The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Some Thoughts, Part Six – Intermission

Posted by BigWords on April 6, 2010

I’m taking a breather here, and pondering word meanings again. Intermission indicates a break between performances (and this is as apt a term for what I’m doing here as any), and is also inter this mission. I’m gloating at how clever the title is, but there is a reason I need to stop for a moment – we need to go back over the last few posts and examine something.

David Baldacci, of all people [1], is spearheading the move into a fully-intergrated-multimedia e-book experience, and while the notion of “giant leaps forward” contains exciting prospects, it doesn’t really get to grips with some of the concerns which are raised by the prospect of an unbalanced readership. However much I have promoted the use of radical ideas (especially in concern with the future of e-books), there is something to be said for the stability and longevity of a hard copy. I’ve already touched on some of the ways in which books could stretch out into covering, but the possible applications are really irrelevant as long as the format itself faces such difficulties as contractual problems, simplistic implementation, format woes, and poor marketing. I have no doubt that progress requires concerted efforts on behalf of everyone, but there is something which hasn’t been looked at to any degree yet. Something which we need to discuss before rushing headlong into the crucible of multimedia convergence. And so the question is raised…

What is added to the value of a hard copy to enable it to compete against e-books?

Will the future of books lie in packaging them with DVD-Roms? Or codes printed on the inside jacket to allow access to the online content? Or do we open up the online content by keeping DRM at arm’s length? The truth probably rests in all three of these answers, because publishers will want to maximise the visibility of their product in an already-crowded field. Art, music, film, and software books would benefit from being packaged with DVD-Roms to illustrate content (as some software books have already proven); using codes would open up SF novels to self-sustaining ARGs running interconnected content… But ignoring DRM may be the hardest sell of all. Publishers (and I’m stepping away from publishers of books specifically, to look at the wider use of the word) are enamoured with DRM because it gives the false promise of protection against piracy.

Do I really need to spell out the reasons why I haven’t bought a game produced by EA in over three years? Is it not fact enough that all of their “protected” games are being copied and distributed via P2P? So what benefits does DRM confer? I’ll let slip one of my big thoughts straight off the bat, so as to give everyone time enough to contemplate the horrors which are in store if their use in e-publishing isn’t curbed – DRM encourages piracy. DRM is a challenge to the pirates, which encourages them to see hoe quickly they can strip the software and make it available to others. It is also, in many cases, a pain in the ass for those using the product legally, especially when the DRM damages other software housed (legally) on the computer. I’ve had to reinstall massive amounts of data because an errant line of code in DRM has seen fit to disable video editing software, so can attest that the use of such undesirable practices has negative real-world effects. Your brand will be damaged by bad protection methods.

How, then, should we approach the verification of “approved users”? I like e-mail as a method of building blocks of manageable data, and even though there are problems with collecting information about those who have purchased items online, it is still less troublesome than any other method which is easily implemented. It is the basic answer to nearly all problems posed by multimedia, and there are enough people already used to using e-mail for identification purposes that it doesn’t seem too imposing for readers wanting to sidestep the problems DRM brings.

I’m not done yet. The second thing which has yet to be openly discussed may have the potential to shatter publishing in two. It is clear that there are problems for traditional publishers when it comes to creating e-books embedded with multimedia, so I suggest this – the big publishers will have minimal influence in the future of e-books. Just as the early web was carved out by pioneers, the new formats will be embraced by self-publishing. The benefits which have been emphasised by some advocates of self-publishing routinely ignore the possibility to throw off the shackles of traditional complications (and the associated problems created by lawyers) to provide something new. Though I never intended to come to the conclusion that self-pubbed titles may be the way e-books could evolve, it seems to be something which makes sense.

Thus I conclude the intermission and return to the regularly scheduled assault on old-media thinking.

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[1] I was always under the impression that the e-book would be led towards a multimedia future by that luminary of the cyberpunk movement, William Gibson. It’s probably too much to ask for, but a fully tweaked-out edition of Neuromancer would be top of my list of books which could gain added value through enhancements.

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