Australian e-book advocacy site e-book.com.au has announced it will close down at the end of June, 2015. Although we have only mentioned the site a couple of times on TeleRead as nearly as I can tell, the site has been in existence since 2001—a year longer than TeleRead—and has covered e-books and e-book advocacy from an Australian perspective during that time, as well as providing links to free e-book resources. [Thanks to Chris for this wonderful piece of e-book history! Just to clarify one detail, TeleRead predates e-book.com.au by years—see my publisher’s note below with documenting links. – D.R.] Site founder Bruce Preston explains that he can no longer afford to operate the site, and wants to move on to other things.
The closure announcement also includes a lengthy interview with Preston, who discusses his long career in e-book advocacy. (Really, he kind of reminds me of an Australian David Rothman.) As early as 1992, Preston had come up with the idea for a hand-held stand-alone e-reader that he called a “C-Book,” but had been unable to get it off the ground in his native Australia, or stir much interest in California. He was surprised and delighted a few years later when Nuvomedia came out with the Rocket eBook, which was very similar to his C-Book idea, but disappointed when Gemstar bought Nuvomedia and Softbook and proceeded to run them into the ground.
Preston notes that his greatest surprise about e-books is that people were willing to read them on devices the size of a mobile phone. I was a little surprised he was so surprised, given that even back in the era of the Rocket, e-books were much more popular on multi-purpose devices like the Palm Pilot, which were the same size as the later smartphones only with not as good screens. He expresses his disappointment with the industry’s widespread use of DRM, while acknowledging that creators do have valid concerns about having their work ripped off by pirates.
Preston still has a vision for the future of e-books, a way to eliminate piracy and incompatibilities between the different platforms:
BP: Well, first a lingua franca or electronic Rosetta Stone, by which I mean an advanced format of something beyond ePub. Something that every e-book for sale will be either issued in or can be converted into or from quite readily. Second, a neutral third party mechanism, paid for by say a tiny tax of a cent or so on each book that goes through it. No company or country owns it or can control it, a bit like say the ICANN mechanism, it’s constituted but independent and available to everyone. And, I’d expect, in fact we we should demand, that every major player in the e-book world support it as a kind of international clearinghouse for digital books. Attention Jeff, that includes you. So, you could buy an e-book from anywhere and it will read on your device with your software, because the third party channel sends it to you and if necessary converts it for you. And also legitimises it in relation to that particular device, the copy is serial numbered as it were, each copy for each particular device that your purchase covers. It also makes it not able to be copied. So, any book copy, of a book that’s originally for sale, if it hasn’t been through the third party public mechanism, then that won’t read at all, so there’s an end to piracy.
It would also allow for resale of e-books, since each copy would have a unique serial number.
It’s an interesting idea, though it probably wouldn’t work in the real world. The major e-book players would never submit to such a thing without being forced into it, and given how hard it’s been just to get Amazon to start collecting sales tax, that kind of force is probably not available. It would also make it harder for people to create their own e-books. Plus, it would still require a form of DRM to enforce the serial numbers and lock out “unauthorized” copies—and such DRM could and would be cracked. Still, at least he’s put some thought into it.
There are very few e-book sites still in operation from the early 2000s, and it will be sad to see another one go—especially one run by such a long-time e-book advocate. Here’s wishing Bruce Preston the best of luck in all his future endeavors.
Publisher’s note: Yes, best wishes to Bruce Preston! Just for the historical record, TeleRead goes back to the 1990s. Here’s a link to a Wayback Machine version of TeleRead.org from 1998, though it’s not the whole story. The TeleRead.org domain was created in May 1997. Before that, TeleRead existed with updates on the old Clark.net without a separate domain. It’s easy to understand why even a conscientious writer like Chris would think in terms of the 2000s. The Blogger and WordPress incarnations of TeleRead didn’t happen until then, and while the old files not created through a content management system are available through the Wayback Machine, they are no longer on the site itself. As for TeleRead.com, the present address, I registered the domain in 2002 but continued to play up the .org. After NAPCO took over TeleRead—I now own it again—the site began using .com as the main address. – D.R.