Illustration: Dondy Razon
A conversation about e-books overheard on a patio:
“My wife can’t do without it – she was reluctant at first, but now she always has it with her. It’s perfect because she likes to read several books at the same time. The only problem with the e-book is…” [I leaned in a little closer] “you can’t pass it on! And my wife always lends out her books!”
In just four sentences, my patio neighbour summarized all the potential and limitations of a digital book. I was onboard with the expert arguments on its readability, on the future of new hybrid devices, on eye fatigue, on what the object symbolizes or on its use in a school environment. And yet there, without warning, was the proof: you can’t share an e-book. And backing this proof was all the social function of cultural products in general, of the book in particular. What’s the value of a book that I can’t lend to my friends in the hopes of starting a great literary discussion, or simply for the pleasure of discovering and enjoying a new book or author? What’s more, a book is even easier to lend because once read, we can do without it.
You’d have to create and establish a digital rights management (DRM) system where you could not only own an e-book, but could also exchange it in order to mimic its uses in the physical world. You should be able to resell an intangible textbook or to lend a good book (to one individual, of course) without having to worry about different e-book or tablet formats.
Continuing to block a novel or an attempt in a machine will either lead to the failure of e-book for the masses or to pirating. It’s counter-productive. The more a book circulates, the more it is read, and the more it is finally purchased once it must be returned to its owner! For libraries, e-lending would also be a great way to have more titles, without affecting copyright. With unlimited storage space, more-demanding works would undoubtedly increase.
So come on editors, booksellers, librarians, Apple, Amazon and Sony: let’s be utopian, for once. Get together and invent a simple, common, universal system where we’d just have to shake our respective devices beside each other in order to share a book and the right to read it. Contrary to first impressions, everyone would win.
Read more from Jean Pascal at A Nos Vies Numériques.