e-Controversy abounds

Today’s panel at Orycon was a bit more civil, but that doesn’t mean the controversy over eBooks vs. print books was any less pronounced. The panel was titled Paper’s Place in the Future—Physical Books vs. eBooks. My co-panelists were Michael Briggs (husband of Patricia Briggs, the author GoH), author James F. David, Orycon webmaster Rick Lindsley and author Paul Guinan.

In the end, we all agreed that print books and eBooks each had their place and audience… but much is still undefined. Rick noted that for those of a certain generation, who grew up reading books only in print, there is a certain comfort level and familiarity with the format that leads to a marked preference for print books. However, most of the kids growing up today are accustomed to doing everything electronically, and they want to read books on their cell phones and eReader devices.

DRM (digital rights management) was a flash point today. James said that as an author, he truly appreciates DRM because it ensure that he will be compensated for each and every copy of his books that are sold. Michael, on the other hand, discussed how he had inadvertently purchased some eBooks using his wife’s Fictionwise account… and when he tried to open them on his own eReader, he was told that his device wasn’t authorized to view the files (because they weren’t purchased using his account Fictionwise notes the serial number of your eReader device and grants DRM access based on that information).

That’s frustrating, to be sure. But then again, so it was for movies and music. These industries balked at electronic versions initially because of piracy and other issues, but in the end, the consumer wanted electronic movies and music, and ways were found to provide it legally. Think about it — when was the last time you purchased a CD of music? For me, it was a couple of months ago, when I wanted to hear a particular piece of classical music as performed by a specific conductor and orchestra. It was only available on CD, so I ordered it.

I immediately transferred it to my iTunes account, and the CD is in the closet. I may never look at it again… but I will listen to the music it contained over and over again. On my computer. On my iPod. On my cell phone. On my Sony eReader (which stores and plays Mp3 files). In fact, we are getting ready to remodel our family room, and we have decided to donate our stereo system to Goodwill. When we want to play music in the house, we plug our iPod or iPhone into a docking station and turn it on. My very expensive, state-of-the-art (at the time) receiver, equalizer, turntable, double tape deck and 5-CD carousel player that I starved to buy in college hasn’t been used in years, frankly. They take up a lot of space in a large cabinet along the wall next to the fireplace, plus we have tons of cassette tapes and LPs and CDs.

We just don’t play them anymore.

There are conversion services and even conversion devices you can buy now that let you transfer your LPs and cassette tapes into a digital format now, and that’s what we’re going to do. Not only will we be able to make new playlists and port our music to whatever devices we like, we are going to free up a lot of space. Cabinets and shelves that won’t be collecting tons of dust, either.

That being said, books are a world behind. I can’t get most of my favorite books on eBook yet… and there are limitations to the technology. My Sony eReader, for example, is B&W, so it cannot hope to properly display any of my “coffee table” art books — as Paul Guinan pointed out.

But all the heated debate and discussion got me wondering if there isn’t something more — something deeper — that isn’t being discussed. I sent an email to a college chum who is a “NY published” author for enlightenment. I’m curious to hear what she’ll tell me.


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