Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Tried to Buy an eBook...

by Raelene Gorlinsky

...and it was an incredibly frustrating experience.

Keep in mind that I work for an e-publisher, I regularly read books in digital format, and I have bought lots of ebooks previously. If this week's effort was so difficult for me, no wonder people new to ebooks get turned off or don't understand. How many potential ebook readers do we lose because they can't figure out how to get the damn book?

After going through two days of nonsense at two very well-known ebooks sales websites (one of them the largest third-party ebook vendor), it occurs to me that in past I have always bought direct from e-publisher sites. Not just our own, but a number of other e-pubs. And I've never had any problems with making the purchase and downloading the book and being able to open it to read. So why would an ebook vendor site have so much less grasp on how to make the experience clear and uncomplicated for readers? They should be as experienced at this as the e-publishers, understand what their customers want and how to make it simple for them to spend money and want to come back later and spend more money.

Okay, it was easy enough to get on either site and search for the title. Then I discovered that it is only available in three digital formats - none of them the formats I prefer. None of them the most popular formats, that work on multiple devices and don't require limitations on viewing format and usability. Well, okay, I told myself I could work with another format if necessary, although not my preference.

Kudos to the smaller of the two sites for having a good chart explaining the various formats, what devices they did or did not work with, and other important usability information. Boos to big-vendor site for making such information difficult to find and incomplete.

So, which format to choose?

Format #1 was definitely out - it is encrypted with a key based on your credit card number. What, I'd have to remember which card I used to buy each ebook?

Formats #2 and #3, although less desirable than the format I wanted, seemed like they would work for me. The reader software for most formats is a free download, and in fact I already have most of them on my laptop. So I'd tried to buy - and got walked through a maze of screens about having to download and register the software, but not being able to do that because I already had it downloaded. And neither site would let me read the downloaded book without registering the free software. Huh? I previously downloaded the reader programs direct from the software manufacturers, and they don't require registration. After much research and more tedious mazes, I found out on smaller-site that I can manually register my device PID. But why would I want to and why do I have to?

Oh, and I have two laptops and want to be able to load and read ebooks from either or both. Without having to buy two copies. The vendor sites were very obscure about how to do this, since I can't make copies of the downloaded book file or email it. Which leads to...

A word on DRM: Put me firmly in the anti-DRM camp. As far as I'm concerned, it does nothing to stop ebook pirates, who have no problem getting around the "protection". It merely aggravates readers and discourages them from buying ebooks. Both vendor sites warned me that the book is DRM-protected to the point where I can't copy, move, or print it. Yes, I read and love ebooks, but sometimes I want print. My laptop and I have an intimate relationship 14 hours a day; occasionally I want to read from paper. I read myself to sleep at night, and laptops or ereaders are not comfortable companions under the covers. Paper doesn't hurt me or itself when it falls from my drifting-to-sleep hands.

And it went on and on like this - annoying and frustrating roadblocks to just handing over my money for a book to read. Yes, I could have kept going and probably worked around the problems, but why should I have to? And would a less-ebook-experienced person be able to or even be willing to try?

Oh, yes, I did then go to the webstore of the book publisher (traditional NY print publisher) -- same problems.

I still don't own the book. I really, really want this book, and it's not available in print. My next step is to email the author and beg. I doubt it will get me the book I want in the format I want, but it can't hurt to try. I'm not about to subject myself to any further frustration in trying to buy the thing online.

And I'll stick to buying direct from e-publisher sites from now on, thank you.


peppr2 said...

I, too, stick mostly to epubs now. I tried a few of the retailers and it's just not worth the hassle. As an epublisher, is EC in anyway involved in the format/DRM discussions? I feel like if it is left to the retailers, readers needs will not exactly be a top priority.

Can I go off topic here to ask, does anyone have a decent way of cataloging their ebooks? I've heard great things about Calibre, but for some reason half my books come up with no data or are not readable because they are DRM protected - even books purchased at EC. I know they're not really DRM'd, but apparently just enough too keep this program from being able to read the meta-data to fill in the author/publisher/title etc and to open the files. I had such high hopes. Sorry for the off-topic question, but I now have so many (mostly EC) ebooks and no way to organize them besides spending hours filling the data in by hand. :( Which I will probably end up doing because it looks like a great library once it's set up. I think this sorta-DRM is also why I can't read some titles on my iphone. Ok, stopping now, sorry!

Anny Cook said...

Don't know if this will help you, but way back when I started shuffling my books into individual folders for each author. All author folders are in my "library" folder. It makes it very easy to find just the book I want, when I want it.

Tina said...

pepper2 - I have about 30 books such as you are talking about from EC. Apparently the older novels are still encrypted (although not DRM). I can only read them on my Kindle or on a PC with Mobipocket (which is frustrating since I have a Mac and Mobipocket doesn't work on a Mac). You can still include them in Calibre and edit the information, but it won't save the information to the file so when you upload to an ereader the information is still missing.

I organize the books in folders by authors (all formats in the same folder) and I also use a database to keep track of what books I have and whatever information I want to know about it (series, etc).