As a bookseller, I obviously have a bias against any sort e-book. To date, my argument has tended to be along aethestic lines — how a book feels, how it smells and the like — as well as toting the technological advantage of the traditional book — you can read it in the bathtub without too much worry, don’t worry about dropping it, no batteries to recharge and so on.
I still believe these to be valid arguments, but I have found another that might be more convincing to true technophiles. Blogger Dan Cohen found that Amazon has unwritten restrictions on downloads for the Kindle:
“Oh that’s the problem,” he [the customer service rep] said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”
I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.
Granted, this information is available to the customer — its right there in the small print of the legal agreement that we all love to ignore on a daily basis. And when I say “this information,” I mean the fact that there’s a limit. The specific limit is trickier:
“How do I find out how many times I can download any given book?” I asked. He replied, “I don’t think you can. That’s entirely up to the publisher and I don’t think we always know.”
I pressed — “You mean when you go to buy the book it doesn’t say ‘this book can be downloaded this number of times’ even though that limitation is there?” To which he replied, “No, I’m very sorry it doesn’t.”
How many versions of the Kindle have come out to date? How frequently are Kindle users going to be expected to update their technology? Cohen suggests it might happen every couple of years, meaning sooner or later, all the previously purchased books will have to be repurchased. (Note: I have paperbacks I bought twenty years ago that I have not needed to repurchase, even though new editions have been released).
Given that Cohen’s post was written in June and I haven’t come across any other outcry, I wonder if this issue has been resolved or if it simply hasn’t come to a head yet.
In any case, I still don’t see the death of print in the near future, as the marketplace is becoming crowded with e-readers: Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader, the Barnes and Noble nook, and Samsung’s Papyrus, not to mention the multitude of ways books can be accessed through the regular old Internet. Until there is a industry standard, I think most people will shy away from making an investment in an e-library that might up and dissapate into the ether when their e-reader fails to make the cut.
Though the printed book may seem antiquated, sometimes the best technology is the old technology.