Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Problems with the paperless revolution, and a proposal

Problems with the paperless revolution, and a proposal

I like books. Quite a lot. I often claim that I collect books; this is a lie. I hoard them. Stash them. Ferret them away. I love the physicality of the media itself, and it's something I would never, ever give up, not in a million years.

But I did something strange. I bought a Sony Reader, that bastion of e-Ink technology. And I love it. I can carry as many books as I want without ever increasing my load in size or weight. I can read computer documents in something approximating paper without wasting a single sheet. It's glorious. However, there is a problem.

I have nothing to read on it. I have perhaps three hundred volumes in my collection, and not a single one of them can I put on my Reader without having to buy it again (excepting those under the purview of Project Gutenberg).

Take, for instance, my copy of Wheelock's Latin. It's a large book, even in paperback. I would like to study it in between my classes, but it's much too heavy to carry with me all the time. My Reader is the perfect solution to this-- except that I would have to buy a copy of the book again. A book I've already purchased, again, just so I can have the convenience of putting it on a device I own. Amazon does not offer the book for use with the Kindle, but I estimate it would cost somewhere between ten and fifteen dollars-- equal or more than what I paid for the paper copy. This is simply unacceptable.

I have a few solutions that fall into three categories: What I Want, What's Reasonable, and What Would Make Most Consumers Happy.

What I Want: I want to be able to take a photograph of the book itself and submit it for instant, free access to a digital copy of the book in a human-readable format without DRM.

What's Reasonable: I would settle for buying a book that contains a digital copy of itself in a format that is not DRM'd but not quite human readable (ie, the Reader's LRF format). I would even be willing to pay slightly more for the privilege, perhaps even up to half the book's value, depending on the book (though more realistically, up to about five or ten bucks).

What Would Make Most People Happy: For books to come with free or cheap copies of themselves in widely available DRM formats, such as those of the Kindle, Reader, and Iliad.

Is it such a hard request, publishing world? I'm perfectly willing to shell out more cash for the privilege. Let me give you my money for something that literally costs you nothing to make.

(In the meantime, I suspect I'll start leaving Wheelock in the car and taking it with me before class.)

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