Petrona’s choice from the Internet (18 April)

DRM, or “digital rights management”, is one of those topics that never ceases to generate heat in online discussions. Here’s a good post at O’Reilly Radar by Joe Wikert, in which he gives four reasons why DRM is like airport security: false sense of security; treats everyone like a criminal; is highly inefficient; and introduces silly limitations. Junk it, is his advice. For a consumer, it is annoying to pay more for an ebook than for a print hardback (partly for tax reasons), and then not to be able to loan it to anyone. It is also annoying to know that an ebook can be downloaded by a reader in one part of the world but not another. (See also Piracy adding to publishers’ digital costs at The Bookseller blog.) For my part, I seem to have stopped reading books in the e-format, pretty much, unless I see a book I’m about to buy in print on sale in e-form very cheaply. Even that assertion does not always hold, for example I’ve been shelling out £6 or £7 a go for Anthony Trollope books which are free in e-format (thanks to the Gutenberg project). I think it’s their sheer length that puts me off reading them on screen. And, returning to a point made above, the fact that someone else might want to read them as well as me. The Gutenberg project, incidentally, has just released its 30,000th English language book. DRM eat your heart out!

There is a fascinating slide presentation by Paul Adams, ex-Google and now at Facebook, about “how real social networks work, and why online social networks leave us feeling exposed and awkward”. (The slide show is embedded at Scholarly Kitchen but was presumably originally uploaded somewhere else.) The points are obvious but very well-put together and convincing. Or at least, they are in the first 30 or so slides, I got the message by then and did not progress through to slide 224, though I am sure they are all very good. In a sort-of similar point on a different topic, Alex Howard (at O’Reilly Radar again) argues that as “we all struggle to make sense of a world rapidly changed by technological disruption, the institutions that preserve cultural memory are becoming even more important.” He uses a museum project, Ignite Smithsonian, as an example.

How book publishing has changed since 1984 – this is a great article by Peter Osnos as he looks back “at an age of old retail and indie bookstores, before computers, celebrity memoirs, and megachains came to dominate the literary world.” And it isn’t only book publishing that’s changing. In the wake of its recent sale to AOL, The Huffington Post is being sued for back-pay by 9000 of its bloggers, who previously wrote for nothing.

Some nice book reviews this week: What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (review at Reactions to Reading); Rupture (1000 Cuts) by Simon Lelic (review at Mysteries in Paradise); and Hotel Bosphorus by Esmahan Aykol (review at A Work in Progress).

Short links to posts I liked this week:

Help! I need a publisher. Have you been to Oxford? (Nicola Morgan)

London Book Fair vote shows that publishers are still relevant (Future ebook)

Novelists: What are you trying to accomplish? (Mysterious Matters)

Huh?! Faber (and Marcus Chown) to answer science’s biggest questions in tweets. (Bookseller)

Stupid, stupid. Want to avoid a retraction? Hire a medical writer, say medical writers. (Retraction Watch)

Even more stupid. Despite demand, parents urged not to use direct-to-consumer genetics tests on their kids. (Spoonful of Medicine)

4 thoughts on “Petrona’s choice from the Internet (18 April)

  1. Interesting because the essays I am marking today are about an article called “Copyright, Piracy and Personal Ethics” – about downloading music, but the writer also refers to the book business. His take: as long as you don´t steal too much or share with too many of your friends, it is good for the artist to get his things out there. Hm. Even my weakest students can see the problem about this argument.

    And what a fortune I have been to Oxford; I have even frequented one of Inspector Morse´s favourite haunts – that must definitely give me an edge 😉

  2. Given the choice I will always choose a paper copy of a book over an ebook, but that said, I broke down this year and bought a Nook (after say I would Never do so) in order to get access to books via Project Gutenberg and other freebie places. I like it but it’s not a perfect reading experience for me (and I still read far more paper books than ebooks). You also lose the social aspect of books (and it is already a solitary-enough pursuit) with ereaders, which I think is a shame. I also have a problem with not having access to all ebooks–I can’t get Kindle books on my Nook, which is highly annoying as often British books will be available as ebooks via Amazon before they are published here. And this raises another issue–ereaders being dedicated to ebooks from one site only–I’m sure certain companies would like nothing better than to get rid of all the competition, which is surely bad for all readers.

  3. I would happily go “all ebook all the time” if I could, mostly because I am sick to death of giant, wrist-breaking books that I can barely hold let alone carry around with me. Sadly it’s becoming harder to get them here (for those of us trying desperately NOT to use amazon and keep a hint of competition in the market) as the local Borders (which has the only eBook store with a decent-sized catalogue) slides into bankruptcy. There is another store that has opened locally (their office is actually down the road from my own) but their catalogue is tiny and their prices high (especially for new releases). I was having a chat with one of their directors who explained some of the problems faced by booksellers who aren’t amazon – an uphill battle to say the least.

    Thanks for the shout out – I did love that book 🙂

  4. Danielle – I agree that this is one of the annoying things about e-books – the formats are not compatible with each other (legally), eg nook, kindle and Sony reader. Combine that with the geographical restrictions also (eg I cannot see US Kindle prices on Amazon, only the UK ones), and readers are bound to be frustrated, added to the fact that you don’t really “buy” the book, only licence it.

    Bernadette, I don’t know why but I don’t enjoy the e-format as much as print, though I agree I prefer a small paperback to a giant hardback that requires too much wrist muscle to read!

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