On Ebook Piracy

Had a long argument recently with a writer who was upset about how her books have been pirated as her sales have gone down. She went so far as to say that she thought every ebook should come with a virus that was only removed after you paid for it, a solution that would be at once disastrous and completely ineffective for its intended purpose.

For me, the question of piracy comes down to this: you can't stop piracy. You have a product that is infinitely reproducible at virtually zero cost. You can't fight that. And if you try, you're just going to end up frustrated and angry (like the writer I talked to).

So the problem really is: how can you take advantage of piracy, and how can you make money in spite of piracy? And those are the questions that need to be asked.

The Ebook Reader Landscape Changes Again, Translation Dictionaries Are Buried Lede

After the vertigo-inducing price drops in the Kindle and Nook a month ago, the other ebook reader producers have unveiled their new lines and strategies (though in some cases, as with the Cool-Er Reader, the strategy is to go out of business). First the Kobo Reader, which is newly released and sold in Borders and elsewhere, is on sale for $129. That ebook reader is a lot like the old Sony Pocket Edition: no connectivity, no keyboard or touchscreen, eink screen. Borders is also selling the hideous Libre Pro ereader for $100, but it has an LCD screen and not eInk, and looks like it was hammered together in someone's high school shop class. Bleh.

Meanwhile, Sony is showing off its new Pocket, Touch and Daily Editions. Rather than competing in the race to the bottom, Sony is concentrating on quality, and the new readers are slimmer and lighter than the Kindle or Nook, and all have a new touchscreen that's supposed to be a big improvement over Sony's old, glare-ridden one. The touch screen also means that now the Sony Pocket edition is capable of annotation and highlighting, like its bigger brothers. However, still only the Daily Edition has connectivity, through 3G and WiFi, which is a strange decision considering that they're still selling it for $299, an absurd price compared to the $139 wifi Kindle/$189 3G Kindle and $150 wifi Nook/$199 3G Nook. The Touch Edition is now $229 and the Pocket Edition is now $179. Sony will also be coming out with iOS and Android apps to read books from their ebook store, ala the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo apps.

However, I think most people reporting on these new Sonys are burying the lede. The one feature I'm most excited about? According to the press release the new readers have translation dictionaries. Meaning, I can read a book in Spanish, highlight a word, and get the definition in English. Nobody else has this feature. Even on the iPad, where it would seem obvious, it doesn't exist. In iBooks you can't even look up a word in a foreign language and get a definition in that language; only an English dictionary is available, even if you've localized your device to another language.

This is a huge feature for anyone learning or practicing a second language. Indeed, one of the reasons I often resist picking up a book in Spanish is because I know I'll have to read the book in front of a computer so I can look up the handful of words on each page that are unfamiliar to me (or worse, cumbersomely thumb through a translation dictionary). With the new Sonys, I wouldn't have that problem -- and I know the translation dictionaries will work on the subway or wherever else I might be without connectivity, because two of the readers don't have connectivity at all. Brilliant! This would completely change the way I read books in my second language, and would be a mammoth boon to the hordes of people learning foreign languages, including English, if only Sony would have the presence of mind to market to them directly. (One assumes that they'll do this at least in their native Japan, where English is the most popular second language class in schools--which shows how big the market is in the educational sector alone.)

In short, this one feature, which most news organs aren't even reporting on, is the one thing that might make me give away my current ebook reader and buy a new one. It's certainly more important to me than wireless connectivity, which I do just fine without. In fact, there are only two reasons I read a book on my iPad rather than on my Sony Reader; one is the iPad has a book available (usually through the Kindle app) that isn't available from Sony, and two is that I read non-fiction on the iPad because I can highlight and annotate there. The new Sony Pocket Edition, however, solves this second problem handily. As for the first; well, I still dream of a day when all books are available as non-DRM'd ePub editions that can be read on any reader.

What? I can dream, can't I?

Small Beer Press launches Weightless Books


Noted indie publisher Small Beer Press has launched a web-based ebook store, Weightless Books and are currently pursuing many other independent publishers to join them in the venture. The store offers ebooks in blissfully DRM-free PDF format.

Small Beer Press is one of my favorite publishers, focusing mostly on short story collections and anthologies, and run by Kelly Link, who I have called the greatest living short story writer, and her husband Gavin Grant. There's a lot of great books on sale already at Weightless, including Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's remarkable collection A Life on Paper which I mentioned once before and the latest issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, the zine that Link edits and which is on my list of Fiction Magazines Worth Reading.

Sony Going Epub

The big news in the ebook world is that Sony, creators of my beloved PRS-505 ebook reader, are going to make all the books at their store in the open epub or Adobe's DRM'd version of epub format, effectively killing their proprietary LRF ebook format. There's been a lot of criticism on Teleread of the NY Times brushing over the fact the Adobe's format is just as proprietary as any other, though some think the ease with which it can be hacked may be a bonus feature. However, any move towards open standards I'd say is a good thing.

One thing nobody seems to be pointing out though, is that if the LRF format dies, any books I have in that format (which I probably paid good money for) will soon become useless. Sure my PRS-505 will still read them, but when I upgrade to a different reader sometime in the future, will it be able to? This is, of course, one of the problems with proprietary, DRM'd formats in the first place, if the format goes down so do your books.

Also, this emphasizes the fact that ePub is becoming the defacto standard ebook format, and the Kindle is really the only ebook reader now that can't read it. Inevitably, it must come around.

Sony's New Ebook Readers

I've been in Michegan and Chicago, hence the radio silence, but for now here's a story from the NY Times about Sony's new ebook readers which are supposed to go on sale by "the end of August". There will be a $300 touch-screen successor to the PRS-700 and a $200 successor to the PRS-505. That latter price point could kill off the $250 Cool-Er Reader and the (still AWOL) BeBook Mini. Via GalleyCat