My book is now available in a Kindle edition I have mixed feelings about it Like any author I am delighted to sell books, in any format. Lots of people e-mailed me asking for a Kindle version, even knowing that there was a free CC licensed edition, and I passed those requests on to Yale. I am pleased that this book has sold pretty well because I think it encourages Yale University Press and other presses to allow authors to make Creative Commons licensed versions available. So I am glad that it looks like the book is going to make Yale a profit and if Kindle-edition sales help to do that, great! I am also not a book-Luddite. Though I love paper books, I am not prejudiced against the e-book. Finally, I like the technology. The Kindle is breathtaking to see in action. In terms of size, features and legibility — check out the video of reading it in full sun — it seems to have hit the spot. I love to read, and I am a very fast reader. For a flight to Europe I have to take 2 or 3 books. To have 1500 books available in something smaller than an average paperback would be wonderful. To be able to download any book out of the more than 200,000 available on Amazon while you were on a train or standing on a street corner would be great.
So far, I sound just like Amazon’s ads. But then there is the DRM (Digital Rights Management.) With the Kindle you give up a series of vitally important features that a paper book has.
1.) Your library depends on Amazon — if the Kindle is discontinued and your Kindle breaks… your books literally evaporate. And don’t say it couldn’t happen. Microsoft and Google have both discontinued widely touted DRM protected music or video formats; those customers effectively lose their media libraries, either immediately (if the video or audio requires online validation to play) or when they shift to a new computer or operating system. What if Amazon goes bust? Sure, its a famous, solid company. But so was Lehman Brothers. And what happens if Sony or Google or Microsoft comes out with a fabulous e-book reader that is twice as good as the Kindle and half the price. Its not like ditching your CD player for a new one that is better. To switch you have to give up all your old books — its as if you lost your entire music collection with every stereo you bought.
2.) Your books aren’t really your books. Copyright law gives users a hugely valuable right called the right of first sale. You can sell your books, or give them to friends, or donate them to a library. That’s a feature not a bug. It means that books circulate to people who can’t afford to pay full price for them. It gets you books you wouldn’t have bought — but become hooked on after a friend lends it to you. Not with the Kindle. The book is tied to your device and to your Amazon account.
3.) Kindle’s handling of non DRM/non Amazon formatted books or documents is, I gather, iffy. There is a procedure for converting pdf’s, for example, to the Kindle. (Amazon has one version for 10 cents per document and another free version by e-mail) And there are converters that change other formats into the mobi format the Kindle uses. I have heard complaints about both methods — and I’d like to hear more about the pluses and minuses. If the Kindle became a platform (like the iPod) where you could use the proprietary format protected by DRM (like the songs bought from iTunes) but you could also use unprotected formats (such as MP3) and have exactly the same functionality, then many of my concerns would be alleviated. But with the iPod it is easy and legal to convert your existing CD’s to MP3 — it isn’t easy to do that with your paper library, and I am not entirely convinced the Kindle works as well with non proprietary formats… I may be wrong about the latter point.
So if e-books take off, will that make publishers less willing to accept CC licenses on their books? Right now, part of the argument is that the (free) digital book isn’t a substitute for the (bought) paper book. But what if 30% of the book market is on the Kindle? Would that change the publisher’s calculation? Before you conclude that Kindle is the Death Star for CC licensed e-books consider these two facts.
1.) Even though the pdf of my book is freely available, people are clearly buying the Kindle version. Look at the sales rank. Its no blockbuster, but it reflects a steady stream of buyers.
2.) In other areas we have seen that free digital can coexist with paid digital. The new Creative Commons Licensed album by Nine Inch Nails, became the number 1 best selling MP3 album of the year despite being freely available.
My sense is we still don’t fully understand the way that free availability affects commercial availability and it will take a decade or so for the market to settle down. I hope when it does, the realm of free, transferable, shareable, open access that CC licensing enables will be coexisting alongside a flourishing commercial e-book market and that Amazon will have turned off the DRM, just as the music companies did. That way your books would really be your books.
So that is my full disclosure. If after reading all this, you still want to buy a Kindle version, then I am content. Enjoy.