Information wants to be free: a corollary thought on closed ecosystems

Musings from the shower this morning.

We have heard (and often discussed) the phrase “information wants to be free” which goes with “information wants to be expensive.”

The more I play with my Nook and look at the struggle of moving ebook files about, even when I own them and have the right to do so, the more I think about the corollary to this notion:

Information wants to be seamless; information wants to be protected/locked down.

Here’s what I want as a consumer: a seamless way to download books onto my Nook. Preferably without having to download files onto my laptop first.

This is, of course, entirely possible. All I have to do is purchase an ebook from the B&N closed sales system designed for my device. The more protected something is within an ecosystem, the more seamless the access to it for those who are willing to pay for it. (Access to what you bought, at least until your account gets borked, or the corporation decides to remove access because of a publisher dispute or something, is guaranteed.)

What works really well on an iPad? Itunes. Buying Kindle books is hella easy, as is buying Nook ebooks from Barnes & Noble. Pay. Download. Done. 3 steps.

Which I…don’t do very often. Part of it is that, right now, I’ve got plenty to read. I’m reading my Hugo Voter Packet on the Nook, and I’ve downloaded a bunch of public domain classics that I’ve wanted to reread or have been meaning to read for some time. I’ve been offered a few free e-Arcs here and there for review or blurb purposes, as well.

But, as I have noted before, I plan to read a lot of ebooks from my local library, which is not a seamless prospect at the moment. Although apparently Overdrive is working on a way to make browser-based reading ebooks seamless over the web. So there’s that. But to access legally purchased copies of overdrive books from my library, I have to sign in to my library, sign into the shared consortial Overdrive account, find the book I want (assuming they have access to it–many publishers still won’t allow libraries to have ebooks), and then download the book to my laptop and manually transfer it to my Nook. (5 steps).

Yes, I made a choice to work within a specific ecosystem, that of B&N. Mostly as a lesser evil from Amazon, who gets enough of my money as it is (rural area = lack of retail outlets that carry many of the entertainment options I wish to own). An iPad was too expensive for what I need it for, and other Android tablets didn’t really seem worth my while at their price points.

There are things I could do. I could take the time to root my Nook. And every time it crashes, and I have to go back to factory settings, do it again. I could also take the time to install additional storage and sideload a bunch of stuff that I want to have on it. But I haven’t found the time to sit down and use my Nook to the far reaches of its capabilities yet.

What I would really like is recognition that libraries have also paid for the ebooks that they are making available. Yes, as a member of my local public library, I am borrowing ebooks for free for a couple of weeks. Because my library has already paid for them. How is this different than someone in my Nook network lending me a book for the same amount of time?

The argument I’d expect is that libraries do greater volume of lending. Fine. Publishers are desperately trying to find a way to charge libraries more money that they don’t have to make up for that. I understand their point, on both sides. I also understand publisher frustration with the closed ecosystems where they don’t have any control over pricing, sales, or anything else when they don’t control the distribution of their ebooks. Anytime there is a fight between a distributor and a publisher or an exclusive deal, whomever chose the “wrong” ecosystem loses out.

I don’t really have a conclusion here. I guess I’m just grumpy. I’m a small-potatoes consumer of this stuff. I’m not a big fish. My wishes for seamless library ebooks isn’t coming true anytime soon, until we get to the point of having a GIANT POT OF MONEY for libraries to buy and distribute ebooks with.

But hey, now you know what I think about when I’m in the shower.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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