An Open Letter to eBook Publishers & Retailers: How and Why to Fix eBooks

frowny face

Dear eBook Retailers & Publishers, 

The eBook world has fallen into an even sorrier state with Amazon's announcement that its new Kindle Fires will feature unwanted advertisements right out of the box (though Amazon caved pretty quickly on offering users a way to buy out the ads).  I read that, then I re-read my last blog post reviewing different aspects of eBook retailers: four pages worth of trying to make sense of the eBook landscape and that was after some serious condensing.  I brooded for a moment, then said to myself, "eBooks are a big, stinky mess!"  

I keep hoping and praying that the eBook situation will get better, but aside from Tor's announcement that their eBooks will no longer be copy-protected, things are getting worse.  There are too many different eBook stores using too many different file and copy-protection standards, methods for transferring eBooks, and too many types of hardware, many tied to a single retailer.  So to the eBook powers-that-be: I'm done being coy and hoping that you'll come to these conclusions on your own.  Here's what you need to do!

  1. This is probably a pipe dream, but--get rid of the eBook copy protection. DRM doesn't seem to be stopping content pirates, though it's obvious lots of people are actually handing over money to legally buy their eBooks.  All you're doing is punishing legitimate customers with draconian measures that make your devices impossible to use.  These are your loyal users who choose to buy the content legally when they could just as easily have stolen it and you're punishing them?  Really?  Take a page from the MP3 story and get rid of DRM! 
  2. If you don't remove eBook DRM, then at least join forces to come up with a shared DRM scheme, something that will work with all eBook stores.  I know that's a tough sell.  After all, DRM actually does more to help eBook retailers in the way of tying their hardware to their stores than it does to stop content pirates.  This makes sense in the short run while eBook readers and tablets are still relatively expensive.  However, when these devices fall in price to the point that you can buy them with your cat food, mouthwash and aspirin at the local drug store (and they will), people are going to suddenly become a lot less loyal to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, so to the big guys, I say it's time to work together.  
  3. Abandon Adobe Digital Editions.  Sony, Google, it's great that you use it to make your eBooks readable on most every device, but it's still copy protection.  Furthermore, it's just another set of account details that we have to remember in addition to the login for our eBook store accounts.  As in item two of this list, come up with an industry standard, and make it way easier to use than Adobe.
  4. Even if DRM sticks around, make it so that we can more easily share our eBooks.  It's not that hard now; if my wife wants to read a Kindle eBook I own, I just hand her my Kindle and then start reading something else on my phone with the Kindle app.  Either that, or I log her into my Kindle account on her own phone.  So really, why bother preventing eBook sharing?  Just go ahead and make it easier on us all.  
  5. Remove or reconfigure the DRM from eBooks that have already been purchased.  I would think this was a common-sense move, but I remember that when Apple went DRM-free with their music they did not do this and I spent several evenings burning and re-encoding my digial music collection to get rid of existing DRM.  Please don't make your customers suffer through something similar.  
  6. Provide an easy, intuitive method for both downloading eBooks and transferring them to your devices.  Adobe Digital Editions' interface is the worst and, Amazon, not everybody knows enough about computers to be able to transfer your eBooks via USB with the file explorer.  Come up with one very easy program for managing all eBooks, no matter where they're purchased.  Heck, I can buy MP3s from Amazon and use iTunes to manage them - we need something like that for eBooks.
  7. Include better instructions with your devices.  Printed instructions.  Yes, I know that doing so will cost a little extra, but most of us need more than a postcard's worth of information to figure your toys out.  I know, I know--you're putting the manual on the device itself.  Great thinking - make it so new users who don't have the first clue how to work these things must already know how to work them so that they can read about how to work them . . . wait, what?  Remember, eBook readers and tablets are still pretty much brand new.  Entities like Microsoft Windows may have had over twenty years to seep into the consumer consciousness, but we're still getting use to all these new toys.  Please help us along!
  8. eBook publishers: Stop cutting out libraries!  You're all but calling library customers thieves with your current practices.  We are among your biggest supporters and you're treating us like the dregs of society.  Without libraries, I seriously doubt you could exist, so please, have a little respect.  
  9. Stop with feature creep.  Just because Apple does it doesn't mean you have to.  Your customers have been telling you for years what they want.  Most notably, Amazon customers have been begging for a backlit screen since the first Kindle in 2007.  Jeff Bezos' answer then? Buy a booklight.  Seriously?  It wasn't until Barnes & Noble, with whom I am none-too-pleased for their credit card number-based DRM, introduced the Nook "GlowLight" this year that Amazon was basically required to respond with their own version.  Had they more regard for their customers' desires, that feature would have been included at latest in the second iteration of the hardware.  And, I have to tell you, after looking over the newest Kindle offerings on Amazon I realized something: I'm burning out on hardware.  Always something new, new, new!   It's making me soul-sick and I wonder if it won't come back to bite you in the rear one day . . .  
  10. Amazon: Stop abusing your customers with these built-in advertisements.  Let me tell you something: I can go buy a Nexus 7, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, an iPad 2, and a number of other devices that are not only competitively priced, but can download content from sources including and beyond Amazon, and do not have advertisements.  Why in the world would I buy a tablet from you if you don't even respect me enough to honor my purchase - don't advertisements for a product typically end after the point of sale?  I seem to remember that from, oh, I don't know . . . everywhere!

It's truly ridiculous how messed up the eBook landscape has become.  Read this.  Read my eBook retailers blog post.  Realize the truth and weep.  

Please fix it!