I don’t currently have an e-book reader of any kind, and I don’t really have any plans to get one. This view has nothing to do with the state of the hardware tech; it’s all about the services behind it. And it could change in an instant.

I’m a hoarder, especially when it comes to books. I can’t stand the idea of throwing away or giving away or selling a book that I might one day want to read again, or that would be good to keep for our hypothetical future kids. Tina is slightly less obsessive, but she still won’t give away a book without a fight. As a result, we have about six bookcases full of material most of which has a small – but, importantly, non-zero – chance of ever being opened again.

We’re moving house this week.

This is the point where the hoarding compulsion becomes a huge drawback. Books are heavy. This is unlikely to be the last time we move, so I’ve found myself sorting books into boxes by the likelihood that we’ll read them again soon, with the idea that we won’t even have to open some of the boxes until the move after this one.

Right now, the ability to have our book collection in electronic form is a service for which I would pay, roughly, infinity dollars.

But there’s no real product on the market that solves this problem, even just for books that I buy from now on. Every electronic publisher that I’m aware of that offers any kind of range of mainstream books (and please let me know if there’s an exception to this) also encrusts them with some kind of DRM that more-or-less guarantees that I won’t be able to come back and read it again in ten or twenty years. If you’ve been following so far, you’ll notice that this completely defeats the purpose of having a collection of books.

I’ve even seriously considered scanning some of our paper books and giving the originals away. The first and most obvious downsides to this are that it’d be (a) ridiculously time-consuming and (b) probably illegal. Scanning the paper books and then destroying the originals would be on slightly more solid ethical ground, but may still technically be against current copyright law, is still time consuming, and feels somehow completely wrong and backward.

It seems like the e-book market is waiting to explode the moment a major publisher offers books with either no DRM or, at the very least, a way to guarantee file format compatibility with future devices (without the device having to connect to their servers, because they probably won’t exist in twenty years). Bonus points if they offer some kind of long-term backup service. Extra bonus points if they can exchange books you already own for electronic versions in a way that’s blessed by copyright law.

Wake me up when this happens.


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