In Which We Are Not Excited About Book Digitization

January 18th, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

In between this and that this week (mostly that, hence so little this), we have been intrigued by the recent business venture announced by HarperCollins. As one of the few publishers who took a lead in digitizing its catalog, HC decided it could turn the free advice it has been offering fellow publishers into a business.

This probably means that we should take back at least one snarky comment we’ve made about the lack of innovation in the publishing industry. We’ll have the assistant search the archives for just the right words for us to eat.

We are not, however, as excited as we could or should be about this plan. While the digitizing services seem innocuous — really, what evil could lurk in the hearts of digitizers? — the research we’ve done on LibreDigital/NewsStand hasn’t given us much in the way of warm fuzzies. Probably it has something to do with our allergy to proprietary, cumbersome features.

Our worries come in many forms. First, the NewsStand website feels clunky — not the best Fusebox use we’ve ever seen. Little things like the site’s insistence on opening new windows where new windows are not wanted or appreciated. Other things like the fact that the promised free sample has taken, at this writing, over fifteen hours to be delivered. We have given up hope there.

Then there’s the fact for Mac users, the proprietary reader only works with Safari or Netscape 7.1. Sure, Netscape hasn’t released a Mac version of its 8.1.2 version, but, c’mon, Netscape? Does anyone use Netscape anymore? Ever hear of Firefox? Works great, less filling. It’s like all those websites you see that are hacked together to work just right with obsolete version of Internet Explorer…to the exclusion of all other browsers.

The reader, called iBrowse also requires Flash. Or Java (or, if you’re Mac user, a MJR plug-in), if you’re running it in offline mode. It’s sort of a sad commentary on today’s world, but our experience with most Java applications is that they’re poorly implemented. Done wrong, Java apps are very fussy, and it is almost inevitable that some little corner of your installation will be wrong, requiring reinstallation and headaches.

Why, you ask yourself, is BS getting all worked up about this? Because, dear friends, this is a lot of effort to read electronic versions of books. It is not a portable system, it requires far more effort on the part of the consumer than necessary. All of this effort is designed to support varying levels of digital rights management — and, as is often the case, when DRM is involved, consumer comfort is neglected. Our collective fear of piracy rules over logic.

There are many predictions that DRM will meet its demise in the year 2007 — as consumers discover the myriad restrictions being placed on how they media, they will rebel. They’re already rebelling. It’s not that consumers do not want to pay for products…it always gets back to choice. We want to read on the device of our choice, use the browser we can trust. We don’t want layers of software coming between us and a good book.

LibreDigital probably looks like a great idea to publishers. The technology is similar to iBrowse, only named, as you might guess, BookBrowse. The key feature, other than DRM tools and whatnot, is that the technology mimics “…the act of physical reading in a bookstore by offering page turns, a digital table of contents, and even search capabilities.” Better, we think, to mimic the act of stretching out on a couch with a book on your stomach and a glass of lemonade nearby.

We know that publishers are eagerly seeking the perfect way to deliver digital materials to consumers. What we also know is that the fear of piracy leads to anti-consumer decisions. And anti-consumer decisions lead to lost sales. Remember, you, dear publisher, are trying to replace a highly portable, highly flexible, and, yes, shareable experience. As you go digital, remember this above all else.

[tags]publishing, electronic books, libredigital, newsstand, harpercollins[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

2 responses so far ↓

  • Hannah Rubenstein // Jan 23, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    I have been informed that my publisher has created an e-textbook of one of my college-level textbooks. Does anyone know what publishers are offering in the way of royalty rates? My publisher has offered the same rate we get for the print
    version–15%. I note that trade publishers are offering more. Trade publishers do not have to create hyperlinks or otherwise tweak the text, however, so it may be a bit of a case of apples and oranges. In any event, if anyone can share information, it would be appreciated.

    BTW, the Sony eReader is just awful. And terribly expensive.

  • Times emit » Blog Archive » Recent Emissions // Feb 14, 2007 at 6:47 am

    […] Booksquare agrees with us that publishing has an elephant in the room: digitalisation […]