Here’s a quick update. I sent Pottermore a question about what format you get when you “buy” a Harry Potter ebook. They responded (very quickly, I might add) that you aren’t buying a format. When you make a purchase it appears in your “My books” list. From the “My books” page you can download the ebook in whatever format you like, up to their limit of 8 downloads.
So you could link your purchase to the Amazon store, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and still download the EPUB file to sideload onto an e-reader using Adobe’s Digital Editions and have only used 4 of your 8 available downloads. That’s pretty cool. I hope other books, authors, and publishers will be able to create similar agreements so that buying content doesn’t tie you to a specific device or store.
This is really good news for consumers. I’d still like to actually own the ebooks I buy, though, when I’m paying for a book I want to keep. DRM or not, I want to be able to do what I want with the copy I bought. That doesn’t include making multiple copies to pass around. But I should be able to loan my copy to a friend without being labeled a pirate.
On the other hand, I don’t want to own every book I read. That’s why I go to the library. I’d be willing to rent an ebook and pay $.99 or $1.99 to have it for 30 or 60 days. That’s not the maximum I would pay, necessarily, but those prices would be an easy sale. I’d get to skip the hold list at the library and hopefully have a longer period of time to read the book. But when I’m done, the file goes away, and I’m not saddled with an ebook I can’t resell or even donate.
Is this crazy-talk?
Today’s library twitterstream is buzzing with the news that the Harry Potter ebooks are now available at Pottermore. Books 1-3 are $7.99 each , and books 4-7 are $9.99 each. Or you can get the whole collection for $57.54. They also have audio books available for download. $29.99 for 1-3 each, and $44.99 for 4-7 each. Or get the whole shebang for $242.94.
While having these available as ebooks is news, the way these downloads work with devices is really interesting. For one, the ebooks don’t have DRM restrictions. Instead of DRM that locks the ebook to a specific retailer’s system, ebooks are “personalized” and watermarked with your name. So if you share your ebook files on the internets, the Pottermore crew can easily track who shared it.
The ebooks are also available in formats compatible with pretty much every available e-reader. Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Android devices, iOS devices: check, check, all of them yes. Audio books are available in MP3 format, so they’re compatible with every device with a headphone jack, as well.
Wait, the ebook you buy at Pottermore works with the Kindle and the Nook? Yes indeed. When you purchase an ebook, you can connect your Pottermore account to your Amazon or Barnes & Noble account. (I’m still hunting down whether you can connect to both with a single purchase.) By connect, I mean the Pottermore site opens a window where you can sign in to your Amazon/B&N account to link accounts. Your Kindle-compatible ebook will then get loaded through Amazon, but the entire purchase process happens at Pottermore. You can see this in action at Pottermore’s YouTube page.
Why would Amazon, and others, do this? Why would they let you purchase an ebook through another store and load it onto your Kindle–something they’ve never done before, according to this article at The Bookseller? With no inside information at all, I’d guess they just want it that bad. Same for Barnes & Noble, Google’s new store called Play. (Pottermore currently doesn’t have an agreement in place with Apple to link to the iBookstore, but the DRM-free file can be added to the iBooks app through iTunes, very easily.)
So you can buy the Harry Potter ebooks in one place and use it on the device of your choosing. And further, you can download the ebook a total of 8 times, in case you lose the file. Pretty nice. Here’s the bad news: you don’t own the ebook. Here are the details, straight from their Terms & Conditions page:
12.1 When you buy a downloadable book from us, what you are buying is the right to use that book in the way we explain below for your own personal, non-commercial use only:
The text describes how you can download content and use it on your e-reader. Under section 12.2 comes the next little nugget.
You may not and may not permit others to do any of the following things in relation to any book or extract:
§sell, distribute, loan, share, give or lend the book or extract to any other person including to your friends (except in the limited circumstances explained at 12.1 above);
You can’t sell it. That’s when you know you don’t own something. Pottermore files don’t have DRM to enforce this. All the same, you’re forbidden from loaning the ebook file to a friend, let alone selling it to a stranger on Craigslist.
If that takes the shine off, visit your local library’s ebook collection on Thursday, when the Harry Potter books should be available to read for free on the e-reader of your choice.
In some ways, this is news like it’s news that Apple is working on an iPad 3 or Google is working on a new version of Android. Of course they’re working on new products; of course companies are working on color e-paper displays. The conversation really gets interesting when there are devices to look at.
Electronic Paper Display
I’m using e-paper as a generic term for display technologies that try to mimic the experience of reading a printed page. Generally this means they rely on natural ambient light instead of using a backlight. But beyond that similarity there are big differences between manufacturers.
E Ink’s Triton display
E Ink is the company that builds the displays in the black & white Kindle, Sony and Nook e-readers, among others. Look at all the devices using E Ink’s screen technologies in this table of e-readers (6″ devices especially). E Ink is practically running the table. This is usually what people mean when they talk about e-ink devices, since it’s what they’ve had direct experience with.
E Ink displays use microcapsules….just watch this video from E Ink that explains how they work (start at the 45-second mark if you just want to see the explanation).The screen flash that happens when you turn a page on a Kindle makes a lot more sense, seeing this. Those microcapsules have to rotate into place to display an image or page of text.
This is true of the display in the Kindle, and it’s true of E Ink’s new Triton color display. Here’s a demonstration on YouTube (skip the first 30 seconds) that shows that familiar flash. Video isn’t coming to displays that use microcapsule technology, but devices that use this tech are on the horizon. The ECTACO jetBook Color is set to ship in January 2012. $500 gets you this color 9.7″ touchscreen E Ink display.
Qualcomm’s Mirasol display
For a different approach, Qualcomm’s Mirasol display uses pixel tech more familiar from the LCD world. Watch their explanatory video here. Qualcomm creates tiny squares (tech folks call them sub-pixels) that reflect light of different colors: red, green, and blue, just like a laptop’s display. They’re so tiny that the combinations of red-blue-green (and black, when not electrified) appear to be a single color to the eye. A set of red, blue, and green sub-pixels is called a pixel.
This technology can refresh what’s on the display more quickly. There’s no flash. Their demo video makes it look more like a tablet, and it is in fact running Android. They boast that it can show 40 frames per second (DVDs show 30 frames per second), but watching a demo of the display being used (start at 1:15). The touchscreen does not look very responsive. It can play video, however (start at about 3:05), so I don’t know if the slow response is related to the display or the processor. Its price is about $300.
Either way, neither the Triton nor the Mirasol displays are iPad-fast by quite a stretch. The quality of their color displays also depend greatly on the ambient lighting conditions. The last Mirasol demo, for example, has a bright window behind the device. That’s just about the worst lighting you could choose, which is why the colors look so washed out.
So color e-paper is coming soon. If these are the technologies available for it, will people want it when it comes? I think it will take more than an illustration or two in a book to overcome the cost and limitations of these displays.