Booki.sh launches Australian ebook store where you can’t download your purchases

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It begins! The ebooks-in-the-cloud concept that I warned against earlier this week, the one publishers say is the ideal future marketplace (for them, not for consumers), is in private beta right now in Australia.

It’s using the Monocle web-based ebook reader–which I find really awesome, to tell the truth–and partnering with Readings, a small Australian book chain, to sell ebooks to Australian customers. It looks great. It’s the future of ebook sales. And it stinks.

I really don’t have any complaints about Monocle, except that I caught a couple of bugs during my brief testing of the interface on the Readings website. As far as making it easy to read an ebook online, Monocle works great, and it’s compatible across a wide variety of devices. You can try it out for yourself on the Booki.sh site.

The small detail that ruins everything, though, is that when you buy an ebook from Readings/Booki.sh, you never get to download the file to your computer or device. It’s stored permanently with the retailer, then called up and displayed to you whenever you request it. To head off customer complaints, Booki.sh takes advantage of HTML5′s ability to store offline files in your browser, so in general it’s possible to read your purchases even if you’re not online.

But you’re never given the option to download a file of the ebook, even a file with DRM. Here is how Booki.sh puts it on their “about” page:

Can I download ebook files to read in another app? – In Booki.sh, an ebook is a web link – we believe books are part of the web, in much the same way as a YouTube video is part of the web. It’s always there when you want it, but you don’t “download” anything.

I’ll give them points for copywriting–that sure sounds like a perfectly reasonable and forward-thinking approach, when it’s put that way!–but it doesn’t change the fact that Booki.sh is basically telling you, “We keep full control of your purchases, so suck it.” You will never be able to do anything with your ebook that Booki.sh doesn’t approve of first.

No matter how nice the Monocle interface looks, it fills me with loathing. It’s the most anti-consumer approach to ebook retailing yet, and you can bet it’s going to spread to other retailers in the coming years if enough consumers don’t push back.

23 Comments on Booki.sh launches Australian ebook store where you can’t download your purchases

  1. The solution is simplicity itself…never send them any money for anything. They will die.

    First of all, using a browser is seldom an ideal way to read any lengthy text such as a book. Second, I am often away from WiFi access. I don’t have, nor do I need or want 3G/4G. So unless I’m at home, within router range, my reading is interrupted with their system. Cloud computing is for the birds.

  2. I’m hooked on e-books, but I wouldn’t buy one I couldn’t download. DRM is bad enough.

  3. Wow, this one can’t die a hideous, painful, and lingering death quickly enough. “From people who don’t think infecting books with Denial of Rights Malware is enough comes “All Your Fair Use Are Belong To Us!”, now with even more abuse of customers.”

  4. I expect that it will be ridiculously easy for anyone with a little web/html/java knowledge to create a browser add-on to download the books from this.

  5. I know I’ll never have anything to do with such cloud based offerings. If anything I see the clould as a threat to my rights as a consumer and I’ll stay far, far away from it. That doesn’t mean that the millions of clueless, less informed or less concerend customers will do the same and that is what is truly frightening about it.

  6. Mark,, I agree with your last point somewhat. However if they do then it just opens a new opportunity for their competition to highlight the fact that when they sell you your eBook, you get your own copy to KEEP.
    I think these Readings people are tech obsessed, not customer obsessed, which successful businesses are.
    I avoid DRM like the pox. This kind of ‘proxy selling’ should be avoided too.

  7. @Howard. Agreed, except that for the people we are discussing DRM is essentially the same thing and thus no marketing advantage, if anything this type of customer will see downloading your own copy as needless complexity. You and I will go to the retailer that provides us a real copy of the book, prefereably DRM free but those that are targeted by companies such as Readings won’t know the difference or why it is important to have your own copy. Most will probably be fooled into thinking they are using a technology superior system that has no need for downloads.

  8. How is watching a video you haven’t paid for on YouTube the same as not getting the ebook you purchased? No logic there.

    I would never use their service.

  9. Name (required) // January 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm //

    I have found a few sites that let you to read and review books (Autohomy?), but only in browser in some applet (Javascript, Silverlight, or perhaps Flash). You couldn’t even copy and paste a sentence. The books looked really, really interesting, but … I WILL NOT sit in front of the monitor reading book trapped in a browser, when I have a luxurious e-ink device.

    On the other hand, “Booki.sh takes advantage of HTML5′s ability to store offline files in your browser, so in general it’s possible to read your purchases even if you’re not online.”
    How long do you think it will take to develop a plugin for Firefox that liberates your trapped book? A few days, if the site is popular enough. If your browser can read it, what would prevent other application from reading the file?

  10. Here’s the stupid thing. I wrote the post and I’m obviously against cloud-only ebooks. But then last night I updated the McSweeney’s app on my iPad (see the previous Teleread post for details – http://newteleread.com/wordpress/paul-biba/mcsweeneys-launches-ipad-app-featuring-an-ebookstore/ ) and checked out their ebook offerings. They had an issue of the print McSweeney’s journal for 99 cents, so I bought it.

    Only after it appeared in my app library did it dawn on me that I had just given money to a cloud-only business. And it’s too bad because I really like the McSweeney’s app otherwise.

  11. @Name(required): I don’t know but maybe they don’t download (cache) the entire book. They may also encrypt or obfuscate the content so that it can only (easily) be read using their website. They may also embed personally identifiable information within the encrypted content to discourage the use of decryption tools. You are correct that there will be workarounds but the best workaround is to simply not use their service.

  12. So, if I run out of stockpiled purchases books, I can always start downloading from Project Gutenberg. All my books go into Calibre, the end. If they won’t give me a file, I won’t buy it.

  13. Why pay for this? Are these ebooks only available from Readings, in Australia? Are they full-priced editions? Sounds like throwing your money into a wishing well, hoping the company will be around long enough to finish your book.

  14. I guess this is the first time I have noticed screen book advocates acting like old fogies. Screen display by nature is disembodied and distributors will leverage that. If you wish embodied, resident ownership on your device the easiest option is the paper codex.

    There is an interesting item by Jason Epstein (of Expresso machine) in the NY Review of Books (02.10.2011). He projects the digital book in various screen and paper formats and positions indie book stores as an emerging publishing enclave.

  15. As I said elsewhere, this is how I expected Google Books to work. And I’d be fine with it if I trusted the company to last. This would seem nice for libraries though.

  16. If you can’t cache the books, people won’t end up using the service since offline times always occur at some point in your tech life. And if they cache it, someone will hack the book out of it and it will end up on IRC, asta, rapidshare, hotfile, etc. anyways. Talk about a catch-22 for them.

  17. I’ve written up some notes on why Booki.sh might not actually be the end of the world for ebook ownership (possibly because that already happened while you were looking the other way – depending on your definition) here: http://blog.booki.sh/blog/post/it-s-nice-of-you-to-say-but-we-re-probably-not-the-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse

  18. @ Gary Frost: I think you’re completely right about the old fogey thing–sort of an attitude of “innovate this far and no farther!” I think a lot of ebook readers who care about consumer rights are comfortable with building a private ebook library of legitimately purchased titles that have been stripped of any DRM. In other words, comfortable with the idea of a hybrid product: a digital book, but treated and curated like a printed book. The cloud approach dispenses with this last remnant of physical ownership.

    I suppose I could get behind it more if the goal was to make it easier to access and more useful to the consumer–but if that were true then I think we’d see more of an open solution where *all* of a consumer’s ebook purchases share the same cloud storage. Instead, I think right now the goal is just to restore lost power to the publisher/retailer side of the transaction, by locking everything away and charging for access.

    Maybe the irony is ultimately, going all-digital will be the best thing to ever happen to publishing, because the concept of “owning” a book will dissolve entirely.

  19. @Chris, there is also a big issue of trust here. If I can’t trust companies to keep my personal details private (ie not sell the data) or keep my credit card and account details secure, how can I trust them to keep my library? Cloud computing is good for some things, but isn’t the solution for everything. We have all seen times when online DRM servers or companies holding data go bankrupt or if the data is on servers shared with others, those servers are lost to damage or even things like legal seizures.

  20. No way!

    If you want my money, I better get something physical for it…even if that “physical” thing is a simple digital file stored on my computer, it still puts ME in possession of it. MY money, MY file.

    What happens if this company goes out of business? My library disappears into the ether? What happens if they have some kind of power outage? I just give up reading that day?

    This whole cloud thing scares the be-jesus out of me anyway, but no way would I pay for something that I can’t “hold”.

  21. @Lenne Did you say “My library”? That’s the point. It’s not ‘your’ library under any of these schemes. They, along with all the DRM advocates, don’t give you ownership. All you get for your buck are limited rights of usage, Which rights you get is up to them, not you. Maybe they let you copy to your other device, maybe not. Maybe they let you share with friends, maybe not. Maybe they let you look at it next year, maybe not.

  22. Rose of Docklands // January 24, 2011 at 2:15 am //

    Will it be free, like YouTube? If so, sure, keep ownership and I’ll borrow it like I do from the library. Bet that’s not the idea, right? And I bet these books will continue to be costly.

  23. has anyone found a service for creating shareable digital books – that is a format by which people can add comments and also share… something perhaps like Sophie Project started to be?

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