Dear AuthorE-book novices get a scary tour of the Tower of eBabel, courtesy Jane of the witty and informative Dear Author duo, which specializes mostly in reviews of romance novels.

From PDF to KML, whose chief North American promoter has apparently gone out of business, readers learn the pros and cons of nine e-book formats–actually just a fraction of all the clashing options. The infamous format war is no small reason why U.S. e-book sales are probably less than $30M a year. Why must Jane go through this exercise? Would she have to do the same for CDs? The fault is e-bookdom’s, not hers. In fact, her post is “must” reading for e-bookware companies, not just consumers. Mobipocket, eReader and the rest can look at themselves in the mirror and shudder at the ugly images they’ve created inside the Tower.

Jane’s eBabel tour is a first-class public service, except for a final piece of advice, which, alas, is illegal for U.S. readers to follow because of the Hollywood-bought villains on Capitol Hill. She wraps up with these recs:

  • Don’t buy books that are not cross platform compatible otherwise you will have to rebuy them (ie. when I bought a palm pdb book and its software could not be used on a pocketpc).
  • Don’t buy books, if at all possible, in Adobe PDF. I have about 20 books that I currently cannot read because I can’t get the activation to work and I can’t redownload the damn things because I bought them at Barnes and Noble.
  • Don’t buy encrypted books if you can help it. This way, you are not bound to a device or a platform or a specific software program.
  • Do buy HTML, or if you can’t eReader or Mobipocket. I like Mobipocket the best out of the above platforms because the software allows so much user configuration and because you can rate your books. We love rating our books!!!
  • Or google for a program called Convert Lit GUI. It can help ease the pain of buying ebooks. Trust us.
    • Jane, you’re spot on–except for the last one. Convert LIT is illegal for most U.S. users under the Hollywood-inspired DMCA, so you can’t use it to help convert Microsoft Lit, say, to a reliable standard like HTML. That’s right. Even if you’re a legal owner of the book, you can’t crack your purchase since the DMCA bans the bypassing of copy-protection. Imagine your rapture when an e-store won’t give you a refund due to format-related problems (sarcasm alert).

      CONVERT LIT also illegal in U.K. and some other places, too

      None other than Dan Jackson, a regular TeleBlog reader and commenter, had to stop distributing Convert LIT from a U.K.-based site when a DMCA-ish law went into effect there. Readers should check their countries’ laws before going Googling around for this useful program.

      What you need to do, Ja(y)ne, is to organize all those romance-lovin’ ladies to write their congress members and tell them what villains they are for tolerating such evil–except that ideally the ladies will be more polite than I am here.

      Also, be sure to encourage politicians to fight anti-consumer copyright laws, via their campaign platforms.

      Hollywood vs. romance fans?

      To give one example, I remain disapointed that John Edwards, the former Dem candidate for vice president who served on a copyright-related Senate committeee, is still mute on Hollywood-inspired copyright laws such as the SonnyBonoo Copyright Term Extension Act, a bought law if ever one existed. I don’t necessarily mind the $900K+ that his PAC received in Hollywood donations. I do mind his silence.

      As usual, I’m picking on John Edwards because (1) he’s been pro-consumer on many other issues and thus illustrates the extent of the problem and (2) I went to his old university and have a little school pride, hoping he can represent us better, especially if he runs for president in ’08, as so many are expecting.

      Toward a more pro-consumer plot

      Hey, Jane, I think it’s cool, cool, cool that you live in a key primary state. Speak up among your friends and neighbors against Hollywood-bought copyright laws; and maybe your efforts will help turn Edwards around next time he comes a-courtin’.

      In fact, what if every romance fan spoke up about the DMCA and extended copyright terms and urged her/his SO to do the same? Then the plot would be more pro-consumer–and pro-e-book.

      Combine the Tower of eBabel with the DMCA and it’s no mystery why so many people rationally hate e-books as they now exist.

      Passionate language? Of course. And remember–like Ja(y)ne, I’m an e-book booster.

      Also from Dear Author: A provocative essay asking whether there could be too much interactivity between readers and authors, through fan sites.

      While I love interactivity, I actually would agree with many of the ideas there. You want intensive interactivity in, say, controversial political books, where, by the way, moderation can help the signal-to-noise ratio. And readers of certain kinds of romances, not all, might actually welcome a chance to share fantasies.

      But interactivity for readers of John Updike or even certain kinds of romances? Of course not. Sometimes life for romance readers can be more fun when the identity of the author–especially one with a prosaic existence–remains a mystery.

      Related: Death by the DMCA, from two Net-oriented attorneys.


      1. Whoops. Thanks for the heads up. As for banding our romance readers together? Fat chance. We can’t even band together to get more variety in the genre let alone better DRM.

      2. My, you’re quick, Jane! Even before I can e-mail you! You ladies are on the ball! Anyway, congrats again on a super-useful post. As for the omission of the DMCA-related stuff–hey, this proves my point. If even intelligent, well-informed folks like you aren’t aware of all nuances here, imagine regular mortals. Thanks. David

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