Readers, Not Platforms

I’m late to the party as far as electronic books go. I’ve certainly been thinking about it.

I like the idea of reading my books, over the years, on a series of ever-lighter, ever-more useful reading devices. 1,000 books in your pocket? Sign me up! (I don’t, for the most part, need to feel the pages between my fingers. I want to read the words!) I like the idea of multimedia add-ons. (Imagine seeing pins in a map representing all the locations mentioned in all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. When was Klatch first mentioned?) I like the idea of reading while eating and not worrying about spilling something on the paper. I like the idea having my books backed up offsite, so a fire in my house won’t destroy my library.

There are many upsides. But there are also quite a few downsides.

What if book readers become a fragmented market? What if I can’t buy a reader that will read all my books, I need to buy two…or three? And what if the features I want are also distributed between devices? Sure, Kindle is available on Apple’s platforms, but iBooks aren’t available on the Kindle. (Are they?) What if the platforms I’ve bought books for remain closed and stagnant, so the kind of whiz-bang features I describe above are never developed for them, and I have to buy my books again to obtain them? What if nobody supports the formats I’ve purchased in 30 years?

You know what I really want? I want all those wonderfully aggressive and competitive companies to be competing on readers, not platforms. I want, when I buy a book, to be buying just the bits of the information, and that’s all. And any number of clever, resourceful companies could then compete on how to present them to me, how to index them, what wonderful multimedia add-ons they could create for them.

Which almost certainly means stripping DRM.

Until that happens (and it very likely never will), I’m going to be very justifiably cautious about my electronic book purchases.