back to article Sony sparks digi book fireworks with ePub move

Sony has said its ebooks will henceforth be supplied solely in ePub format, creating a duopoly with Amazon's Kindle platform. Sony's endorsement of ePub gives the format a welcome breath of life, but its decision to mandate Adobe's Content Server is more interesting; the combination challenges Amazon's Kindle and could lead to a …

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Anonymous Coward

Will they be cheap enough?

I can buy a real book second-hand for 30p, or borrow it from the local library for nothing. In neither case do I need special hardware to read it. Can electronic books compete with that?

However, I'm not a Mills & Boon reader, unsurprisingly. The books I read tend to be either easily available classics (Graham Greene, Nabokov, Hemingway, ...) or obscure stuff (less than 1000 copies printed) that I have to order from web sites in other countries. Almost nothing in-between. I don't think I'll be buying many e-books.

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Pirate

Domestically Residing Matriarchs

So if the big market for ebooks is to be bored, middle-aged housewives, is it really an economically sound decision to require DRM on these books? Are middle-aged housewives a major source of electronic literary piracy?

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Pirate

@raumkraut

You'd be suprised... Coffee mornings with the ladies are a hotbed of ... piracy

Seriously, the number of middleaged housewives I know who use R4 cards for their DS' and download tv showsfrom US BT trackers (rather than wait to see on uk tv) is insane. These ladies are not what you'd call tech savvy, just led astray by their miscreant offspring ;)

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Not everyone is a crook

" readers are unlikely to buy a legit version of a book once they've read it. "

People already use illegally distributed music as a way to try before they buy. This results in more sales because people can be sure that they are buying something they want to keep. Some people buy illegally distributed DVD's because the proper one has not been released yet, then they buy a proper copy when it is released. Why should it be any different with books?

If you do not want your book collection to disappear when manufacturers decide you have to buy a new reader, go with a company that does not treat you like a criminal.

http://www.baen.com/

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FAIL

DRM is stupid and counterproductive

DRM and overpricing is what lead to the music industry being viewed as the villains they are - the publishing industry should not follow then over the cliff-edge.

DRM'd content is just bad for the customer in oh so many ways :-

* It is difficult to deal with and often fiddly to get 'authorised'

* If a problem occurs with your equipment, it is sometimes impossible to recover what you have paid for. Similarly if you upgrade you can have major problems.

* If the seller goes under or simply decides that it's not cost-effective, you can lose your collection.

* With a book, I am responsible for looking after it. If I lose/damage it, I buy another copy. Fair enough. With DRM, looking after what I've paid for is taken out of my hands.

* The cost of the DRM technology contributes to the ridiculous prices of the books.

The fact that I do not run Windows or MacOS on my computer at home, plus the fact that a hard copy of a book is no more expensive means that as it stands, I cannot buy an ebook from Borders, even though I have just bought their ebook reader device (a great bit of kit, I love it). Nor would I want to at the current prices. For something that is less accessible, less valuable and has a much lower production cost than the physical product, there should be a corresponding reduction in the asking price. No, having an ebook price that is more expensive than the same title in paperback is not good value for the customer.

Even the music industry have recognised that DRM is a bad idea - just look at how many stores have dropped DRM over the past year.

I understand that it is the publishers telling the retailers to put expensive and restrictive DRM on their books which simultaneously makes them less valuable and more expensive, but in my view the big stores like Borders, Waterstones and Amazon should 'grow a set' and demand to be able to sell a product that their customers want at a fair price.

Eric Flint has written a large number of well thought out essays on the effects of DRM and e-publishing within the industry (http://baens-universe.com/columns/Salvos_Against_Big_Brother). He is a prolific Sci-Fi author and almost all of his books are available in DRM-free formats at a reasonable price - generally 4-5 dollars (not pounds). He works with Baen publishing and they both put their writing where their mouths are. They have evidence to back up their claims as both the publisher and it's authors are estimated to enjoy a far greater profits on e-books than their more restrictive competitors. They have had plenty of my money over the past few years and all the books I have bought from them now sit nicely on my ebook reader.

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Flame

what about the other way round

I (a little while back) brought a sony e-reader, wonderful bit of kit, came with 100 'classics' pre-loaded. Great.

When it happened that there was a specific book that I wanted to read (specifically all 5 parts of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) i could not for love *nor money* track it down as a 'legal' download, and having already brought it some years ago as a nice /large/ hard back version, i was not willing to pay more than a couple of quid to get it (which didn't matter, as i couldn't find it anyway)

Thinking, 'well iv already brought the book (and another copy for a friend)' i head to the torrents, and suffered through several badly formatted (for my device) .doc .rtf and PDF files.

I finally tracked down a 'free' PDF download on line somewhere (i forget where) and it is readable, the formatting isnt perfect due to the difference in length between a PDF page and an e-reader page, but you get over that very quickly when you remember how much you paid for it.

My point, which may not be apparant from my rant, is that DRM is all well and good for buying new books. But the process of re-acquiring books, that you already own, in a format which works with your much more convenient ebook based device, is difficult at best and restrictive and annoyingly not possible at worst.

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Libraries...

You don't have to buy the books. eBooks and libraries are not incompatible - in fact eBooks would make for better libraries than physical books, with some exceptions (art books, atlases, etc). A government could easily decide to rip & replace physical library infrastructure with eBooks and servers. For the library, no problems with books being lost or damaged, verifiable usage-based payments back to the publishers, no need for multiple copies of popular books, easy access to rare or out of print books, add a book to stock the first time a user requests it, etc. For the government, an overnight surplus of fine buildings to be sold off to developers and converted into crappy flats or bars (so it's not all good).

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i buy my copyright infringing litterature

from charity shops. dead-tree format is more efficient if you pass it along. and good people/organisations benefit..

i also buy new books when an author publishes afresh, often in hardback at the premium rate, sometimes with import costs added.

i won't buy DRM titles and i won't buy hardware that can be changed at the whim of the bean counters that run these corporate JoyToys

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FAIL

Pointless

Whilst these devices may have accessibility benefits, I personally will be continuing to buy and read physical books.

I spend every damned day with screens in my face, and a far too many evenings as well these days no thanks to work pressures. Thats more than enough. Paper is a welcome change. Apart from that it doesn't need charging, is still readable if dropped and dented, and can be shared with a friend with no legal repercussions.

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FAIL

They still don't get it

My mother-in-law quite liked the idea of the eBook reader I bought my wife for her birthday this year, but she couldn't figure out why she would want to spend £200 on one if the books were the same price (or in most cases more expensive).

She reads a lot of M&B, but I'd estimate that for every ten she reads she only actually buys two of them, the others come from the library, second hand shops and friends.

As she's on a low-ish fixed income, being a pensioner, anything like this needs to be very cost-effective for her and right now it just isn't - the books would need to be 80% cheaper just to keep her in the same place unless some kind of simple license-transfer can be arranged to allow her to swap books with her friends.

I suspect she is fairly representative of a typical reader.

Actually, I can see this working for library loans - you just issue the book from the library with a fixed-time license and there's no need to worry about returning books or fines for the vast majority of people.

I don't think the real objection is DRM; it's the fact that I am licensing something that I can also purchase outright to keep or re-sell as I see fit.

Content providers are happy to compare digital products with physical ones when they want us to frown upon "piracy", but not so keep when we ask for value for money.

If I rent a DVD I license it to use for a short period of time and I pay a smaller amount of money compared with purchasing the DVD outright and I think that is reasonable. However, if I wanted to get the film from iTunes, I am expected to pay the same amount (or probably more) as if I had bought it outright, but I am told that I have not bought it outright, I have simply licensed it.

Thanks, but no thanks.

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Stop

Amazon vs Epub

Whilst Sony is supporting the Epub standard and Amazon is supporting the kindle standard, this article seems to give the idea that it is two equal companies competing on formats, but it is far from that.

For me it is very clear, Amazons proprietary format forcing you to buy Amazon only titles and products, or the Epub standard which is an industry standard for all companies to use.

Given the choice I really hope Sony's support of the open industry Epub standard prevails rather than the Amazon locking you in to their format.

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Smart bitches, trashy books

I've heard about the blog pointed out in the article two months ago during a discussion on e-book readers. Its audience is definitively not unconcerned with DRM or willing to do anything just to get the content. Not only that, but it seems that the publishers are much more reasonable than the rest of the industry.

http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/drm-free-for-you-and-me/

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HHGTTG

@D@v3: Try waterstones.com for legit Hitchhikers ebooks, got mine from there...

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re : simon dick

cheers for that, however, i did eventually manage to find them on-line.

But,paying £5.59 for each of the 5 ebooks (£27.95) , when the 'trilogy in 4 parts' is available for £6.99 (£1.75 each part) is not the kind of comparative pricing I was after.

to quote djack (posted above)

For something that is less accessible, less valuable and has a much lower production cost than the physical product, there should be a corresponding reduction in the asking price. No, having an ebook price that is more expensive than the same title in paperback is not good value for the customer.

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baen books

Also baen supply cds with hardcovers for some writers for free with the writers baen back catalogue.

Advance copies, webscriptions, free libeiray, mutlipule formats, etc. they been doing this for years and it works. what else needs done?

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ASG

What about subscription model

I'm not sure that the publishers would back a lending library model - after all they need to make money out of it somehow. I can see a situation when a popular book is published, the library gets a copy, and two weeks later everybody has read it, and the publisher has sold only one copy...

I should point out that if the library is on the net, we would need only one library. Hang on - is that what the google book scanning thing is all about?

However, a model that lets me "borrow" a book for say 2 weeks from the publisher for a small fee (like 50p or £1), and then lets me pay full paperback price if I want to keep the book, might be better. That way I don't have to keep a book that turns out to be rubbish, and the publisher still makes some money out of it.

I am very reluctant to purchase eBooks when they cost the same as hardback when initially published, dropping to paperback prices after paperback is published. If the publishers are worried about low priced eBooks eating at their sales of hard backs and paperbacks, then perhaps they should publish the low-priced eBook a reasonable time after the paperback.

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One place where DRM is understandable

Is books. Literature and knowledge is still a prized commodity, unlike music where every pub in the land has bands making a decent stab of it.

But for ebooks to take off, they must be £1 or £2 per book, not £6 upwards. Books more than CDs have huge costs in printing, storage and transportation and the saving must be passed on. Part of the problem with music is record companies not realising a download album is worth a lot less

than a physical one. A low price would also pretty much kill the grumble of being unable to pass the book on.

Much as I am against closed formats, Kindle is by far the better system at the moment. The wireless features are superb and I would love to subscribe to a newspaper and have it waiting for me on the device every morning and not have to do a thing.

The Kindle-style 'ecosystem' could well save newspapers as well as taking ebooks mass market. But Amazon need to open it so everyone from your library to your quirky local bookstore can publish, sell and manage books on the device.

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Boffin

What the market needs

Is an e-reader with at least 200dpi that can render an PDF A4 page properly (as you see it on your computer), at that very moment say welcome to the e-reader era, and say goodbye to the kindle's of the world. Drop your pdf's there on an SD card and there you go.

I do have a huge collection of books in PDF, my father does, so does my uncle and my brothers.

My brother found that using an eeepc and the like is a much sensible option than buying a kindle, it is less portable I know, you can hardly beat the portability of an e-ink reader, but with the eeepc you can get your email read books and browse the net. The benefits outweighs the costs.

A common ground upon I agree with many people is that PDF is the perfect format beacause it is the closest thing to the original book. Never mind that on a book which is all text this doesn't matter at all. However bring on a comic book, illustrated novel, illustrated dictionary, technical book of any kind, children's books or school texts.

With PDF despite it's shortcomings the wheel is invented already.

These are my two cents. and on this one yes, pirates wins but so do the publishers, I never bought music on electronic form, but I certainly bought ebooks in the past.

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FAIL

Region locking

One point that has not yet been mentioned is the issue of region locking. In the early years of ebooks, you could buy from, say, Fictionwise (one of the largest and best sources of ebooks around) no matter where you lived in the world, and pay a fairly reasonable price (generally about the same or slightly lower than the paper copy available at the time - so hardback cost for the first few months after release). This price was even more reasonable if your dollar exchange rate was good... In the last year or so, various publishers have wised up to the ebook market, and suddenly realised that their contracts for ebook publishing are limited to the same geographical region as their paper copies.

Now this makes sense for paper books: a given company will usually only have the distribution logistics to handle a particular area, so publishing contracts are sold (by the authors or their agents) on a country by country basis to whoever can distribute to that country. Unfortunately, the electronic rights have usually been bundled up in those deals, so they are also limited by country, and that makes no sense at all. Now that publishers have realised this, and started making threats to the ebook distributors, suddenly it is now impossible to buy about 80% of fictionwise's content outside of the north america. Instead, you have to find a source in your own country, assuming that the publisher in that country even has its act together enough to be providing it at all.

Fictionwise, and presumably other ebook market places, are attempting to inject some sanity and negotiate the worldwide rights that any sane person would expect with purely electronic product being sold over the internet, but this is going to take years for their current catalogue, and is still usually not being achieved on newly released books. Meanwhile, if I want to, say, pick up an Iain M Banks, or Terry Prattchet novel in ebook format, I first have to locate a distributor (good luck with that), and then get charged generally about 20% MORE than the paper price...I WANT to compensate authors for their work, but if they don't offer to sell their product to me, or if I am charged an extortionate amount of money when others are not, then my options become limited to stealing or doing without (for the record, I've been doing without, but my god have I been tempted - Prattchet is more addictive than crack).

This is more and more turning into exactly the same situation as with the music industry, with lack of availability and the perception of price gouging leading to massive piracy by people who are determined to get electronic versions of their media from people who just don't seem to get it. The reality is that authors make far less money than their musical counterparts, and the publishing industry is nothing like the bloated music industry, but their current actions are going to get them tarred with the same brush, and with the same disasterous results.

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Anonymous Coward

Book swapping

I'm married to someone who reads lots of "bodice rippers", and she is constantly swapping them with the women that she works with, and with her sisters.

The e-book versions of these books are only available from the publisher, and they offer what they describe as a "generous" 10% discount. But the paper books are usually sold at 20% or 25% below the publishers list price, so there's it's not likely that any of these ladies are going to switch to e-books anytime soon.

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