Sing me a book

Some books actually have a very song-like quality.  One of our favorite baby gifts to give is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which would be very difficult to read without feeling a sense of the rhythm.   That’s true for quite a few books: I still think of Shel Silverstein as a musician first, and an author second, although I’d have to guess that Where the Sidewalk Ends   has a bigger pop cultural awareness now than Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball.

Oh, and a warning for parents: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book  is a parody, not intended for children.

Entire books that make good songs are rare, usually intended for children, and more properly considered poetry than songs.

How about songs being turned into books?

Well, there are books of lyrics, but that’s not quite the same thing. 

So, you’ll accept the postulate that songs and books are different, right?  😉

Why am I writing about this in a Kindle/e-book blog?

One of the hot button topics in e-books is DRM (Digital Rights Management).  DRM is code that is inserted into a digital file that is intended to control the use of that file. 

While some people simply think that there shouldn’t be copyright at all, others don’t like DRM because it is used for other things besides enforcing legal rights.  For example, text-to-speech for private use is a non-infringing use, according to the Copyright Office.  DRM can be used that will block that function. 

Similarly, when you buy a Kindle book, would you be within your legal rights to read it on your computer?  Particularly if you weren’t making another copy?  That certainly seems reasonable.

So, it doesn’t just manage rights, but uses.   I suppose they could have called it Digital Use Management, but I don’t think rightsholders would have been happy with that acronym (DUM).  😉 

The whole basic argument about DRM is for another post, but I want to address specifically the idea that the music industry eventually found out that DRM was a bad idea, and that based on that, the e-book industry shouldn’t use it either.

Book use versus song use

Let’s consider the way most people use a fiction book and the way  most people use a pop song.

My sense of it is that most people read a fiction book once, and that’s it.  They might keep it, or give it to a friend or family member, coworker, donate it, or sell it.  Certainly, some people re-read books.  No question, non-fiction/reference books have a different use pattern.

So, how often do you re-read books?

On the other hand, I think most people listen to a song several times.  It seems weird that someone would buy a song, listen to it once, and then never listen to it again.  It might be an unfair comparison: perhaps we should be comparing books to albums.  In the digital age, though, many people buy individual songs.

How often to you “re-listen” to a song?

This, then, is one clear-cut difference between the music industry and the publishing industry.   If people tend to read a novel once, it is much worse for the prospects that they will buy it for them to have access to it than it is if someone hears a song.  

That means that the publishing industry can’t just “learn a lesson” from the music industry…they are, after all, studying different subjects.  🙂

Hearing a song for free increases, I think, the odds that you will buy it.  Reading a book for free (whether from the library or borrowed from a friend) decreases the odds you will buy it.

There’s another major significant difference between what the music industry experienced with Digital Rights Management and what the e-book industry is experiencing.    When digital music first became popular, about ten years ago, there weren’t easy legal outlets to get the music.  While I don’t agree with this argument, some people figure that if there isn’t a legal way to buy it, they aren’t hurting the rightsholder by getting it in an unauthorized manner. 

That reasoning is still used by people today.  Since J.K. Rowling won’t authorize e-books for the Harry Potter series, the agument goes, it doesn’t hurt her to get them other places.  After all, there isn’t any way to legitimately give her money for an e-book.

I don’t like that J.K. Rowling doesn’t allow e-books, but that’s her choice.  My concern is that a lot of people have physical challenges that make it hard to read physical books…especially a book that weighs a pound and a half.  They can’t comfortably get the same enjoyment out of Harry Potter that I did.

That’s key, by the way.  If Harry Potter was legally released as an e-book, many people would buy it…including buying it again.   That contradicts with what I just said about re-reading, right?  Well, a different physical medium is different.  Also, people do re-read some books…although they are usually books they read some time ago.  In a 2007 British survey, the top five re-read books were:

1. The Harry Potter series

2. The Lord of the Rings

3. Pride and Prejudice

4. The Hobbit

5. Jane Eyre

Reuters article 

Taking the first publication of the first books in the series (or individual title) above, the books had been published on the average 97.4 years before the survey.  🙂

My intuition is that most people who had a choice between buying an e-book that was legal and getting one that was illegal would prefer to get a legal one.  Oh, there are some folks who would get one free and illegal over ten dollars and legal…although I do think they are in the minority of current e-book buyers.

The availability of legal sources for e-books is very different than the number of legal sources for downloadable music in 1998…another reason the optimal strategies may not be the same now as then.

Do I think the current strategy for Digital Rights Management for e-books is the best one?  Nope.  I would like to see books able to be read on more devices.  If I buy a book, I think it’s reasonable that I can read it on my computer if I want to do that.  I don’t mind them controlling my ability to give it to other people: I think six simultaneous licenses is pretty generous, actually.

However, saying that the publishing industry should do things exactly the same way that the music industry “should” have done it ten years ago seems to me to just not take into account all of the factors.

So, Mr. Piano Man…play me a few bars of War and Peace, okay?  I’m in a nostalgic mood.  😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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