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What if a book is just a URL?

A software company and an Australian bookstore are experimenting with books in the cloud.

bookish.jpgThe 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.

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Comments: 16

  1. “You don’t own your books in the traditional sense — you own the rights to access them.”

    If that’s right — there’s some reasons to think it’s not — the cloud didn’t do that. DRM did that.

  2. You own access to them … until those companies go belly up.

  3. A “vital aspect of ownership” is, you know, actually *owning* something. Will my purchase give me rights in perpetuity? Will those rights mean anything when (not if) the vendor goes out of business, or is purchased by another company? Will my purchase give me the ability and the legal right to export a non-DRM-encumbered copy of the book?

    I’m all in favor of improved access, which the cloud helps to enable… but clouds evaporate and blow away.

  4. In the abstract, I can see the attraction of this model in some contexts for some publishers and some readers. That said, an absence of connectivity or a provider’s business failure would instantly make a reader’s purchased book disappear, temporarily or permanently.

    This network dependency and long-term fragility would seriously dissuade me from paying for a book-as-URL. When I “buy” a book, I want to own it as a non-DRM’ed digital file or ink on paper, on my own (local or cloud) storage (drive/card/shelf…), for permanent offline access. One reader’s opinion!

  5. If I don’t own the book, then I wouldn’t be willing to pay a lot to read it. Think movie rentals versus buying the DVD. So publishers shouldn’t expect me to pay hardcover prices for rented content.

  6. Something like this might be viable, but only if the cost takes into account the vast gulf between “buying” a book from a publisher and merely having access to the contents of a book for as long as the “publisher” cares to provide it (voluntarily or otherwise).

    If Amazon’s experience in pricing (or letting publishers set prices) e-books is any indication, that gulf will not be reflected very well at all.

  7. A URL can come and go. A user doesn’t have any control because they’re not hosting the URL itself. Therefore, as a consumer, I’m not sure if this concept works for me. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  8. I do not like the feeling of buying a book, even an ebook, and then not having it on MY cloud. I am ok buying books on the cloud, but I do not want any corporate action to alter my future access to the book.

  9. It’s Booki.sh and not Book.ish.

  10. This is definitely an issue that needs some thought. If I only own the rights to access the book, and not the book itself, I don’t think I’d be willing to pay the same price. That’s the big different IMO between ebooks and real books – I can check out a book from the library, decide if I like it, and if I want to I can go buy it. Once I buy it, I own it and what I choose to do with it after that is my choice. I don’t have to worry about a publisher going under or stripping away my access to the book.

  11. I enjoy reading ebooks I have acces to on my devices. While the cloud idea is compelling for bookmark and syncing purposes, I have to say the DRM and rented/payed access concerns me. My wife just “rented” a cloud based text book that was still 60% the price of the hard copy. This is an abuse of the ebook model. Can you imagine if Amazon could get away with renting a book for the price they sell the eversion and only for 180 days. To me the cloud model only offers a way for publishers to administer more control. I am not sold yet. Let me buy s well as download. Like @ ajeet said let me use “MY” cloud using dropbox or server.

  12. If I have to be connected to read a “book”, that’s also going to be a problem at times.

  13. While I do think that Booki.sh is a great concept, I still prefer reading a paper-based book. It just feels better and is not as big a strain on my eyes.

  14. Hum… I can I explain what I think. It’s the dumbest idea ever.

    “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.”


  15. Dick C. Flatline

    “The Cloud”. Uh-huh.

    More yuppie buzzword drivel for monetizing stupidity.

  16. Great, but may be a bit difficult to grab yourself a catchy domain from the way domain names are snapped up these days.

    This is a slightly different approach to dealing with the DRM vs ownership issue. But it really shouldn’t be the case, it’s possible build kindle so that a transfer of licenses is possible. It would not be difficult to implement at all. When a ebook is transferred over it ceases to work on the sellers reader.

    This may be an inevitable fate for kindle because I beleive a lot of readers are hesitant about adopting kindle wholesale because of the lack of transferable license options.

    Case in point, the video games market. It’s often cheaper and quicker to get an electronic license and download from steam, but gamnes players still prefer to obtain the physical copy as it gives them some resale value in the game