The idea of access versus ownership is coming to the forefront quickly in the book publishing world. Inventive Labs recently launched the beta site for their HTML5 Booki.sh ereader. All you need to use Booki.sh is a web browser — you sign in and read your books. There’s no software or files to download, just complete no-muss no-fuss access to your books. You don’t own your books in the traditional sense — you own the rights to access them.
Australian indie bookstore Readings is in full experiment mode with the cloud-based pay-for-access concept. On Monday, they launched their ebook store, Readings Ebooks, which works together with Booki.sh.
This cloud model will allow for lending, and it opens the possibility of resale for ebooks. In a recent post, Joseph Pearson (@josephpearson), one of the minds behind Book.ish, argued that cloud access is a better ownership model:
…if you “own” the ebook file, locked up with DRM — that’s actually the most anemic definition of “ownership” I can think of. I don’t see how — short of hacking it — that file is any insurance of your continued access to the book if you’ve purchased it from any of the major ebook platforms.
If we ditch that bad idea, new and perhaps better models of ownership can begin to supplant it. If a book is a URL, it is fantastically easy for you to lend a book to a friend: you simply give up access to the URL while they have it. That seems to me like a vital aspect of ownership, and an incredibly problematic aspect with files. More significantly, the right to re-sell your ebook emerges as a possibility — because you can transfer your right of access to another individual.
It will be interesting to watch the response not only from consumers, but publishers as well.