Electronic books

Here’s an inter­est­ing post: Over on ZDNet, the busi­ness tech­no­logy web­site, a chap called Jeff Young has some thoughts on Sony’s eBook read­er.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though Jeff has actu­ally seen the device (I could be wrong, but he doesn’t make any com­ments that sug­gest he has). A num­ber of good points are made, how­ever.

To take one: The paper­back book is a great tech­no­logy already. It may not be ‘advanced’, but, like a pair of trousers, it does exactly what it needs to do, and its design has remained fun­da­ment­ally unchanged since its incep­tion. It’s cheap — doesn’t cost you $350. It’s com­pletely port­able — doesn’t need bat­ter­ies. It’s easy to loc­ate — on the shelf, where you left it. It’s easy to read — super high-def text that’s vis­ible in a wide range of light­ing con­di­tions.

How does Sony want to tempt you into buy­ing their eBook read­er? Why, by bug­ger­ing about with digit­al rights man­age­ment (DRM). DRM comes in dif­fer­ent forms, but it essen­tially boils down to lim­its on what you can do with the book. Will con­sumers say, “Yes, that’s what I’ve been look­ing for — some­thing that will per­mit me to do less with my books?” Doubtful. Ever had Outlook ‘block’ you from a poten­tially unsafe attach­ment, even though you know the attach­ment is safe? Ever tried installing some­thing on your work com­puter, only to have the com­puter tell you — in the smug man­ner at which com­puters excel — that you don’t have suf­fi­cient priv­ileges? Remember ‘Clippy’, the rage-indu­cing help­er included with the old ver­sion of Microsoft Word? You’d start writ­ing a let­ter, happy as the pro­ver­bi­al Larry, and sud­denly this git­tish car­toon would take over your com­puter and lead you up the garden path, thence mouth foam.

All these feel­ings are the equi­val­ent: the ceil­ing-bump sen­sa­tion of your com­puter, this fant­ast­ic tool, being scuppered by a gen­er­al policy designed to make the com­puter world run smooth­er. Except, in the par­tic­u­lar case — yours — exper­i­enced is enroughened.

Sony has slipped up with DRM before. It’s too early to say wheth­er they will fail again, but I, for one, will not be queuing to buy a device that tells me, smugly, “Sorry, sir, this book is past its read-by date.”

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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