The Rants of Issachar

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad - You still can't buy the book.

The Globe and Mail's Report on Business reported today that shares of have dropped in part due to fears that the iPad represents a threat to the sales of the Kindle and ebooks.

I could write about the iPad being a lousy book reader because unlike the Kindle's screen, the iPad's performs abysmally in sunlight. I could write about the iPad having fundamental flaws like the lack of a webcam or the inability to display common web pages. I could write about the fact that Apple won't let people install any software except the stuff they approve of and are thus trying to turn computers into phones when what we really want is computers in our pockets.

But I'd rather write about the false perception that Amazon actually sells books on the Kindle and that Apple wants to sell books on the iPad. They don't sell books. They don't even sell electronic books. They sell you a license to read text displayed on a specific device and that's not the same thing.

Consider the fact that you can't buy a used e-book. It's not that it's technologically impossible. It has been deliberately made technically difficult to transfer an e-book to another person, but it's completely possible. But it's also illegal because you don't own the book. You never bought the book.

You might ask what difference the license makes if you can read the book anyway. After all, isn't that the point? The difference is that the assumptions you have about what you're allowed to do with your "ebook license" are wrong. You're thinking of books and this is licensing. You are only allowed to do things specifically allowed in the license.

Here's a brief list of the things you're legally forbidden to do. You can't sell the book when you're done. You can't give the book to someone else when you're done. You can't donate the book to the library when you're done. You can't loan the book to your friend for a month or two. (No, this isn't an unavoidable technological problem. It's a legal restriction not a technical one.) But here's the real kicker for most people; you can't transfer your so-called "books" to your new reader and use it instead. Amazon or Apple might let you transfer the license to a new version of their reader, but that's entirely up to them. Do you think they'll be inclined to let you transfer it to a competitors reader?

You never bought the book.

None of these are necessary drawbacks to an electronic device. They're deliberate decisions on the part of vendors to try to build a particular business model which has no benefits for you. I enjoy physical books, but I could easily find myself enjoying electronic books as well if anyone ever decides to sell such a thing.

:: posted by Issachar, 11:04 PM


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