Slashdot are having a thread about e-books. For me the biggest problem with e-books is the same problem as with mp3s (e-music??): the product loses its resale value.
Up until now, most of the music and books we consumers have bought maintain some level of resale value. It’s minor, but it makes these items an asset. Unlike say a computer (unless it’s computer books), they are unlikely to become valueless, and in some rare cases they may increase in value as they become - well rare. I imagine I’m a rare person in North America with a complete original set of Hugh Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness. Of course - not the most well known author so I doubt it amounts to much
We all (well lots of people) worry about our books and CDs somewhat - our home contents insurance is expected to foot the bill of replacing them. Most likely it won’t buy much back, but there’s some insured value. We also pass the books down as heirlooms - my dad has a cool Anglo Saxon Reader from 100+ years ago passed down from his grandparents. I expect my parents library to fold into mine some day (minus whatever my sister and I agree she wants), and for my books to be passed on down. They’re physical - they have value.
What about e-books? Or digital music? If something happens to me, do the various companies have methods by which the inheritor acquires the digital ownership? Is iTunes better than the ‘5 computers and you’re out’ it started with? Of course music has got around that problem largely by reinventing the wheel every 10 years. Vinyl, false path into eight track, cassettes, CDs…. then they got a bit stuck. Will my CDs be of inheritable value or resellable value in 30 years time? So far the CD is hanging on as a medium, though whether any of my CDs will play in 30 years is another question [and I’m sure the vinyl will still be working then in custom made record players]. DVD jumps to mind, Blue Ray… All the bollocks about changing the medium yet again so the consumer can be bled for yet more money for products they already own.
The curse of digital, from the legal point of view, appears to be that it has a resale value of zero because resale is equivalent to copying. Much like the huge loss you make as soon as you walk off the lot with a new car, the book you just bought is now worthless to anyone else but you. Suddenly the insurance (backups… real insurance - are my digital music/books covered by my home contents insurance?) starts to feel more expensive because it’s being spent on a product with zero value. That awareness of zero value makes me far more likely to dispose of the book - or want to resell it - than before, and yet now I no longer have space constraints on how many books I can own. What an ugly cycle.
That is the plus side - I can have a bajillion books and not be constrained by the wallspace I have available. And not find my choice of house constrained by - “which room will the library be?”. The plus sides are really all about space. I can be reading one book on the bus, and switch to another without having to mess with my bag, or wish I was back home.
That raises other questions. Will an e-book fit in my coat? If so then that bag can be a laptop accessory (once I start buying lunch for the month from Fresh They upped the limit to beyond my weekly lunch shop; must be reading my blog the dastardly crew). Does an e-book have authentication so when it’s nicked it’s only an insured reader which is grabbed and not my actual books (plus notes).
How do I share the book I bought with my wife. Digital doesn’t seem to understand families the way physical did. Do I have to wait for my son to have an income before he can read his own copies of my books? What happens to second hand bookshops (or first hand). Let’s be blunt here - browsing for books in a bookstore is much more productive than a website (even if you end up buying at the website etc etc). Once books are digital, byebye bookstore hello hard to browse world. Bye bye browsing in a second hand book store for gems (and lots of overpriced junk… someone needs to tell that shop in Broadstairs that charing half price for an 80s computer book is a good way to guarantee space doesn’t get filled).
Oddly - that’s the biggest one for me. Family and books. The digital fork in the family book relationship. Ignoring that once that e-book collection is large enough my son will have to pay inheritence tax at full price because there is no second hand market; and that I’m sure someone out there thinks it’s evil that my wife and I read the same copy of the latest Terry Pratchett book, and that my parents watched a movie while at my house one day.