Well, I promised you a post about what I hate about ebooks. I wish I hadn’t. But it’s important to balance the flow of love with some of the more negative issues that surround ebooks. There’s no way I can possibly cover all of them (mainly because I probably haven’t thought of most of them!), so here are a few things that affect me.

Lending ebooks. Well, you can’t. I suppose you technically could, by physically handing over your ebook device, but that assumes a number of things:

  • that you don’t mind being without that device for however long it takes for them to read the book
  • that you trust that person with your possibly-very-expensive device (as opposed to, say, an 8 quid paperback)
  • that the person you are lending it to is comfortable with reading ebooks a) in general b) on your device in particular

(That last is quite an important point – none of the three people I most regularly lend books to read ebooks. This, for me, takes a lot of the joy out of book ownership. Visitors to my house rarely go home without having at least one book eagerly pressed upon them; some leave with bagfuls.)

If you don’t want to hand your device over, can you lend an ebook? Certainly not (legally) an in-copyright work – you’ll have to enjoy it alone.

Ahh, copyright, the bane of the ebook world! Let me admit (cue career death and professional ostracism) that I have broken UK copyright law, by reading certain ebooks. Now, I’m certainly not admitting to being part of the growing piracy network for ebooks, but I have fallen foul of the copyright trap that is Project Gutenberg. Yes, having sung their praises, I’m now pointing out a flaw. They do give the copyright status of each work on the item page, usually ‘Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook.’. Now there’s the rub – and the thing that caught me out. Check the laws of your country! I was so delighted to find the lovely selection of PG Wodehouse books available on Gutenberg, that I never spared a thought for the fact that old Plum didn’t shuffle off until 1975. His works won’t be in the public domain in the UK until a whopping 2046. [yes, I did have to go on a big copyright-fact-checking mission to make sure that was right. and I’m still not entirely sure]

I’m sure this isn’t the only case where I’ve inadvertently infringed copyright through ebooks that are public domain in the US, but not the UK. I don’t usually remember to check. And if I, as an information professional who Really Should know better, don’t check, who does? Now, as far as I’m aware, publishers and authors don’t seem to be making an issue about this. I haven’t heard of anyone being threatened with court for illegal ownership of a text document, but just because you’re probably not going to get caught doesn’t mean it’s legal. [I’m sticking with the ‘legal’ argument here – my opinions on the state of current UK copyright law are for another discussion entirely.] I think we can all agree that it’s much harder to accidentally infringe copyright with pbooks – although I’m sure I’ve bought at least one book in the past with ‘not for UK distribution’ stamped on it…

What else don’t I like about ebooks? Well, they can hurt your eyes. I don’t have a dedicated ebook reader that produces the ink-on-paper effect, so I can’t speak for those, but I have spent many hours getting my settings right in the various programs I use.

Ah yes, ‘various programs’. Now there’s a thing! I have 6 dedicated ebook readers installed on my home pc, plus microsoft word (which I use where possible – it has a far better customisable reading view than any of the dedicated readers). Of course, you know what’s coming. You have to use the ‘correct’ reader for each ebook format. Adobe Digital Editions giving you a headache? (and trust me, they will) Tough. You want to change the font colour, you buy the book again. In a different format.

What else? well, there are the occasional OCR issues (I read an ebook once where ‘God’ was rendered as ‘Cod’ the whole way through. Nothing has cheered me up quite that much for years). You don’t always get illustrations, or maps. Fixed-length lines can be annoying. But these are minor quibbles, and pbooks have many of the same display issues – we’ve all read the cheap editions with tiny blurred text. And shoddy editing/proof-reading is no respecter of format.

I know I’ve skated over – or ignored entirely – what others might consider to me the most important issues, but I did say that this was going to be about me and my relationship with ebooks, and I must admit that I’ve written this primarily as a reader, not an information professional. This could be because, in my current role, I don’t really interact with ebooks professionally. Perhaps when I do, my feelings will change. But as a reader? yeah, I think I’m in love 😀

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