This wouldn’t be so bad if the Kindle were more open

Bad news for Kindle readers, especially the less computer-savvy.

But it is worth noting at this juncture that Amazon appears to have made a business decision, at least for now, that “free” will play an increasingly limited role in the Kindle Store

Amazon certainly has a right to shift focus and resources from free and public domain books to the books they’re trying to sell.  But it’s pretty disappointing.  For many people, unfortunately, the Kindle is the ebook reader.  It’s done wonders in showing the non-technical part of the population that ebooks and readers are out there.  But it’s these very same non-technical people who are likely to get all their reading material from the Kindle store, which is of course what Amazon wants.  They’ve put up all sorts of hoops to jump through if you want to put other content on the Kindle.

And so these non-technical people are effectively cut off from public domain books, or books from other publishers who can’t or won’t play ball with Amazon’s restrictions on the Kindle.

Also disappointing is that Amazon doesn’t want to deal with free promotional titles.

The number of free promotional titles has been dwindling since August, and no new free promotional titles have been added this month despite numerous publisher requests to offer free titles.

There is no question that free promotional titles can grow your fanbase.  Two of my favorite science fiction authors reeled me in with free ebooks (here and here).  I’ve since not only bought books from them, but pre-ordered a couple.  Again, Amazon certainly has a right to do what they’re doing.  I’d just rather they chose not to.

Fortunately, it keeps plenty of room in the ebook market and the ebook reader market for others to come in and fill the holes.

Article:  Kindle Nation Daily: Honey, They’re Shrinking “Free” in the Kindle Store via Teleread.

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Introducing Manfred Macx

It gives me great pleasure to introduce you all to Manfred Macx, a new kind of publishing company.  It’s not a new idea – bands big and small have been doing it for a while, and authors are just starting to try.  But as more and more of our media of all kinds is being distributed digitally, where making an extra copy (or a thousand) is nearly instantaneous and effectively free, we have to rethink the way we compensate creators of content.

At Manfred Macx, the author has a book, and the author has a goal, a target dollar amount that unlocks the electronic version of the book.  The author can sell almost anything;  Paper copies of the book, dinner with the author at a fancy restaurant, a character in the book named after you – whatever.  When the target goal is reached, everyone gets the ebook.

Beyond that, Manfred Macx is creating a community around authors and fans, fostering communication and connection in ways that weren’t possible before the internet changed our lives.

Watch this space for updates, or sign up for the mailing list.  We’re looking for authors right now, and expect the site to go live in November.

This is the sort of thing that will make ereaders work

One of the big problems with ereaders is the cost.  Even if you get a great deal on the reader itself, you’re still stuck paying the exorbitant prices that Amazon and the like charge if you actually want to read a recent book.

The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials.

Manuscripts, rare books, significant cultural materials – these are the things that are in danger of being lost, things that only exist on paper.  While it’s great to have a paper copy of something written or printed long ago, in the end it’s the content that’s important, and the permanence of the content that’s more important still.

And all for free?  Some time in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see a day when the quality and quantity of free content for ebook readers will make companies like Amazon rethink the way they do business, and maybe even start charging for the real scarcities while giving away the infinite.

World Digital Library via TeleRead

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Bookworm – A platform for open ebooks

A friend pointed me to a new service to store all the ebooks you have in epub format so you can read them wherever you are – at your computer, on your web-enabled mobile phone, or on an ebook reader that supports the format.

I just signed up.  I downloaded Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations from Feedbooks and added them to my new Bookworm account.  Before you ask:  Yes, I would love to sit in a room with Rand, Smith, and Jeff Bezos and discuss the state of the electronic publishing market.

It is unfortunate that I have no mobile device capable of trying this out, but it’s not entirely unpleasant to read on my laptop.  Bookworm remembers my place, as promised.

More exciting than the service is the attitude.  From their about page:

Will other book formats be supported, such as PDF or mobi? What about DRM ebooks?

Bookworm is meant to push adoption of the open ePub format and there are no plans to support closed formats like mobi or those with limited flexibility like PDF.

DRM (digital rights management) has been shown to be detrimental to technology adoption, does not significantly prevent piracy, and provides a terrible user experience. Bookworm will never support DRM’ed ebooks that require special software to unlock. Instead we encourage publishers to explore forms of “soft” DRM (such as watermarking digital books with the name of the purchaser).

“Soft” DRM is silly – the idea is that if you stick the person’s name on the digital file, they won’t share it with others.  It is an improvement over typical DRM, but still decreases the value of the book while offering nothing to the customer in return.

However, open source publishing software, using only open formats, can only be good for consumers.  Openness leads to innovation because one group can build on the work of another.  And sooner or later, some of those groups will figure things out, and you’ll never again have to pay $9.99 for an infinitely copyable ebook.

Check them out – they’re getting a lot of things right, and the backing of a big company like O’Reilly will help show other publishers what’s possible.

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The new Kindle will disappoint

By managing both the content and the device on which to consume it, Amazon is in a fantastic position to do great things in the electronic publishing market.  Later today, they’re expected to announce the new version of their ebook reader, the Kindle.  The speculation is that it will be thinner, lighter, and easier to use.  “The “Previous Page” and “Next Page” buttons are smaller and less intrusive, to prevent accidents.”, Forbes says.  Most other articles about it are even less interesting.

The new Kindle will probably be the best ereader on the market.  The current model is already arguably the best available, so improvements should cement that position.  But until Amazon stops thinking about how to sell books in a new format and starts thinking about what fundamental changes to the way people read are now possible, whatever they might announce will be a disappointment.

It may be great for their bottom line – Amazon’s stock is doing quite well – but for everyone who isn’t a stockholder, incremental improvements to an expensive device that displays expensive words isn’t nearly as exciting as Amazon would like you to think.  It’s still just a slightly more convenient way for people to purchase and read books.

What about enabling things that just weren’t possible with books made of paper?  Interactive book clubs, automatic updates to serialized novels, communication with the author, or any number of things that become possible when you have an always-on internet connection.  But Amazon, like everyone else in the market, is too focused on protecting the old way of doing things instead of embracing everything new.

Today, and in the days to come, you will hear a lot about how wonderful the new device is, how this one is really “the iPod for books”, and how great Amazon is.  And then you’ll go back to reading books in more or less the same way you did before.

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All signs point to a new Kindle

Amazon press conference on 2/9: I can haz kindle too?.

Interesting article at CrunchGear about the upcoming Amazon press conference.  It seems very likely that the second generation Kindle will be announced.

More interesting, though, since it’s been widely assumed that the new Kindle is coming out early this year, is the wish in one of the comments for the ability to resell an ebook purchased for the Kindle.  This is not going to happen, and it’s a big reason why ebooks are going to have to wait to become a real part of the mainstream.

There are two possible ways in which it might be possible to resell ebooks, and neither of them works.

First, you could apply DRM to the ebooks.  This removes the concept of ownership – it is impossible to own something that can be revoked by the “seller” at any moment (see here, here, here, and here).  Without owning the ebook, any reselling would have to go through the original “seller”.  The DRM would have to be transferred in some way, and the new “owner” would still depend on some indifferent third party to allow access to the content.  This third party will be incurring costs for each transaction, and would be crazy not to pass these costs onto the customer.

So every time you “sold” the property you “own”, the original seller would take another cut.  And what happens when they decide to stop supporting the DRM anymore?  It’s bad enough if you’ve bought from someone and they take back what you bought.  What if you buy from someone and someone else takes back what you’ve bought? In almost every case, the reseller could make more money than the original seller.  The reseller has no costs beyond the original purchase price, and therefore can sell at a much cheaper price.  Since the copies are exactly as good as the original, only one original need ever be purchased.  This is not a sustainable business model.  Bargaining on irrational behavior on the part of all of your customers will not get you very far.

Clearly reselling DRMed content doesn’t make sense.  So what are the alternatives?

You can resell content without DRM.  But why would you?  You can copy it as many times as you want.  If it was worth $10 to you, surely you can find twenty people to buy it for $0.60 and make a profit.  Or you can give it away, since it doesn’t cost you anything, and the new friends you might make would be worth more than your initial investment.

So reselling non-DRMed content doesn’t make sense, either.  Where does that leave us?

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