As much as I like ebooks, I am not an ebook evangelist. Evangelists think they’ve seen the light and an ability for critical thinking is usually not one of their traits. I love ebooks, but I think they can be compared to that Benz Victoria Vis-a-vis of my great—great-grandfather.
The ebook era has just begun and the technology is still in its infancy. I already talked a bit about the future of ebooks and the EPUBWEB standard that is co-developed by the W3C and the IDPF, but the future depends on more than just this technological standard.
Right now, as a reader, I am dissatisfied with the current state of ebooks. When I look around my house I see lots of bookcases filled to the rim with paper books. A lot of those books I bought second hand during the time I lived in Amsterdam. I dare say that I knew almost all second hand bookshops in Amsterdam. There are more than 100 second hand bookshops in Amsterdam and it was one of my hobbies to visit them all, regularly. In those days, when I was single, and had plenty of time to read, I bought around 4 books a week and read most of them. I also inherited lots of books from my grandparents and several aunts. My home is filled to the top with books and I’m proud of that.
And then I entered the ebook arena. My wife is so happy I did! Every ebook I buy is one less paper book looking for a place to gather dust. I never hear her “Oh, my god, another book! Where will you put it, our house is going to explode!” anymore, since I buy ebooks. That’s one of the benefits of ebooks. And they don’t collect dust either! But here’s the downside. If you compare my home full of bookcases with my digital bookcases there is a disturbing difference. If my digital bookcases where real bookcases I would now have only three different bookcases, one Amazon bookcase, one from Kobo and one from Apple. I’m not supposed to put the Amazon books into the Kobo- or iBooks bookcase, I’m not allowed to resell them, I can’t lend them to my friends, in fact I don’t even own them. And when I die, may it be 1000 books away, my kids won’t inherit my books. With the disappearance of my account my ebooks will be gone. There are tools to break loose from these platform prisons, but it is only a tech savvy minority that knows how to use them.
What I want is an open ebook world with one widely used open standard and open ebook platforms where I can choose to store my books on one platform and when I feel like it, it should be possible to migrate all my books to another platform. I want to own those ebooks, I want to be able to lend them to friends, I want to be able to give them to my kids when I’m gone. I feel that this is not unreasonable and it shouldn’t be too difficult from a technical point of view. I understand that copyright is an issue and authors and publishers want to make a living with books. So somehow we need an open standard and open platforms and an open system of rights management. Not the rights management we know, but a simple user-friendly system to transfer ownership to someone else. And then it hit me, even though I don’t know a lot about Bitcoin, I must admit that, I know enough to wonder if ebooks shouldn’t be more like Bitcoins? Bitbooks? Ebooks that you own, that are unique and can safely be transferred peer-to-peer to someone else. Is that a crazy idea? I’m not sure. The idea is too fresh for me to be able to judge it. But I have the feeling that it could be a technological and economic breakthrough for ebooks if such a technology was created. Every ebook would be unique. It would be your book. You could keep it as long as you want, give it to someone else, sell it to someone else, with or without your comments. Wouldn’t that make ebooks a lot more like paper books? I think so and I think we should explore the possibilities. Ebooks are just getting started. Let’s make them even better and explore wild ideas that could take them to the next level.