I just read with interest Beth Bacon’s article on the Digital Book Website, Is an ebook an experience or a thing?, and wanted to weigh in on the conversation. An Ebook is a work of intellectual property that is clearly owned by the person who developed the research or wrote the words into whatever capture device was used to build that manuscript. The contrast begins to get hazy because Ms. Bacon did not differentiate what type of Ebook we were discussing.
More and More Self-Publishing
More and more authors are self-publishing their titles and this means that royalties are not a guarantee based on lack of old-school publishing house backing. With this in mind, authors should be protected from piracy across the board. Does a patron purchase the product with tacit consent to distribute as they see fit? No. Does the patron purchase the product with the understanding that it is for personal consumption and the consumption of those within a household or select friends? Yes.
What Song is it You Want to Hear? Free Bird
Back in the 1970s there were recording formats called “Cassette Tapes”. Some of you may remember them, some of you may not. Now, cassettes came in a variety of lengths, from 45 minutes to 1 hour, to 90 minutes, and even 120 minutes. With the right recording device, a cassette tape could capture a whole album, or compilations of songs from many different artists. I personally liked to take songs that fit different genres and put them all together on one mixed tape. With a high-end Dolby equipped tape deck, you could make a pretty exact reproduction of the original song or album.
Does this format capture mean that once you bought the album or song you could reproduce it on a cassette and resell it? No, this was a medium for personal use. Ebooks are the new cassette tapes of this generation. You get to buy the license to read it and have it on your device, but you do not have the right to do anything else with this intellectual property once you have downloaded it.
Differentiation is a Key
The world of trade books is much more likely to lend itself to re-sales at garage sales and on e-bay, while in the reference arena, college textbooks are more apt to be resold. Ebooks make it much more difficult for these areas of sales to be utilized to recoup original payments as moving digital products from one reader to another is much more involved then handing someone a wood-based carbon product while they hand you greenbacks. The easy way to lend an Ebook would be to hand your reader off to another individual so they can read it, but with a Kindle or Nook costing anywhere from $80-$300 + as well as an iPad costing $500-$800, handing this type of investment to someone else so they can read an Ebook does not seem to make much sense.
Wood-Based Carbon Product? What’s that?
I may be going out on a limb here, but I think this problem with the digital rights and ownership of an Ebook will keep the print industry alive and thriving. As inkjet technology and POD take up more and more of the print world from conventional sheet-fed and web-based printing, the costs associated with “on-time” warehousing deficient delivery practices will become more and more manageable and cost efficient.
It’s a Brave New World out there, and only time will tell what the future holds.