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Who owns your ebooks, again?

Bear in mind that I’m a software developer. I write code in addition to fiction. So I have a slightly different take than most on the recent Amazon account-locking debacle. Mostly, what I see is an opportunity.

First: I don’t care who you are. You are buying ebooks (if you read this blog, I’ll make the assumption) and therefore you have to deal with them. Get over it.

  • Your Kindle (or other device) belongs to you. Yes, it’s nice to be able to use wi-fi or 3g to buy books. But if you’re doing that with a device that also has…ah…”questionable” content, be aware that its existence may be used against you. Bear in mind that anything at all can become questionable. We’ve all seen how that works for BitTorrent aficionados. Or if we haven’t, we should have. So: if you have secrets, and you SHOULD, don’t share them with Amazon, iBooks, B&N, or anybody else. Transfer the material to your reader, if you can, using a USB cable. Turn off all networking capabilities unless you’re enough of a geek to use a router that will block your device’s access to the internet, and you’ll always remember to turn it off outside your home network. I don’t know what information Amazon, for instance, is gathering. Neither do you. So you probably shouldn’t give them the opportunity.
  • UPDATE: Using an Android tablet? Try something like XPrivacy if you’ve rooted the thing. It can create a privacy “sandbox” for each app…and will also allow you to restrict an app’s access to the internet while leaving the rest of your tablet functional. Which might be very helpful in this context.
  • The DRM stuff may or may not amount to some sort of legal restriction on what you canĀ  do with the books you’ve purchased (incidentally, there is no DRM on my titles). So I can’t tell you that stripping the DRM is a necessity, or even a good idea. But for fuck’s sake, do you want to be able to read your books in the future? Because your current ereader will become obsolete. And here’s an article with useful links.
  • And then there’s backing up of files. It’s probably sufficient for most people to have copies of their books on a couple of computers. However, if you want to go the “cloud” route, it may be an excellent idea to use a service like SpiderOak (no financial interest). Yes, they are slightly less convenient than DropBox. However, SpiderOak encrypts all your data with your password, and they never know your password. Unless you use their web app to access files, in which case may your gods be with you, because you should’ve gone with DropBox. Or trusted Amazon. You do not give your encryption keys to anybody. Except your spouse & other people who ought to be able to get at your stuff.

You know what? We need a better solution. I was talking to my wife an hour ago, and it occurred to me that it wouldn’t actually be very difficult (from a technical perspective) to set up a distribution network for indie publishers that cuts Amazon & all other middlemen right out. Any user could host books/reviews/data, and if the copy someone purchased came from your computer, you’d get paid. A much smaller percentage than Amazon’s 30-65%, but you’d get paid.

Book authorship is already well distributed. So is readership. So it stands to reason that the distribution of ebooks does not actually require these corporate behemoths.

But guess what would happen if I built something like this? Because I could build it, all by myself, and it would only take a few months.

  1. I would have to find somebody (Mark Coker at Smashwords?) to be able to meaningfully offer the service to authors. Because they don’t know me from a hole in the ground. (Hi, Mom! I cleaned up that part!)
  2. I would have to find somebody (I dunno…Bill Gates?) to pay for all the damned lawsuits.

So I’m not going to do this. Instead I’m going to write more books, because that’s what I want to do. But something like this is where we’re all going, and I think that’s a damn fine outcome.

YMMV. But it probably won’t. Till next time….

 

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