The direction we should be going toward is toward freedom. We need to remember this at every step, so that when somebody takes us in the wrong direction, we will know it immediately.
In the contemporary world—the one outside my window—I am free to walk down the street and to drop into any bookstore I pass and buy a book, and if I can read the language the book is written in, I am able to read the book. But that world appears to be ending, and something very different is happening with ereaders and ebooks.
On Wednesday, Amazon introduced four new Kindle models—Kindle, Kindle Touch, Kindle Touch 3G, and Kindle Fire—at a range of prices, from $79 to $199. For Amazon to make money off the Kindle, it has to link each Kindle to its resources in the Kindle store and not let the reader buy his books anywhere else. Amazon makes money off the trapped reader.
Most manufacturers of ebooks do this—link their ereaders to a book store and not let the reader buy his books anywhere else. This is less freedom, not more, than we had under the old publishing.
To get us going in the right direction again, manufacturers have formatted books in ePUB. ePUB is a free and open ebook standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum.This is a significant step in the right direction. But manufacturers add DRM to their ePUB, and now, none of them can read each other’s files. This needs to change. What we want is to be able to buy an ereader that can read a book from any source. We want to have these DRMs removed.
At this moment, a writer can take his or her novel and format it in ePUB without a DRM, sell it on the web, and all ereaders can read it except the Kindle, which will not read ePUB from any source. But purchased books from the big book stores can still only be read on that book store’s ereader. This is not freedom.
As long as we are not free, it doesn’t matter how many models Kindle brings out, we are still trapped by the Kindle store and the taste of its buyers. Or the iBooks store. Or the Barnes & Noble store. Yesterday I checked these three book stores for the titles of five books I read during the summer of 2010. Even now, a year later, two of the books were not available in any bookstore in any ebook format. Three of the titles were available only on Amazon.com for Kindles. As the print-publishing industry continues to collapse, we are going to be more and more dependent on ereaders and the ereaders’ stores, and the ereaders’ buyers, and instead of being more free—this is what the digital revolution promised, we thought—we will be less free. There will be just us, our ereaders, and our ereaders’ bookstores, and the books their buyers choose for us to read. This is not a situation gay readers want to be caught in.