TL;DR – Take your DRM and sling your hook
It all started when I finished reading one book and got a few pages into another I didn’t really want to read. It occurred to me that it must be about time for another Ian M. Banks book to be out (it’s been this long since I read the last), and perhaps even one of his Culture novels. Sure enough, it turned out that that Surface Detail came out last year.
One snag – after years of stubborn nay-saying, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that ebooks are good thing, for various reasons which I’ll save for another day. This shouldn’t have been a snag, of course, it should have made it easy – instead of an hour’s round trip to the bookshop, complete with the costs of petrol and parking and the need to mingle with shoppers, I could have had it there and then. Or, relatively painlessly if I was prepared to wait for the postman.
So the theory sounded good – pay for ebook, download ebook, read ebook. First stop, Iain Banks’ web site. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Admittedly, deeply buried within I did find a link to the publisher’s site, where I could order the book for nearly three times the price Amazon are selling it for. But as for e-books – forget it. Oh, but wait, there was a whole “Ebook News” section. Unfortunately, all that it contained was some blurb about an ‘app’ for some nasty locked-down fruit-based device. You buy the book, then you scan the QR code with your fruitphone, and you get some extra goodies. Or something. It ended like this:
So unlocking the ‘story beyond the story’ with one of the world’s leading publishers is an extraordinary project and a UK first that will quite simply transform the reading experience for ever.
After I’d cleaned the vomit off my screen, I went looking elsewhere.
Options, not many: Amazon would sell me a copy, but only if I bought one of their Digital Restrictions Management-riddled devices, or alternatively, tainted my nice device with their malware. Alternatively, WH Smith seemed happy to sell me it, but the very small print hidden at the bottom of the page before (I suppose I should be thankful for that) you buy indicates that you have to install some Adobe-crap to be able to actually read your not-at-all-cheap purchase. Waterstones were slightly better, in that they revealed the presence of the deal-breaking DRM clearly.
So, about this DRM shite. Even if I was prepared to install any of this maladjusted proprietary software, it’s not even compatible with any of the computers or handheld devices I have now, let alone any I may decide to buy in the future. Even if it was, I’d have to be prepared to jump through all the ridiculous “register your thing here”, “authorise your computer there” and “link your device to your whatjamacallit” hoops. And if I ever found it suddenly wouldn’t let me read my book, well no problem, I could just phone them up (Monday-Friday: 9am-6pm).
How does all this rigmarole benefit me exactly? Well, it means I won’t accidentally read my book on more than the maximum number of devices they’ve decided I’m allowed to ever have. Or commit the crime of reading it on a device they haven’t thought of yet. Or worse, still be able to read it after they’ve gone out of business, which will hopefully be soon. Or, and this is the worst thing of all, I might let *you* read it. In short, this is all to prevent me from ‘stealing’ the thing I bought.
I can’t help but liken this to a trip to a supermarket where they make you dress up at the door in a white pocketless suit and gloves and follow you round with a megaphone shouting at you to keep your hands on your head at all times unless retrieving (with prior permission) an item from the shelf. They need your passport, two copies of your driving license, and a letter from your long lost Aunt Sally before you can get in. Oh, and then they insist on coming home with you to make sure you don’t eat your tomatoes in an unauthorised part of the house, They leave an armed robot behind to make sure you don’t do it when they’ve gone. And they reserve the right to burgle you in the middle of the night and take the milk back if they discover you’ve put it in an unapproved brand of fridge. They never need to do this though, the milk is booby trapped – it will automatically explode if you try that.
Of course, few people shop at this supermarket. They’d like to shop somewhere else, but unfortunately the place has a monopoly on tomatoes and milk. But there’s a secret. If you go round the back, you can just pick up as much stuff as you like from the goods yard. It’s the exact same stuff, but without the armed robots and booby traps. The only catch is that you like the cows that make the milk and feel they ought to get paid, but the only way that can happen is to allow yourself to be treated like a fool and a criminal.
Ok, enough of the stupid analogy. It was quite hard to find places to buy the ebook, because search results everywhere were swamped with places I could download it for nothing. Piracy, they like to call it, although I’ve always failed to see how you can compare making an unauthorised copy of some digital data with robbery and murder on the high seas. Or let’s call it theft – I steal something from you, and you’ve still got it. That can’t be right either. Anyway, let’s stick with the pirate word, it’s funniest. After an hour of trying to hand over my money, and being treated like an idiot and a crook for my troubles, I decided to try the other way. Within twenty seconds, I had the goods. No strings attached. No slurs on my character, irritating registrations and authorisations, no technical problems, and no fear of the book suddenly becoming useless in the future.
This is a very poor state of affairs, is it not? Try and pay, and you get shat on from a great height. Or take the pirate’s way, and everything is plain sailing. Of course, we’ve been through all that with the music industry already – I went from someone who would happily go out several times a week and return with a bag full of records and CDs, to someone who wouldn’t give a penny of my money to that industry if my life depended on it. Luckily we’ve finally reached the point where musicians can do without the parasites and take money direct from me.
As for the book, don’t be expecting it to appear in my next list of what I’ve been reading. After a quick skim to confirm it was the genuine article, I deleted it. I’m sure it’s every bit as good as its predecessors, all of which I’ve avidly read, but I suddenly have no appetite for it. Until such a time as Iain Banks is prepared to accept a simple exchange of some money in return for the excellent words he’s written (and preferably without all the obsolete middlemen involved) there’s plenty else for me to be reading.