23 Jun 2009
Why I prefer real books

I prefer “real” books over electronic ones.

So much of what I do is intangible: mere transient electromagnetic disturbances in a wire or chip, displayed on a glowing screen, precariously stored on whirring platters, streaming tape — all susceptible to destruction by emp, power failure, careless shell commands, or obsolescence of technology…

In contrast, a book has a physical presence with heft and texture, a relative permanence, a durability that withstands inordinate amounts of abuse short of fire, flood, or wood chipper. Even if we were thrown back into a stone-age existence, a book would still be accessible, the only requirements being eyes and a sound mind. I can expect a book to last a lifetime, with no fear that it will suddenly become unreadable — the text scrambled or suddenly incomprehensible, the covers locked shut, or chained to the shelf unable to be removed.

I can scribble in the margins, tag pages with yellow stickies, cram notes between the leaves. I can leave them open at interesting passages, stacked, or spread out on a table or floor, for hours or days, immediately available, concrete reminders just by their location and arrangement what I’m working on.

Now, there are certain advantages to most electronic forms: compact storage, portability, search, copy/paste, etc. Unfortunately, that form sometimes is an awkward, proprietary, OS-restricted format that won’t last through software upgrades or passing fads.

But the most damning aspect of electronic text is DRM. Last year, when Microsoft nuked the MSN Music Store, I said “Yet another ‘service’ bites the dust, leaving behind more consumers who probably thought they owned something permanent, only to discover that use of ‘their’ stuff was at the whim of some entity that couldn’t care less.”

I was reminded of that yesterday by Megan McArdle’s “Rethinking the Kindle“, where she commented on a couple posts by Dan Cohen at Gear Diary:

The Amazon Kindle is a very nice device; I’ve been tempted to get one, but I’ve never been able to convince myself that it’s worth the cost. Experiences like Cohen’s reinforce my desire to avoid anything tied up with DRM. You can “purchase an electronic book” … but not really. What you really do is effectively “rent” the content, which may evaporate from your possession at any time. The use of DRM itself is annoying; the outrageousness in Cohen’s experience comes from the lack of customer support knowing what the restrictions are, nor even how to find out.

There’s a disconnect from reality when it is acceptable to tell a customer that the solution to your product suddenly becoming inaccessible is to just “repurchase it”. Arrrgh.

Category: Life-Society
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