Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Eeek! Ebooks and Downloads!

The book news this year has been all about e-books. Ebooks. E books. Well, maybe the consensus has come down on the side of ebooks. Who knows? BEA used e-books (and there has just been a conference called DigitalBook2010). The sellers are using eBooks (I guess to line up "capitally" with iPad and iPhone). Borders are now advertising their Kobo eBook reader. Maybe the sellers (as usual) will determine what we call these things. For now, they're all crowding into the market and the reviewers are scrambling to assess which one is best, or which one might do everything you want it to do. No one has yet advertised one that will vacuum my lounge room while I read, so I'm holding off for a while.

But while I was typing this, an email popped up, as they are wont to do. This one was from Optus (an ISP and mobile phone provider here in Australia), who wanted me to sign up for their new plan for the iPad. $50 Pre-Paid gets you UNLIMITED~ data. Notice the funny little symbol next to the word "unlimited". I clicked on their handy little Buy Now button and in the fine print was told this:
Unlimited data voucher:Any data or credit on your service must will be used before unlimited data can be accessed. No rollover on Unlimited data expires after 30 days.
What on earth does that mean? Do I get free unlimited data download or don't I? What do I have to pay to get it? And isn't that a weird way to look at it?

My interpretation is that I pay X dollars, and I have to use what they give me first (3GB) and then after that everything is free - but only for 30 days. Then what? And this is the huge issue that is quickly emerging here in Australia. Maybe not overseas where mobile/cell phone costs are different and based on different modes and plans, but here the companies are falling over each other, trying to offer seemingly amazing deals, which nobody can understand when it comes to the "fine print". It's not just me. Quite a few reviewers are commenting on this as well.

This was all brought home to me this week when a friend told me about her latest phone bill. She has an iPhone, and has probably a dozen apps on it. She leaves it turned on all the time for incoming calls, but her latest bill shows that every night, the phone has been connecting to the internet without her knowledge and downloading updates for the various apps she has. For half an hour at a time, not just 5 or 10 seconds. She said she had set the phone not to do this, but it is still doing it.

I said to her that my impression was that that was where the big money was going to be. Not in the phones themselves, but the apps. "They're cheap," she said. "A couple of dollars each." But there are now 255,000 apps available, and quite a few of them are between $5 and $15. Not cheap. And not when they are using your download time to update themselves. So where does that leave ebooks?

A lot of people have a problem with the ebook being "unshareable". I don't lend many of my books, but I do have a sharing system with some of my friends. And when I lend to someone and they love the book, they buy one of their own. But so far, many ebook readers don't allow "sharing" (although this does seem to be changing a little). I was horrified when Amazon was actually able to "take back" books that buyers had downloaded. Connecting to Amazon for a new download apparently gave them access to what was on your Kindle and they decided to take some titles back! I'd like to see them do that with the custard pie I ate today.

Compared with 12 months ago, ebooks have leapt into our world with a resounding thump. All those in publishing who were saying true taking up of ebooks was 2-3 years away yet have been proven waaaaay wrong. Now publishers and suppliers (like Apple and Amazon etc) are battling over price structures and who gets a cut of what. As an author, I can see a lot of feathers flying out there in the arena at the moment, and am cautiously checking my contracts to see what I agreed to in terms of ebooks (up till now it's usually been phrased quaintly as "electronic publishing" or something similar). Any contract that says ebook rights will be negotiated separately in the future gives me hope.

What is happening now is both exciting and scary. I'm not buying an ebook reader until the dust settles a bit. I still remember someone years ago who had a Beta video player!! And I want to play with them first. I want to see what each one does, and whether they do what I want in terms of reading needs. I already know an ebook reader would save me several kilos of luggage weight when I go away. But I want more. Anyone for a version that vacuums?
And what do you think about ebook readers? Do you have one? Are you going to buy one? Do tell...


Unknown said...

Hi Sherryl, I have a friend who bought a kindle some months ago & she loves it. And at a seminar I attended today there were a couple of very enthusiastic ipad owners. The mashable website has posted some good reviews & other content about the e-readers currently on the market that I've watched/read with interest. But like you, I think I'll wait until the dust settles a bit.
cheers, Maree

alice said...

Hi Sherryl, great article with lots to think about. I remember years ago when the thought of timed local calls for the home phone was a scary concept. Phone companies came in the back door with that one by bringing out the mobile phone. The concept of an eBook is great in terms of portability when travelling but my thinking is the 'smaller' price for the eBook compared to it's printed counterpart is wrapped up in hidden costs for downloads and viewers (and of course a brighter more fabulous version of the one you just bought will be out five minutes after you make your purchase). I too am waiting for the dust to settle and see what shakes out.

Sherryl said...

Maree - the iPad seems so beautiful and easy to use. It makes you want one just by watching someone use it. But you can't read outside or in bright light with it. And the download costs...

Sherryl said...

Alice - I think ebooks should definitely be cheaper than physical books, unless you're paying for enhanced content. I still feel that an ebook is not "permanent". Maybe that's because of how easy it is to lose digital photos if something goes wrong with your computer. Even though I know Amazon says they'll replace your books if your Kindle dies.