored.

Digital books are expensive because Amazon is the only game in town. Customers have responded by downloading free titles, mostly. This is not necessarily how it needs to be in the long run, and certainly there will be pressure on Amazon to change their pricing scheme in early 2010.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2009


Which as a note. Technologies become obsolete as they are phased out of use, not when someone invents something better. Two case examples: IPv4 and transportation systems dependent on small automobiles. And to correct something upthread:

It took about 10 years for digital cameras to go from near-useless geek toys to destroying film cameras.

Actually that's closer to 60 years.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:59 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


>...they're both working towards the same end. Open source culture intends to promote a culture where everyone gives away their work for free, and piracy promotes a culture where everyone takes others' work for free.

Fascinating. So, if I have an apple, there's no difference between

 i) you taking the apple from me without giving me anything in return
ii) me giving you the apple without asking for anything in return

I wonder if this is the New Math they used to talk about.
posted by phliar at 12:42 PM on December 30, 2009


This is not necessarily how it needs to be in the long run, and certainly there will be pressure on Amazon to change their pricing scheme in early 2010.

I'll believe it when I see it. They're still charging 1990s prices for music CDs, which people have been pirating or burning or buying used for far less for umpteen years.

I don't need books to be cheaper, necessarily - although the thought of paying the same price for an ebook as I would for its dead-tree hardcover version makes my eyebrows go up. I do need books to be in a format that's easy to lend without having to tell some third party "Hey I want to lend this here title to my friend," and which the publisher or distributor cannot (either legally or technologically) take away from me just because they mistakenly published the wrong version. I've got a couple of books on my shelves that were pulped after they were released into the wild (because of a lost court case), but no one from the Book Police came to take my copies away. I'd like to keep it like that.
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on December 30, 2009


Digital books are expensive because Amazon is the only game in town.

What? Sony has a substantial ebook store, and I think has been selling ebooks longer than Amazon. Of course, they're firm believers in DRM, and maybe don't have the same selection as Amazon. To Sony's credit, the store has a prominent link and guide to getting public domain books on your Sony Reader.

My favorite "killer app" for ebooks is aircraft instrument approach charts. They change frequently and are numerous so the paper versions take up substantial amounts of space. You can get all the approaches for the U.S. on a Sony PRS-505 or Kindle and stay up to date for free or cheap, replacing a duffle bag full of paper charts that change every month.
posted by exogenous at 12:47 PM on December 30, 2009


Sarah Palin
Gallagher
Glenn Beck
Courtney Love
Kirk Cameron
Dane Cook
The members of Nickelback
P. Diddy
Joe Lieberman


Worst Band Ever.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:50 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSluder can safely just give himself a mental favorite from me for whatever he posts in this thread. He's espousing my position more clearly and reasonably than I'd be able to.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:15 PM on December 30, 2009


Sony has a substantial ebook store, and I think has been selling ebooks longer than Amazon

Kindles can receive books without a computer (which I think, though I could be wrong about this, has not been available in Sony devices until very recently), and publishers complain about Amazon's terms, both of which leads me to believe that Sony does not have the distribution network that leads to sale numbers to compete with Amazon.

They're still charging 1990s prices for music CDs, which people have been pirating or burning or buying used for far less for umpteen years.

CDs are physical objects, with liner notes and content that is of higher audio quality than MP3s. That aside, as far as I know, legal digital music seems to be selling pretty well, with a large variety of different and legal music stores (iTunes Music Store, Bleep, cdbaby, etc.). Prices are low and the convenience is there, even if the quality lacks. Some major libraries have already been working out lending arrangements for digital media. It's new technology, but given how well things are going for music, I'm not too worried about the future of low-priced, legitimate digital books or arrangements for libraries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:33 PM on December 30, 2009


re: textbooks.

Completely agreed. I'm a grad student in math, occasionally teaching, and absolutely think that textbooks could easily step into the new century. This last term, a prof and I spent a good deal of effort putting together a brief lecture-by-lecture textbook for the linear algebra course we were teaching. It's meant to be a free resource, perhaps eventually open-source, available for free download as a pdf. In it, we link directly to wikipedia articles on the topics at hand, and provide references to another, far more massive, free open source textbook for further reading. For exercises we used a combination of written 'thinker' problems, combined with a free online system (WebWork) for the kinds of drills that every student should slog through, but which no human being should ever have to grade.

I'm somewhat amazed that free calculus textbooks aren't a bit more widespread, actually. I know there exist at least a few.

Additionally, in fat-headed math, Alan Hatcher's 'Algebraic Topology' book has been famously free for download for many years. The ArXiv hosts many thousands of free-to-download pre-prints of math and physics papers, posted directly by the authors. I think the leading edge of the hard sciences are definitely moving towards a free internetted model, and it's just a matter of when the pedagogical side catches up.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:38 PM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Blazecock: It's worth noting that the (perhaps) better features of the CD, including portability, nearly killed the LP, in spite of the much higher-quality art and liner notes that come with records. I don't imagine that the CD will fare well against non-physical formats in the long run. I personally only buy physical CDs at shows anymore, and even then I rush home to convert them to a format I actually use.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:41 PM on December 30, 2009


I wonder if this is the New Math they used to talk about.

I'm not trying to pull a fast one on you. I guess I just don't know of a website that offers, exclusively, open-source code, but charges for access to the code. The licensing of open-source software doesn't seem too friendly to charging money for access to the code. There are sites that charge for support services, like Red Hat, or enhanced products, like Apple, but not the code itself. I guess I don't think such a entity exists. I could be wrong, though, so please let me know.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:00 PM on December 30, 2009


I personally only buy physical CDs at shows anymore, and even then I rush home to convert them to a format I actually use.

The last physical CD I bought was the special edition of Autechre's Quaristice, and even that was eventually released as a digital product. I'm more or less done with CDs, as, I believe, are many others. MP3s are just too convenient.

That said, physical books are, for me, still more convenient than PDFs, Kindle-formatted digital books, or paper photocopies. Until the form factor changes, I expect paper books to be around for a while. Cory Doctorow still has plenty of time to crow about the evils DRM, whilst making money off of it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on December 30, 2009


I understand what you're getting at, though. Actually, I was referring to the fact that I know of no means of electonic storage that we can expect to work for 800 years. Maybe there'll be one, but it's way too soon to tell.
posted by carping demon at 2:19 PM on December 30, 2009


I don't really follow Doctorow, and haven't much stock in loving or hating the man as a person. It seems to me that being an open-source advocate selling content at the moment is like being a vegetarian in Siberia. It's doable, but you'll probably be a bit healthier if you can compromise from time to time. And as with vegetarianism, I think there's a real role for 'flexitarians,' people who compromise on a day-to-day basis, but still hold to some core principles. The moderate meat-eater is in a very good position for advocacy, as they can say 'Hey, you don't have to be like those crazy fuckers over there in order to make a difference on a broad range of issues.' Likewise, if one sells a magazine on the Kindle, one can still be an open-source advocate, and perhaps be in a better position to reach people enmeshed in the DRM jungle. Ultimately, if certain people are only reading their Kindles, you'll have to sell content on the Kindle in order to tell them how much the Kindle's DRM policy blows, and get them to start raising their expectations.

Then again, as Leonard Cohen once sang, 'they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom/ for trying to change the system from within...'
posted by kaibutsu at 2:49 PM on December 30, 2009


I have to say, most of my graduate school reading-list was in electronic format. I often skipped articles that were not available in fulltext PDF unless they were really interesting and critical to my work.

These days, I'm lucky if I get through a volume in a month of lunch breaks.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:56 PM on December 30, 2009


Open source culture intends to promote a culture where everyone gives away their work for free...
No. That would be the Free Culture Movement.

Blazecock, I know you were only responding to someone else's terminology but the use of the phrase open source is fraught in a context where we are talking about the more general case of culture. As lodurr has already pointed out open source is about releasing the source code in the more particular case of computer software. This is important only in this context because without the source you are stuck with a program whose innards you can't inspect, modify or fix.

As well there are two movements in the software world which, while similar in some respects (such as practising source code release), have different underlying motivations. They are the Open Source movement and the Free Software movement. Note the capitalizations. Using the term open source colours the perceptions of people familiar with the two movements of where you are coming from.

The Free Culture movement shares philosophical underpinnings with the Free Software movement. In these two fraternal movements they make an important distinction between free as in beer (given away gratis) and Free as in speech (unencumbered by legal constraints). Note again the capitalizations. You seem to be focusing more on the free as in beer aspect which is only a side effect (although a very important one). There is nothing to stop a Free Software/Culture creator charging for the first release of their work, it's just that after that first release they accept that it would be immoral to stop other people from then sharing that work with others. Indeed this is exactly what Richard Stallman did with the various GNU utitilies his foundation was releasing in the 80's - he sold them on tape to people and institutions around the world. At that time even though they were freely copyable it was still usually more practical to buy a tape from the foundation. This practice of buying free software/culture continues today when people directly want to reward the creators even though the creators don't burden their work with legal constraints that prevent copying.

So this is where the Free Culture Movement differs from the 'Piracy' movement. In the first the creators are deliberately refusing to encumber their work with some particular legal constraints that have harsh effects on the receivers of that culture. While the copyright infringers - the 'pirates' - are ignoring or working around the legal constraints that have been put on cultural works. It's an important distinction. Some people in the Free Culture Movement would be sympathetic to copyright infringement because they see the legal framework as unjust while others would argue that you should respect the legal constraints of any particular work and then choose to play by the game or instead go without.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 3:50 PM on December 30, 2009


Fascinating. So, if I have an apple, there's no difference between

i) you taking the apple from me without giving me anything in return
ii) me giving you the apple without asking for anything in return

I wonder if this is the New Math they used to talk about.


That depends. Are you posting the instructions to make the apple online, or selling seeds, but not allowing other people to sell derivative seeds and apples? (e.g. Terminator Seed). Are you abusing your dominant position in the marketplace to sell really expensive apples, even though apples are really cheap to make, or are you a small time apple seller who doesn't feel like touring or selling merch, but everyone is swapping copies of your apples? Is your apple original or did someone else grow a very similar apple earlier? Have you spent millions of dollars polishing politicians' apples in order to create a new legal climate for your apples?

If I walk away with a copy of an apple, how many apples do you have left?

I think this is the New math they used to talk about. How do you like them apples?
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:32 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please consider turning the searchlight glare of your disapprobation towards people who do evil, rather than annoying you in their clumsy efforts to do good.

Oh, please, yes. Also, Bono.
posted by straight at 11:44 PM on December 30, 2009


I refuse to "buy" DRM-laden books, because if I buy a book, I want to actually own it.

On the other hand, if the e-books are really cheap, I could definitely see paying $0.99 to Amazon for one of their Kindle files, which are essentially indefinite-term rentals, for the kind of read-it-once book I might otherwise borrow from the library. And then if I really like it, go buy a full-price hard copy that I would really own.

So that's my prediction: very cheap e-texts for "disposable" reading like newspapers, magazines, beach novels, etc. More expensive e-texts for reference works that are superior to the physical book version. Physical books for the books you really want to have sitting on your bookshelf.

(And in the long run, when you can fit the entire Library of Congress in your keychain USB drive, all texts freely and ubiquitously available electronically)
posted by straight at 11:56 PM on December 30, 2009


I was referring to the fact that I know of no means of electonic storage that we can expect to work for 800 years.

Oh, I know. I guess I was too-coyly hinting that even with the long life of paper books, it's best not to put all our eggs in one basket, and that the survival of stories, poems, knowledge, what-have-you not be closely tied to a mere physical or digital artefact but instead to the habit of human beings to try to share and multiply those things they hold most dear. That's an assumption, of course. But if you agree with it, then it seems like we should focus on removing obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling that impulse on behalf of future generations. And one of those obstacles is the time and consumption of resources required to replicate paper books.
posted by Ritchie at 12:04 AM on December 31, 2009


It's true! We owe the longevity of our older works (the Bible, classical literature, etc.) not so much to the life of any particular medium but because they've been copied widely and repeatedly. So super-low-cost, high-fidelity copying may contribute to longevity even if the underlying media are relatively short-lived.
posted by grobstein at 8:01 AM on December 31, 2009


Ritchie: But if you agree with it, then it seems like we should focus on removing obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling that impulse on behalf of future generations. And one of those obstacles is the time and consumption of resources required to replicate paper books.

How so when paper books currently fill both archival and distribution needs that are currently not met by restrictive ebook licensing schemes?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:39 AM on December 31, 2009


And I think they should continue to do so. I doubt we are really in disagreement, judging from your comments upthread. I like books too. But paper books are also limited in ease of distribution. Think of it as a kind of weak DRM by virtue of occupying a physical form. You can loan the book, but a mental calculus is there: will I get it back? How much do I care? You can take a book anywhere, on a plane or a month-long hike or into combat, but there is a cost: it has weight, it has volume, it excludes other items and other books. I think DRM is much worse in what it does, but the answer is to get rid of DRM.

My reasoning is, even a perfectly-archived book, guaranteed to be available in ten millennia, is of no use if no-one desires to read it. The best way to keep that desire alive is to give people the opportunity to read as many books as possible, as easily as possible. Someone who falls in love with a particular book becomes an active recruit in sharing it with others. The more easily they can do that, the better it is for that book's survival chances. Books (in fact, any products of culture), aren't lost only when their physical form expires. They are also lost when their potential audience becomes indifferent. Those archive centers might remain locked and unattended save by the night-watch-men if everyone collectively decides it's just too much hassle to go down there and unpack some of the boxes when they could be watching the news or listening to talkback radio instead.
posted by Ritchie at 4:04 PM on December 31, 2009


This is relevant, and someone should probably do up a front page post on it, as this thread is due to roll off the bottom of the screen soon.

http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/pre1976
What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010?
Casino Royale, Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy cover, The Adventures of Augie March, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Crick & Watson’s Nature article decoding the double helix, Disney’s Peter Pan, The Crucible . . . .

(via http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/12/31/2255212/What-Would-Have-Entered-the-Public-Domain-Tomorrow )
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:39 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to the view that one advantage of physical copies of books over electronic ones is the relative likelihood that any particular physical copy has a decent chance of existing for far-future generations, whereas a particular electronic copy has very little chance.

However, I remember reading that the books of today are, generally speaking, printed on paper, and with ink, that will not last all that long. Maybe a hundred years or so, if I'm remembering correctly. I'm not saying this is correct - I don't know, it's just something I vaguely remember reading. Does anyone know anything about this? Thanks.
posted by Flunkie at 9:39 AM on January 3, 2010


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