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.”

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *