I’ve been doing a bit of research into ebooks and e-readers recently. Partly as I was kindly invited to speak at a client conference for publishers (more on that in the future), and also to keep up with the technology on a professional and personal level.
I’ve heard two major criticisms about the format as a whole so far. The first is that the technology isn’t a direct equivalent replacement for paper – the feelings,sensations and effect of reading in print can’t be replicated by an electronic device, and that’s completely true. But at the same time, as noted author, publisher and general genius Cory Doctorow has said for years, that’s not the point of e-readers, and that’s not where their success will come.
The second criticism I’ve heard several times is that initially you’re stuck with copyright-free material pre-loaded, and buying new content can be difficult, leaving a fairly unsatistfactory experience. And yet I regularly read great books in PDF format on my laptop – particularly when I’m on the train and the wifi fails.
In fact, during the past week or so I’ve been reading two absolutely brilliant and highly recommended books:
Bringing Nothing to the Party by Paul Carr – the sometimes rude, sometimes bizarre, often revealing and occasional insightful story of a not-entirely successful attempt to become an internet billionaire. Bringing Nothing To The Party: Paper Version.
Content by Cory Doctorow – selected essays on technology, creativity, copyright and the future of the future, which is essential reading for anyone in publishing or technology – and happens to have a lot of great insight into ebooks and e-readers. Content: Print Edition
What both books have in common is that they’ve been made available as free downloads under Creative Commons licence. That’s the legal framework for creators to allow others to legally share, remix and reuse their content as licensed – something worth knowing about if you want to avoid being a national newspaper stealing work without knowing the copyright rules involved.
There are some great works which are out of copyright – but I’d bet that actually Creative Commons works which are concurrently released commercially will be in a more accurate form, for example, as many authors are realising that releasing CC copies will help the sales of non-CC versions.
Which made me think about how it might be possible to create a library of Creative Commons material for ereaders etc – which could then be reviewed and rated in Amazon-type fashion. CC Licenced content should be of the same quality as the paid-for version if it’s to be effective.
So far a quick bit of research has brought up one decent list of Creative Commons books available, which describes itself as ‘woefully incomplete‘ – but also as a wiki doesn’t give any indication of whether the works are any good, and the fact Google Books allows authors/publishers to mark their work with a Creative Commons licence (Although without being able to search for CC content, it’s a bit pointless).
An online and e-reader available library of CC-licenced content which is rated and reviewed by users would be a great benefit, both for e-reader manaufacturers and users, but also importantly to raise awareness of the Creative Commons licence itself, which means nothing to a huge number of people who aren’t creative digital people, and which gets confused by a large number of people who are creative digital people.
And I even suspect it wouldn’t be too hard to create – a simple multi-user review site on an open source platform, and enough people to spread the word would be a great start, run on a non-profit basis, and collating enough works to allow e-reader manufacturers to easily give users access to a huge number of brilliant works (which would also be a trackable mechanism for boosting sales of the paid versions, and thus giving another benefit for traditional book publishers).
It’s not an idea I could carry on my own, but if anyone’s interested, let me know in the comments or via email (On the About page)…