Where did HANDebooks.com come from?
The idea of a handheld electronic book first entered my mind back in the early 90's. I was riding with a friend to a graduate computer science course when I thought of it. To the best of my knowledge at the time it hadn't been done yet, so it went into my idea book where I outlined the plans on how one could be done. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am an idea man, but my follow through sucks. About a year later one of the guys I worked with brought me a clipping he had found about a company developing almost exactly what I had thought of doing. I believe my original idea had involved two LCD screens, one for each page and this one only had one. Anyway, it was being done and as usual I wasn't the one doing it.
Fast forward to about 10 years later. I am so behind the times now it isn't even funny. I have wanted a handheld computer for years, but they seemed way over priced. Then in the fall of 2001 the prices started dropping like crazy. So, I got one. I loaded it up with all kinds of cool programs and games and stuff. But what really caught my attention on it? What did I spend the most time doing with it? Reading! Now it is almost a decade since I had my idea of an ebook, and a handheld organizer isn't even really designed for that purpose, but I love reading books on it. It is now its major function. But ebooks still seem to be a novelty for some reason. I didn't understand it. It didn't make any sense to me. When I first thought of an ebook in the early 90's, I thought that one day you wouldn't get books any other way. The internet was just really catching on then and I thought, maybe one day everyone will be connected to it and you will just get your books from there. So what was stopping it? This is what I have came up with....
#1 Cost of a reading device. Not as many people have handheld computers as I had thought. Why? Well there are several reasons. At the top of the list I think is that until recently you couldn't get one for less than $300 or $400. Now you can get them for under $100 and you can get a pretty nice one for less than $200. So I think this is one big reason that will soon be going away.
#2 Exposure. If you don't have a device that can read ebooks, you may not even be aware they are available. I mean sure it is obvious you could read a book on your home computer, but it kind of defeats the idea of curling up with a good book or being able to read in a waiting room or curled up on the couch.
#3 Familiarity - In talking with people I know that love to read, many were no where near as enthusiastic about the idea of having to read a book on a little electronic screen as I was. Don't knock it till you try it I say. But it is a fact that people who like to curl up with a good book are familiar with the old paper book and they are comfortable with it. Switching them to something new won't be easy.
#4 Confusion - Even if you have a device that can read ebooks and you are open to the idea, there doesn't seem to be any standard format. Just for the Palm there are at least half a dozen different readers and formats. If you are going to buy an ebook online, you need to make sure you are getting the right format. If you have a document that you want to read on your portable reading device then you need to be able to convert it to the right format first and you need to know what that format is, where to get a converter and how to do the conversion. There may be some work involved too to format it in the way you like to read it. Despite the open ebook standard that has been defined, I don't see this as a problem that will be going away soon.
#5 Copy protection - Some authors seem to believe, as did musicians, and as did the software industry and as did the movie industry, that there is some way they can prevent their intellectual property from being freely distributed over the internet in digital form. While legally this may be a possibility, physically it is impossible without violating people's basic right to privacy. While they can shut down a system like napster which has a central location other peer to peer distribution systems will not be as easily thwarted. To control these, basically every bit of every byte of data transmitted from anyone, to anyone would need to be monitored. Then there is email or local file sharing between individuals. Basically it would eventually come down to the equivalent of having people read every letter you were sent in the mail to make sure you didn't quote any copyrighted material in any of your correspondence. While both are important, I feel when it comes between a persons right to privacy or a persons right to profit, the right to privacy is always going to win out. Because of this there are all sorts of ways they are trying to protect or encrypt their books. Copy protection and the fear of having their property stolen hinders its transfer to a digital format.
More power to them I say. I mean they are their works by the way and they deserve to profit from them as much as possible. The problem is they are wasting their time. Encryption isn't their problem! Any book can be scanned in with a home computer and a scanner. This is where most of the copyrighted books on the internet came from, not from hacked versions of their electronic books. Many books can be found on the internet before you can even buy them. Also, eventually, any encryption they can come up with will be cracked. This has been proven time and time again and it is usually sooner than later. Once in digital form they can be flung across the net to every corner of the world in seconds. Anyone with a little computer savvy can quickly find them. The purpose of this web site is not to tell you how to do it. In fact I won't do that, but if you are already here reading this you can probably figure it out on your own. I encourage you to buy any book that you want to own, or use your local library for any book that you just want to read. I think the arguments of authors that book piracy will eliminate the motivation of authors to keep writing because people won't have to buy their books anymore is a little exaggerated. People will still buy books and it isn't like everyone who reads their books now paid to do so. If authors had their way they would have a pay per read system and no one would be able to share books they have read with anyone else. Every person would have to buy their own copy. Considering their viewpoint, why has anyone bought a book since Franklin invented the library over 250 years ago? This was long before any author of today ever began writing. No one has to buy their books now. They can read any book they want to for free already and anyone alive today has been able to do this their entire lives. In modern times the library would have never been allowed to exist. Franklin would have been in court and quite possibly sent to jail. The modern day equivalent, an online library, will never exist. If authors could eliminate the precedent Franklin established, I am sure they would.
Certainly anyone trying to resell another persons copyrighted work for profit is opening themselves up to being sued and deservedly so. What all these artists need to do, in my opinion, is focus on how to deal with the inevitability that they are not going to be able to prevent their property from being distributed in digital form. They need to figure out how to provide their work in such a way that there is value to be gotten by getting it through the appropriate methods. I for one am not going to buy an ebook that I can only read on one device for the same price as a regular book. This just seems silly to me. I also can't sell it used to get some of my money back, nor can I loan it or give it to a friend to read unless I sell or give my hand held computer with it. If my spouse or members of my immediate family want to borrow it even, I can't loan it to them, they need to buy their own copy for their handheld. This also doesn't make sense to me. I might pay maybe half what I would pay for a printed book for an ebook with these restrictions, but certainly not the same price. Half would seem like a fair price for everyone. The publisher doesn't have to worry about how many copies to print. There are no printing costs. There are no shipping costs and they can sell directly to the consumer. If the books available through publishers are reasonably priced people will still buy them. Everybody will win. I think if they provided a convenient way to get high quality copies of their books, at a fair price, people would buy them from them for the convenience of not having to find them somewhere else. Instead they will hire more lawyers and join the record industry in their pursuit of litigation and encryption. The only real winners out of it all are the lawyers.
One final note, I wish an author would try something like an online donation system. Just as an experiment mind you. Stephen King's first ebook experiment earned him a lot more than he was expecting. This experiment would be to release a book in a way similar to Open source software. Basically anyone can distribute it without fear of prosecution with the express condition that they can't profit from it and they have to redistribute it in its original completely unaltered form. Then, in the book, put a URL directing people to where they can go and get more books by the author or give the the author a couple of bucks with an online transaction or send the author a check. I know I would contribute.