Now that Amazon has unblocked a Norwegian reader’s Kindle account after, without reason or warning, locking down her Kindle, I think we’re at a point when we need to start taking back our digital property. We literally have about a decade before printed books are gone – and I’m giving us a good long time to destroy what Gutenberg hath wrought – and soon digital content will be the norm. That’s why it’s scary to think that, with an arbitrary keystroke, publishers will be able to delete our digital libraries in a second.
I doubt, quite sincerely, that Amazon and B&N will truly begin using their orbital nuke system on many users. They simply can’t afford the bad will. However, the problem is in the publishers. Rights management is such a mess – especially in Europe – that it is no wonder these issues come mostly from cross-border rights disputes.
So what’s next? Besides wholesale piracy of ebooks, honest ebook owners need to ready themselves for a bit of self-preservation.
First, be prepared to strip DRM from your ebooks. Charlie Sorrel has a good introductory lesson at Wired but in short you use Calibre and some DRM software. The process is fairly frustrating, but if you’re serious about maintaining your freedom it’s important to at least learn how to do it.
Second, back up your reader. Most readers allow you to connect your device to a computer where it appears as a drive. You can easily move the files there – usually AZW files for Kindle devices and ePub for iBooks and Nook devices – from the device to a local folder in case your Kindle is broken or shut down. Drag these files out to a backup drive and keep them safe. They are, in short, evidence that you bought some books.
Third, vote with your wallet. Support indie writers. Pick up a DRM free Indie bundle. Pay for books by unknown writers, even if it’s a few dollars. We are entering an era of potentially uncurated writing. Focus on writers you like and pay for their work online. Support DRM-free bookstores. If we want to recreate the free and easy world of second-hand bookstores digitally, this is ultimately the only way to do it – through experimentation and respect for craft.
There will be a day – and it’s not far off – that the ebook will be the de facto standard. There will always be paperbacks and hardbacks. There will always be a deep legacy in the printed word. But the next big author will be an ebook author and a decade from now, few will remember or even understand how we once lugged around thick shanks of paper just to enjoy a bestseller.