I’m eager to start reading more e-books. I rarely re-read books (except for work), and my friends rarely borrow paper ones from me, so I have little reason to hang on to paper books. E-books would be just the thing. But the prices aren’t any good. I either have to pay more for an e-book than what it costs me to order a paperback from England, or I can get it for free through illegal file sharing. It’s amazingly easy: just try googling a book’s title, your preferred file format and the name of a file sharing service like Hotfile or Megaupload.
I am well aware that I wouldn’t be supporting the authors I like if I downloaded pirated copies of their books. But on the other hand I can’t see why on-line book stores should expect me to pay more when they give me less. Ease and speed of access is a fine thing, but I am actually capable of ordering paper copies in advance to avoid finding myself bookless. If I do end up without anything to read, I can always get a public domain e-book from Feedbooks piped straight into my smartphone over wifi. In this manner, for instance, I recently enjoyed Mark Twain’s youth memoir, Roughing It.
An issue that I find weird and intriguing is how libraries should deal with e-books. Buying an e-book is legal, copying it for free from someone you don’t know is illegal, but copying it as a protected file with a library as intermediary is legal. Of course, you’re not actually “borrowing” anything as there is no limit to the number of copies of a file that a library can hand out. And Swedish libraries, though they were quick to begin “lending” e-books, don’t offer files for any of the most popular platforms on which people read them.
There’s also the issue of how public libraries should get at the files. Currently, in Sweden, they have an exclusive deal with an intermediary named Elib, which is owned by four major publishing houses. So instead of finding files promiscuously, wherever they may reside, for library users, libraries can only offer whatever Elib has. And only with copy protection. And only for not-very-popular platforms. When librarians could actually provide customers with much better service by simply asking “Have you googled the book’s title, your preferred file format and the name of a file sharing service like Hotfile or Megaupload?” I don’t understand why they would want to have an exclusive arrangement with anybody for e-books when they’ve never done so for paper books.
Now that books are no longer stuck in their paper medium, I can’t really see why I should involve a library, a physical repository, in getting books. Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t asked a librarian for help with selecting a book since I was a kid. My frequent interactions with librarians are always either to help me register a loan, or to get a book that I want out of the stacks, or for them to receive a book that I am donating to the library. It’s all about the low-level administration of paper books. I would never ask a librarian what I should read unless it was one of my friends whose taste I’m familiar with.
I want to buy unprotected e-books from on-line book stores for about half of what a paperback copy costs on-line. I don’t want to “borrow” the files, and I don’t want to pirate them. But nor do I want to get ripped off.
Here’s an interesting article in Swedish about e-books and public libraries. Thanks to Ellen Follin, librarian and chanteuse
And here‘s what sf writer Charlie Stross had to say about the future of e-books in May 2010. Thanks to Dear Reader SM for the tip-off.