One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, once claimed the following in a speech: "I consider anyone who borrows a book instead of buying it, or lends one, a twerp."
If you're following the evolution of the e-book industry, you might guess that publishers and others "in charge" of the content share the perspective of Vonnegut, as they're making it quite difficult for people to share their digital books with pals.
Before diving deeper into that issue, it's worth noting that Vonnegut goes on to say this:
When I was a student at Shortridge High School a million years ago, a twerp was defined as a guy who puts a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs. But, I hasten to say, should some impressionable young person here tonight, at loose ends and from a dysfunctional family, resolve to take a shot at being a real twerp tomorrow, that there are no longer buttons on the back seats of taxicabs. Times change!
Times do change. And, as much as I respect the word of Kurt as my own gospel, in these times, when you prevent people from sharing the content they buy, that doesn't have a positive outcome.
Regardless of Vonnegut's thoughts on book-lending and twerps, the fact remains that people have been lending each other books forever, and the original inability to do so with e-books was presumed to be one of the hurdles that would stand in the way of adoption.
Now there appears to be some give and take (Amazon and Barnes and Noble now both allow for lending through their e-reader devices), but the "take" part of this could lead to more negative repercussions for the publishing industry.
As one example, The Wall Street Journal last week reported on new sites that are popping up like Lendle.me and BookLending.com, which are essentially social networking sites for book-sharing. The capacity and desire to share is there, but publishers are making this difficult. According to the report, "Most major book publishers haven't made their e-books lendable, and the books can be lent only once and for only 14 days."
Speaking of book borrowing, there's a whole institution for this kind of thing... it's called a library. But, when it comes to e-books, publishers are even making sharing there painful. The New York Times reports that HarperCollins is enforcing new restrictions, whereby an e-book can only be lent out 26 times before it expires. This would give e-books an estimated shelf-life of one year before libraries would have to purchase them again.
Further, there are publishers like Simon & Schuster and Macmillan who don't yet make e-books available to libraries at all.
The fear that people will share digital books and not buy them as much, or that publishers will lose money on digital content, is a somewhat reasonable one. But it's also proven to be counterproductive for other industries -- like the music industry -- where digital has taken over. That's an industry that has been rocked by piracy, and there's no reason to believe this will be different for book publishing.
A new report suggests that the only way to combat privacy is to adjust pricing. I would add that publishers need to be realistic about the age-old practice of book sharing, about the workings of a digital society, and about the fact that by making it difficult for people to buy and enjoy content, they only make it more likely that they'll find other unlawful and unprofitable ways to access it.
That might make those people "twerps," but as we've already learned, they're twerps with a very real ability to damage business.
— Nicole Ferraro , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution