E-reading Aggravations

E-reading Aggravations

Last week I went into detail about why e-reading works for me. However, not every aspect of e-reading works for me. There are a number of inherent problems with digital reading that frustrate me to no end, and I don’t think I’m alone.

A book mark would be better! (LOC)

Platform Lock-in/DRM

This is probably the most frustrating thing for a many readers. That committing to an e-reader means that you’re likely committing to a specific vendor for your book purchases. Now, there are ways around this (which usually violate your terms of service), and people who own some of the devices that use epub format can buy from alternate vendors. However, in large part, people are locked in. We have several Kindles in our house, for example. Because I would have to violate my terms of service to move my ebook library to another platform, I’m essentially locked into the Amazon environment. Nook users face the same problem—if they wanted to move to Kindle, they couldn’t take their libraries with them. Functionally, this doesn’t really impact me, because I rarely re-read, but the principle of it really aggravates me. I still haven’t seen data that makes the case that DRM actually prevents piracy, so all it’s doing now is keeping consumers from being able to choose from a multitude of ebook vendors. (Part of me also wonders if DRM prevents specialty ebook vendors from cropping up, but that’s simply speculation on my part, because I haven’t seen data on that issue.)

You Don’t Own Your Ebooks

Yep, you just own a license to view content (and on some platforms, the license restricts you even further to a specific device). I get the why behind this thinking: if consumer own their ebooks, that means they can resell them, but because electronic files are easily duplicated, someone could buy a book for $10 and resell the same file over and over again. But, again, there’s something about it that doesn’t sit with me. 

A Multitude of Formatting Problems

Now, this isn’t the exclusive domain of ebooks—I’ve had loads of print books with weird formatting issues. However, I have experienced some of the strangest formatting problems with ebooks, particularly non-fiction. My “favorite” was one that had the center third of the book centered and italicized. A tip: if you encounter any formatting weirdness, and you’re an Amazon customer, they will refund your money. (I have been told BN does not offer this same courtesy for Nook books.) I’ve also encounter overly large indents, odd page breaks and random hard returns between paragraphs. If this bothers you, and you like all of your books to be formatted consistently, there are some tools out there that will allow you to re-format your ebooks. Again, though, this is a violation of your terms of service.  

Omitted Covers

Seriously, publishers. If I bought a book at a bookstore with no cover, that would be a huge problem, and yet certain publishers consistently omit the cover file from their ebooks. This is straight-up lazy. Since I use Calibre to keep my ebooks organized, and covers are a key way to identify books, this is extremely problematic. 

Poor Graphics Conversations

This isn’t so much of a problem with fiction, since there generally aren’t a lot of graphics. However, in non-fiction, this can be infuriating. Sometimes I’ll buy a digital version of a book on design or communications, more for portability’s sake (which I keep on my Kindle Fire, because they’re more reference books than “reading” books), and oftentimes, the graphics files will be locked down so they can’t be zoomed or so low resolution that they are difficult to read. My assumption is that this decision is made to prevent the graphics from being extracted from the digital file. However, this renders signficant portions of the book unusable. It’s fascinating that somewhere along the line, a decision was made by some publishers (because I see it consistently—just like the omitted cover thing—among specific imprints or publishers) that it made more sense to make parts of their ebooks essentially inaccessible to readers. 

Publishers at Odds with Libraries

This. 

This.

And this.

Come on, there’s got to be a way publishers can work with libraries to provide digital content that’s a win for everyone. I have discovered many, many of my now-favorite authors thanks to my library’s ebook collection—which has lead to these authors becoming auto-buys for me. Unfortunately, that collection is dwindling, thanks to the restrictive decisions above. Now, I make a point of purchasing books from publishers that work with libraries to provide digital content, because I think it’s that important. 

Limited E-Ink Hardware Options

This sounds whiny, but the current crop of e-ink dedicated ereaders (as opposed to back-lit tablets) is pretty uninspiring. All touch interfaces are really the thing these days, and I hate touching the screen to turn pages. Right now, I’m using an older Kindle keyboard (like this) since my second generation Kindle broke due to a silly incident involving a television remote control. However, I’d rather have something akin to the Nook Glowlight, but with the capability of storing notes as a text file like the Kindles do. Obviously, ereader-sized tablets are what consumers demand, because they like multi-pupose devices, but for voracious readers, the current crop of e-ink e-reader disappoint.

Delayed EBook Releases

I’ve talked about this already. But it’s disrespectful to readers to delay ebook releases. I get why they do it, but it’s just not okay. 

Baffling Pricing

I’ve said it a million times, I just don’t get how ebook prices are set. I’m not one of those folks who thinks that ebooks should be priced super-low (because there’s a lot of work that goes into creating a book regardless of whether or not it’s printed), but the inconsistency really confuses me. I assume publishers are following the variable pricing concept (just look at the price on J.K. Rowling’s latest), and that’s a system I hate, because as a consumer, it makes me feel yucky, like I’m being squeezed for as much as they can get out of me, not based on the product’s actual value. Last year, I had a conversation with someone who’s worked in the retail sector for a long time, and this person argued that ebooks and print books should be priced identically, because they are essentially the same product, and I hear that. However, my feeling is that ebooks should be priced somewhat below print, because the consumer has so few rights related to digital books, as opposed to print books which can be resold and loaned an unrestricted number of times.  

The most frustrating thing about most of these things is that there are simple, workable solutions, but there’s no impetus for anyone to make these changes. Someone in the book industry told me that, for the most part, publishers don’t see readers as their customers, they see retailers as their customers. Thinking of it that way, it makes sense that publishers haven’t been more proactive in making the e-reading and ebook buying experience more consumer-friendly. But I suspect that readers are more savvy than they get credit for and judging from tags and comments on retailer sites such as Amazon, it’s apparent that ebook consumers notice these issues. 

If you’re a digital reader, do these things bother you?

If you’re not, have these issues kept you from making the leap to ebooks?

Image Credit: Library of Congress/Flickr Commons

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