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Old 11-26-2007, 04:51 AM   #196
HarryT
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Originally Posted by RSaunders View Post
I think the real problem is that the proprietary folks are not supporting conversion into open formats. Everybody uses the "iPod + iTunes" analog, but that's not what we have. If you buy a sony on iTunes, burn it on a CD, and rip the CD to MP3 - you have the song you bought in an interchangeable format. Kindle files can't (yet) be converted into text or mobi files. Adobe Digital Editions can be converted into text or anything else. Sony Reader DRM files can't be converted into text, etc.

For someone to pursue the "iPod + iTunes" approach we need to me able to convert to a format we can play in all our other MP3 players from other companies.

So far, Kindle isn't "iPod + iTunes" of books.
Format conversion is a rather "grey area" of copyright law. It's not at all clear in many countries that it falls into the category of "fair use". In the UK, for example, it is specifically NOT legal to "rip" CDs that you've bought (I'm not saying that people don't do it, just that it's not legal). I believe that it may perhaps be legal in the US.

Publishers do have to be careful about supplying format conversion tools, however, as they may fall foul of the law in certain countries.
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Old 11-26-2007, 10:50 AM   #197
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Format conversion is a rather "grey area" of copyright law. It's not at all clear in many countries that it falls into the category of "fair use". In the UK, for example, it is specifically NOT legal to "rip" CDs that you've bought (I'm not saying that people don't do it, just that it's not legal). I believe that it may perhaps be legal in the US.
Yes, in the US it's considered "fair use" to rip CDs. However, US law is vague on what "fair use" actually means, so you can still get in trouble depending on exactly what you do with those ripped files.
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Old 11-26-2007, 11:54 AM   #198
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In the UK, for example, it is specifically NOT legal to "rip" CDs that you've bought (I'm not saying that people don't do it, just that it's not legal).
I have seen news stories that the UK intends to make format shifting legal, but I'm not sure if that is still the case. For example, see UK government rejects extended copyright term.
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Old 11-27-2007, 02:42 PM   #199
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Hey, Bob!

It's just occurred to me: Bob R, who kicked off this excellent discussion, hasn't been heard from since post #1!

It's been fairly clear that the Kindle has kicked off a lot of discussion, both here and outside this forum, and all that attention has to be good for e-books. Kindles are selling well (I say that, not knowing whether Amazon had 5,000 Kindles or 50 to be "sold out" of), and there's legitimate buzz outside of the traditional e-book and gadget arenas.

With all this attention, publishers have to take notice. And eventually, if more people buy e-books and get clued in to the inherent issues of DRM and formats, there might... just might... be a groundswell of support for formats like ePub, and non-DRM-based selling models... and maybe even lower prices!

(zzz... zzgzkkz... uh? I guess I fell asleep. My, what a nice dream I just had... )

Anyway... Bob, I'm curious: Do you still think all this attention might not bode well for the e-book field? Or are all those potential customers just sheep being led to the slaughter?
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Old 11-27-2007, 05:09 PM   #200
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
It's just occurred to me: Bob R, who kicked off this excellent discussion, hasn't been heard from since post #1! [...]

Anyway... Bob, I'm curious: Do you still think all this attention might not bode well for the e-book field? Or are all those potential customers just sheep being led to the slaughter?
I was just enjoying watching the discussion build and evolve. But I'll add a few comments:

* To start off, I have to say that the attention from Kindle is a positive for e-books, and I can say that without any qualifications. It's a big deal because it's getting a lot of mainstream publicity and people need exposure to become interested in the possibilities and advantages.

* The device itself has both positive and negative factors, and I'm happy to see that both sides are being revealed. Any device that pushed forward with new and innovative features takes the risk of being nitpicked to death. It's sort of like the old saying about talking to an auditor - answer questions briefly and don't bring up new topics because it only leads to more questions and investigations. If you have a simple device it's not (generally) going to be criticized as much as a feature laden device. I believe we've seen that with all the PDA and smartphone and UMPC complaints. Now we're seeing some of that with the Kindle as people have usability complaints.

But as far as being good or bad for e-books, I can once again say that the Kindle hardware is another definite positive.

* However, my concerns about the direction that Amazon is taking with privacy issues and excessively exclusive DRM control still stand as before. The future of content control is still up in the air. As someone pointed out before, the iTunes store even allowed controlled audio content to be burned onto a CD, so it wasn't 100% hostage to the platform. But Amazon has created a very anti-competitive environment.

It reminds me a little bit of the bit ruckus about companies that made ink-jet printers in such a way that only their brand of refill cartridge would work. There were legal battles because refill prices were very high and other companies wanted to make and sell competing refills. I don't remember the result, but I think that the printer manufacturers won in court, which means that the consumers lost (in the form of higher prices and less suppliers of the refills).

I desire to see a more competitive future business environment for e-books. I want to see legitimate competition of content based on the actual words and the formatting. I don't want to see artificial price control because of format and DRM wars and gamesmanship. I don't want to see consumers reduced to simple rental of content under the guise of a purchase. And I don't want to see consumers misled about what they are purchasing. If DRM keeps up, we have made e-books a disposable world, where you only really get the content for a period of time. It makes e-books a harder and more expensive technology and in my current viewpoint, it means everyone loses. Both consumers and sellers.

In my mind, Steve, the heroes of the future content marketplace are the Mark Cubans, Steve Jordans, and the many other sellers that try to use popular and open formats without DRM (or at least making DRM less onerous). I see the IDPF and Sony and Adobe and others moving toward ePub as a very positive move. It might not solve DRM issues completely, but at least it's something that gets us away from "unreasonable" content control. It's a move in the right direction.

There's a paradigm to be set. It will be determined by e-book sellers like Amazon, and by the legal system, and by politics and by customer response to the various constraints. If anyone tells you that they know how it will turn out, I think they are naive. Every Kindle with closed DRM and loss of previous generic MobiPocket DRM is a nail in the free market coffin. Each step along the way is helping determine the future of the marketplace for books and content, and I wrote this original post because I feel strongly that it's an important topic. Splintered and highly controlled e-book sellers with proprietary DRM that ties the books to the devices are one of the worst outcomes for the future of the book. And it even has potential consequences for the future of libraries and preservation of books.

I will cheer for any manufacturer and publisher that is promoting a future of a free competitive market without artificial constraints for content. And I will gladly point out when I think that a company such as Amazon is taking us the wrong direction (which is exceptionally relevant to this topic because of its wide ranging influence).

My article has been described as "angry" and "hostile" and so forth, and some even think I hate the Kindle. I do consider this a topic that's so important that I will get passionate about it. I think it's similar to the passion we have seen on the MP3 front with albums and DRM. In fact, I think it's of equal importance because I consider the availability and market for books to be critical to our society. But it would be a mistake to think that my passion is because of the hardware or because I don't like Amazon in general or because I like my Sony Reader, etc.

Bottom line, I still think that in every move like the one Amazon made to get into the e-book business, we see a little bit of the future of books being written out. There are a lot of players and a lot of vested interests, and there will be a lot of twists and turns. I see a distorted and sub-par future for the general welfare of our society relative to books and book selling as it goes electronic. But I'm hoping that a free market for books and content will prevail.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and that's fine. I'm just trying to get that point of view out there. I want people to understand the issue. Then all the people that are much smarter and more important than me can fight it out and figure out what's really best for us.

Well, Steve... I bet you're sorry you asked now!!!!

P.S. With respect to your specific question about customers being sheep led to the slaughter, I wouldn't put it that way. The damage I see is in setting the paradigm for book selling. I hate to see a closed market direction precedent. But for the individual consumer this is a short term thing. As long as one knows that they are taking the risk of locking up content in a strict DRM scheme, that's fine. I do it myself right now with Sony Connect books. It's not perfect, but it's pretty much what we are stuck with for most modern popular books and best sellers.

If the Kindle is popular and wildly successful, it's hard to tell whether or not the level of popularity will be significant in the war for the marketplace. It might actually help, because as people get more familiar with e-books more quickly, they also might become more educated consumers. Or we might see a backlash from consumers against DRM. Personally, I don't in any way suggest any kind of boycott or avoidance of the Kindle. I think that would be misguided. People should get what is best for them. Who knows how this will play out. I would buy one myself if it was the right device for me, and I would enjoy having one.

All I hope for is that in the midst of the Kindle excitement, people don't lose sight of the far-reaching effects that a paradigm of closed content and strict DRM can have on the e-book marketplace if it becomes widespread. And that people understand that it will mean higher prices, more headaches, and repeated purchases as platforms change.

Well one more thing I hope for... that people understand that this is a significant issue that is worthy of being highlighted, but my word is not the final word in any way. It's an ongoing topic that will have plenty of time to be debated and fought over, and my goal is to simply bring exposure. Also realize that this is spur of the moment writing, not some carefully planned out essay. So if anyone is annoyed or offended, or if I've been less than gracious in my writing, please accept my apologies. And if you have a Kindle, don't let this take away from your excitement about the device and e-books in any way. However you look at it, this is a great day for e-books!
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Old 11-28-2007, 10:06 AM   #201
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Pretty good for spur-of-the-moment writing, Bob! I don't think you've alienated or upset anyone, you've just stated the facts and your opinions, and very clearly at that. And I agree with pretty much all of it. Now, go rest your fingers, 'cause I know they must be tired!

I think you referenced the most significant part of this issue here:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell View Post
If the Kindle is popular and wildly successful, it's hard to tell whether or not the level of popularity will be significant in the war for the marketplace. It might actually help, because as people get more familiar with e-books more quickly, they also might become more educated consumers. Or we might see a backlash from consumers against DRM...

All I hope for is that in the midst of the Kindle excitement, people don't lose sight of the far-reaching effects that a paradigm of closed content and strict DRM can have on the e-book marketplace if it becomes widespread. And that people understand that it will mean higher prices, more headaches, and repeated purchases as platforms change.
As you point out, it will be the public that either rolls over, or stands up and affects change. Publishers and authors providing alternative formats and sales models will help them see that there are other ways of doing things, but only the public can demand change and vote with their wallets.

As for me, I'm glad to be an alternative voice, while at the same time wading into the Kindle waters to see if I can actually get wet--because at this point, the Kindle is still an Insider's game, and despite its widespread popularity, may not earn Peons like me a single dime.

(In fact, if you check their contract, they will not send any earned funds to you until they surpass $100... which may mean that anything under $99 will never be sent to the author. One more part of their system that should be changed, IMO)
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Old 12-25-2007, 12:54 AM   #202
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I love my Kindle, but I smell a rat. Amazon will not accept Amazon gift certificates for anything for the Kindle -- they just charge your credit card for the entire amouint, and leave you with the gift certificate balance untouched. The even refuse to allow you to transfer MobiPocket files with DRM" attached, even though MobiPocket is their own subsidary. As much as possible, Kindle.com and Amazon.com represent completely different companies with separate accounting and P&L.

The rat I smell is how could these two really be just one company? As it appears to me, it is two separate companies selling through Amazon like Amazon does for many other separate companies. I believe it is set up that way to enable Amazon to sell it when they have a proven business, and can get the price that they want for it. Else everything I have just pointed out doesn't make any sense at all.

Charles Wilkes, San Jose, Calif.
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Old 12-25-2007, 09:28 AM   #203
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Amazon and Mobipocket are not "just one company"; nobody's ever claimed that they are. Amazon own MobiPocket, yes, but the two operate as completely separate companies. No "rats" involved.
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Old 12-25-2007, 01:29 PM   #204
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Amazon and Mobipocket are not "just one company"; nobody's ever claimed that they are. Amazon own MobiPocket, yes, but the two operate as completely separate companies. No "rats" involved.
I thought the poster was saying that the Kindle operation is being run like a separate, hosted company in the same way that, say, Foot Locker has a presence on Amazon. Personally, I don't see it. They've spent far too much money on infrastructure to just dump it out of hand or sell it off.

Personally, I think any aspects of the Kindle operation that seem off-kilter can be explained by Amazon trying to jockey an uncertain business venture into a success before they start taking more risks with it.
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Old 12-26-2007, 12:26 AM   #205
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As for gift certificates, they claim they're working on having the ability to use those for Kindle books. As it is, the Kindle is set to use your "one-click" settings. They don't have a way yet to use other payment forms.
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Old 12-26-2007, 12:15 PM   #206
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The more these e-book sellers depend on onerous drm, the more likely they are to push their potential customers over to the darknet. They will figure this out eventually. People don't want to pay for the same content twice. They will find a way around the system. If e-book drm becomes pervasive, then you can eventually count on drm cracking utilities to become pervasive as well, just as they are today for the music drm formats. Simple GUI utilities will exist that let you effortlessly convert Kindle format or Sony Reader format to useful drm-free formats. This is not speculation, but almost a certainty, if the e-book sellers continue to put restrictions on customers.

Customers are generally willing to pay, but not only must there not be restrictive drm, but it must be convenient to make a purchase. This is where the Kindle excels over the Sony Reader. It is easier to download a book from the Darknet than work with the awkward Sony software, navigate through the confusing Sony store, and actually make a purchase there.

The e-book store that provides the two, convenience and minimal restrictions, along with a reasonable price, should be quite successful. Of course, this probably won't happen for a few years until the e-book market matures to where the music market is right now.

Last edited by sfernald; 12-26-2007 at 12:18 PM.
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Old 12-28-2007, 08:59 AM   #207
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The more these e-book sellers depend on onerous drm, the more likely they are to push their potential customers over to the darknet......If e-book drm becomes pervasive, then you can eventually count on drm cracking utilities to become pervasive as well, just as they are today for the music drm formats.....

......It is easier to download a book from the Darknet than work with the awkward Sony software, navigate through the confusing Sony store, and actually make a purchase there.

The e-book store that provides the two, convenience and minimal restrictions, along with a reasonable price, should be quite successful. Of course, this probably won't happen for a few years until the e-book market matures to where the music market is right now.
Sorry for the long quotes, but I think you are right on the money (literally and figuratively) on this.

Amazon made a major investment in developing the hardware, software, and delivery systems for the Kindle, in a market that at the moment really does not exist. 50,000 units sold will not come close to paying that off.

They would not have gotten into the market unless they saw a way to profit from their huge reading customer base and library of books.

If they are successful in creating this market, then competition both from other hardware manufacturers and the "darknet" will force open their DRM policies. This could take years, but if ebooks are to succeed it is a necessary market growth step.

Remember, Apple did not sell DRM free music until there was competition in hardware and software and an established market to make it profitable.
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