Gear Diary blogger Douglas Moran has an entertaining and extremely true rant on one of the big problems with the commercial e-book world these days—the proliferation of differing formats, each of which requires its own reader application. On TeleRead, we call this problem the “Tower of E-Babel”, but Moran just calls it extremely irritating.
Moran looks at the old Barnes & Noble e-book reader application, based on Fictionwise’s eReader. All in all, he writes, it was a very good application, and did everything he wanted it to. Then B&N essentially abandoned it in favor of their much-less-functional Nook application, which wastes screen space, lacks the in-app Wikipedia access of the old one, and won’t allow side-loading existing eReader-format books.
He has some harsh words for interface decisions in iBooks, too, such as the way the bookshelf format makes books a bit hard to find.
What’s the solution? Frankly, I want one app that lets me read all my books, no matter what the app. I am sick to death of trying to guess which app is going to be the best one to stick with, and even sicker of trying to remember which app I have a particular book in. I mean, I have 15 readers loaded onto my iPhone right now. 15. That’s ridiculous. I’ve tried to keep the number I actually use down to 3 or 4, but it’s hard. And how do you count them? Does Instapaper count? How about the New York Times iPhone app? The Elements app? Various comic book readers? Zinio? The various “Vooks”? It’s a nightmare.
Of course, he understands the source of the problem: the competing DRM formats that the different e-book stores use to promote customer lock-in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that this problem will be solved any time soon (until and unless it becomes legal to strip DRM and convert your e-books into a single format you can use with just one reader, at least).
It’s such a ridiculous problem, and while it may not be crippling the sales of any particular e-book store, I can’t help feeling that it’s holding the market back, myself. Imagine how it would have affected the print publishing world if you could only put any given publisher’s books in a specific kind of bookshelf.
Hey, publishers, you don’t want Amazon’s Kindle taking over the world? How about concentrating a little less on cross-vendor price parity and a little more on cross-vendor book compatibility? Amazon would lose a lot less of its competitive advantage if you could buy an e-book once and read it anywhere.
And you know what the easiest way to do that would be? Stop using DRM. The DRM that keeps your books from being “stolen” also lets Amazon remain on top of the market, by making sure that readers can’t take Amazon books elsewhere, and can’t bring books from elsewhere to their Kindle.
Of course, that’s probably never going to happen, in the current climate. And so the Tower of E-Babel continues to climb.