Get up to speed • 22 November 2008 • The SnowBlog
Get up to speed
Perhaps you don't read PCPro magazine. It is, after all, full of articles about computers, rather than books - and as the name suggests, it's aimed more towards the IT professional than the home user. The latest edition (which, because of the strange way magazines work, is labelled January 2009) has seven pages on the subject of electronic books and book readers (which I tend to call e-readers, though that's probably very last century of me). They test the current crop of readers and look at the extraordinary new models in the pipeline. They discuss the different e-book formats and also look at the geography of the e-books market.
One particularly interesting section is their look at how DRM policy evolved in the music download market compared with how the e-book market is shaping up. In short, music downloads used to have tons of restrictions on them - you couldn't copy them or play them on too many computers or certain types of portable players. And gradually, with every major music company (except Apple's iTunes Store) the restrictions have been removed. Why? Because the restrictions gave the music companies more control but at the expense of frustrating, disappointing and frequently infuriating the customer. For instance, if your MP3 player or your computer broke and you got a replacement, you might find you no longer had access to the hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of music you'd downloaded; your right to play those tracks was tied to the gadget and not its owner. The industry realised that whoever ditched the DRM first would have an advantage over competitors, so they all did it. And the PCPro article points out that while virtually the whole music industry has abandoned their attempts to sell music with built-in restrictions over when and how you can play it, the book industry seems to have ignored that painful, decade-long lesson and is all set to repeat the mistakes of the music market.
Then again, perhaps the book market is sufficiently different that customers will tolerate restrictions more readily. Or, on the third hand, perhaps it's a form of unintentional sabotage: perhaps publishers don't really want e-books to happen so they're half-hearted in making them appealing.
Anyway, if you want to get up to speed with the vagaries of the e-book market, the current PCPro is a handy way to start (look for the picture of the Sony e-reader on the cover).