Another interesting and thought-provoking article I read this week: "Why Indie Authors Should Start Talking About Pbooks and Abooks" by Orna Ross (who wrote "A manifesto for self-publishing authors" in The Bookseller yesterday). The central idea is that all book formats are equal - i.e. e-books aren't secondary to print - and therefore it makes sense to categories them equally using the system pbooks = print books, ebooks = electronic books, abooks = audio books.
I have some sympathy for this: I'm a vegan, and categorise all milks with a prefix. Soya milk, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy milk. They're all milks and dairy milk isn't the default (despite EU rulings that try to redefine language in order to protect the dairy industry). So I can see why something similar could work for types of book.
I haven't gone that far yet: with book formats I talk about e-books, print books and audio books, but generally see them as equal. I can see why some book champions would want to take it a step further.
It got me thinking though - are they all really equal? In the discussion around the Pbooks/Abooks article, there was a mention of how consumers see e-books as secondary because they are more ephemeral. Actually, those consumers aren't wrong, there are ways in which e-books can be more ephemeral – not because an e-book is less tangible, but in terms of DRM. Tales of e-books disappearing from Kindles when on holiday in a region where it isn’t allowed and other regional restrictions; inability to buy e-books when on holiday; books being removed from your Kindle by Amazon; your account and books being deleted with no way to defend yourself; being unable to pass on e-books; confusing format restrictions; these kind of things contribute to the feeling of them being somehow more fragile/ghostly/ephemeral. And there’s a lot of truth to that. In the digital music arena whole swathes of music just disappeared when formats stopped being supported (Sony was one culprit here; DRM is still an issue). Thanks to DRM, many people’s first impressions of digital media were coloured by the problems, which inevitably then made them look second class, especially when the price was the same despite you not being able to pass it on when you’ve finished, and knowing that the distribution costs were zero so the publisher/seller was making more profit from a sometimes lesser product. Hence where the prejudice against e-books came from in many consumers’ eyes.
Where does all that pondering leave my views? I can clarify them now. All book formats are equal, unless there is DRM added - in which case that is an inferior product. So an e-book without DRM is equal to a print book. But an e-book with DRM is inferior to a print book.
Of course, if you don't care about DRM, you won't make this distinction. Though I imagine people only dismiss DRM up until the point when it causes problems. If this topic interests you I've written quite a bit about it in the past, here are some of my key posts (from the full list):
- Why I hate DRM - I want to play Ghostbusters! (Nov 2013)
- Last bits of DRM ranting for a while (Nov 2013)
- Some blog posts worth reading (Aug 2012)
- E-book lending and libraries (May 2012)
- "Would you like your e-books with or without DRM, Sir?" Piracy, profit, publishers, progress and paranoia (Jan 2012)
- DRM part two (Mar 2011)
- DRM will kill us all (Mar 2011)
So, how do you refer to print books, e-books and audio books? Do you like the pbooks/ebooks/abooks idea? Are all book formats equal? Any thoughts on DRM? Have you ever run into the problems I mentioned above?