There are two books we’ll be reading next in my book club that are only partially available in e-formats. I resisted e-readers for a long time, and once I finally got one I realized that had been a very stupid stance, because these things are the best things ever! They’re small, light, and incredibly convenient. You can read places you could never read before. I do almost all my reading on my e-reader now. But there is a problem.
The e-format of these two books is exclusive to Kindle. I have no problems with Amazon, per se. I’m happy to give them my money, and I’d buy ebooks from them. But their ebooks are all encumbered with DRM to make them readable on a Kindle only, and my e-reader is not a Kindle. “Excuse me”, I say. “If I’m buying this media, you can get fucked if you think you’ll be telling me what brand of media-player I have to use to read/listen/watch it.” Fortunately it’s extremely easy to crack the files and import them into a non-Kindle e-reader, so I go about doing that. Then I realize this will take 20 minutes of my life from me, and there are DOZENS of “pirate” sites out there which have done the work for me already. In a few seconds I can “illegally” access the works I have legally purchased and save myself that time.
Furthermore, if I do that, I’ll be rewarding Amazon for putting DRM on their ebooks. Why they hell am I giving them money to continue this detestable practice? This is a textbook example of a perverse incentive.
I want to support the author I’m reading, I can’t in good conscience steal his work just because Amazon is vile. I used to think I should pay the author directly for their works, but Charles Stross has pointed out that a lot of work is done by the publishing company, and giving him money directly would be stealing from them (which is why he doesn’t have a Tip Jar on his site). His advice? Buy a paper copy!
So I do that. But now I have an e-copy I will actually read… and a paper copy which I don’t know what to do with. I don’t want to simply throw it away unopened, that seems wasteful. What did I kill that tree for? At first I figure I’ll donate it to a library, but then I realize that doing so will simply replace the copy of the book that the library would have bought! I might as well simply have not bought a book at all and just pirated one, it would’ve had the same net effect! How is it that a damnable online bookseller can make doing the right thing so damned hard?
Initially I had decided to give the book to someone who I knew wouldn’t have bought it, and thus not displaced any sales. However before posting this I figured getting expert advice on the situation couldn’t hurt, so I asked Paolo Bacigalupi what he thought. He’s of the opinion that if you’ve purchased a legal copy, then donating it to a public library is not only acceptable, but commendable. If no one needs the spare copy to read, I’ll be doing that instead. I’m happy with the final decision, but I gotta say, the whole situation is a bit ridiculous.