I recently bought a cheap e-reader from Waterstone’s, and am very happy with it so far. I’ve been using it to read books from Project Gutenberg, papers from the Arxiv, ebooks from Baen, books by Charles Stross and so on.
One thing I will be doing very little of, unfortunately, is buying new books to read on it.
This is not because I don’t want to. I currently buy several new books a month, and one big advantage of using an ereader is that I don’t have to buy as many paper copies of books as before. My flat is fast filling up with large amounts of paper, and being able to fit several thousand books into something smaller than my hand is very convenient.
But the software my ereader uses, Adobe Digital Editions, doesn’t have a GNU/Linux version. This is slightly irritating, as all major ebook devices at the moment are based on GNU/Linux, so it would make sense for the software they use to run on GNU/Linux as well as Windows and Macs, but it’s not the end of the world – I probably wouldn’t want to run that software anyway, as I prefer Free Software (free as in speech, the Adobe software doesn’t cost anything financially). The PDF and ePub readers on my desktop PC aren’t the same software the ereader uses either, and that’s not a problem.
The problem is that the books you can buy from shops that sell in Adobe’s format (such as waterstones.com, whsmith.co.uk and barnes and noble, to take some of the bigger examples) are almost all DRM’d, and require Adobe’s software to be installed on the computer on which you buy it.
This means that if I want to buy a book from Waterstone’s or somewhere, I have three options:
1) Buy the bulky, expensive, paper copy which will take “2-3 weeks” to get to me assuming it’s not lost in the post
2) Install WINE on my desktop, install Adobe Digital Editions in WINE (not supported by Adobe), buy the ebook, then – because you can’t synch a copy of Adobe Digital Editions in WINE with one on an e-reader) run a load of dodgy Python scripts you can find on the internet to (illegally) break the DRM and convert it into a normal ePub file, so I can read it on my e-reader. This involves breaking the law at least once, possibly twice, just to read a book I’ve paid for.
3) Just buy a different book, from the few retailers who do want my money.
It’s not like it’s impossible to release books for e-reading without DRM. The ePub and PDF files I sell through Lulu (and, I’m pretty sure, the Kindle copies of my books too) are all DRM-free. The music industry have already learned this lesson – I can buy any album I want, pretty much, as DRM-free MP3s which will work fine with any computer or device. The result of this is I’ve bought hundreds – possibly thousands – of legal MP3 albums in the last few years (since I’ve had the money, a fast internet connection, and a decent-sized hard drive). Even closer to the publishers’ wallets, I’ve spent the best part of a thousand pounds in the last four years buying audio dramas – fiction – from Big Finish, who again sell their books DRM-free. In fact, between the public domain and enlightened publishers who understand that turning away customers is a bad idea, there are enough books available to keep me reading for years without ever having to decrypt a DRM’d file.
As far as I can see all DRM on ebooks is doing is making life difficult for some customers and turning others away, while any book one could possibly want is freely available on torrent sites. The publishing industry should learn from the music industry, rather than repeating its mistakes.