Stallman vs Amazon Kindle: Are eBooks Bad?

The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle.  In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen.  The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously.  The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth.  There are always problems with innovations.  For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.

That is, at least, the impression I was under.  A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal.  His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books.  Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing.  He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.

From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy.  I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth.  I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life.  His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions.  This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.

A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling.  Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies.  Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company.  A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books.  Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them.  Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor?  I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.

Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will.  Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive?  Yes.  No Question.  Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them?  I sincerely hope not.  It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.

Kindle Edition of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen Jumps in Popularity on Oprah Endorsement

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a member of Oprah’s Book Club. It has been hovering around 30-40 position of Paid Kindle bestsellers for quite some time now. Yesterday however it was mentioned on the Oprah show once again and overnight it skyrocketed from 39th to 6th place on the bestseller list. People just watched the show and immediately went to press the buy button on  Kindle Kindle devices to find out what all the buzz is about. You can too – by reading our review of the book that was just posted yesterday.

Kindle Edition of Freedom (Oprah’s Book Club)

Jonathan Franzenв_Ts Freedom is a member of Oprahв_Ts Book Club and is available on the Kindle and Kindle DX.В  Check out the Oprah show today, December 6, to hear Oprahв_Ts discussion of Freedom with Jonathan Franzen.В  Oprah calls this book a в__masterpiece.в__В  The reviews of Freedom are all over the board with a healthy mix of praise and criticism.

BrianB does a good job in summarizing the novel:

в__This is a big, rambling tale of modern Americans in their modern lives, people who reminded me of real people, a plot which kept me turning the pages of this compulsively readable, mostly entertaining novel. The tone is slightly condescending, as the quote above my review would suggest, mostly cynical, and ultimately hopeful by the end of the story, when his battered, bruised and bruising characters emerge from the wreckage of their lives, and bravely carry on.в__

Does Freedom measure up to Franzenв_Ts 2001 hit Corrections?В  Some say yes, others say no way.В  The plot contains all of the popular elements such as politics, sex and a portrayal of modern society.В  It goes to show that even the most stable, American Family can have major issues.В  Walter and Patty Berglund live in St. Paul, Minnesota with their teenage son Joey.

Walter gets caught up into extreme environmentalist activities, while his liberal wife Patty fights a political war with her right wing neighbors.В  Joey is in love with the neighborsв_T daughter, and then there is a love triangle going on between Walter, Patty and Walterв_Ts best friend Richard.В  Nothing like a love triangle to stir up even the most stable of marriages.

Freedom does a thorough job of exploring Pattyв_Ts past, including her failed basketball career and a sexual assault.В  These experience come back to haunt her and she battles depression and writes her autobiography.В  Meanwhile, Walter gets involved with a fight to save a West Virginia mountaintop from destruction by a coal company.В  Interesting that he would get so involved with something in West Virginia, when he lives in Minnesota.

As reviewer, James MacDonald в__Jim Macв__ puts it, “Hey you 77 million baby boomers – stop feeling sorry for yourselves and get off your buts. Sure mistakes were made and you made a few! Turn off your flat screens and reach out positively and stop the vindictiveness we see Americans embracing. We all make mistakes. Get real. Reach out. There is a “there there” but only if you reach out!!”

Some critics call Freedom boring and unrealistic.В  You gotta remember though, that it is a work of fiction.В  The events of the plot are a little outrageous, but is still able to relate to the readers.

So, tune into the Oprah show for the interview with Franzen and tell us what you think.