eBooks and “Agency Pricing”

I own a Kindle. It’s probably the greatest thing that happened to my reading habit, specifically in that it restarted it.

Don’t get me wrong, physical books are great. For long-term ownership, for lending to friends, for quickly flipping through to double-check something. For all these things they are great. But for general reading, I find an e-ink reader just far superior.
They’re portable. You can bring a collection with you easier than a single book. you can lay it down ona  table and not have it lose your place, great for reading during mealtime. Just place it on the table, read it there, only touching it to hit the page-advance key.

Pricing-wise for the books themselves, they sort suck at times.

For one thing, I dislike paying full price for a digital copy of something, especially when it carries DRM restrictions. To me, that is a rental not a purchase. So I favour cheaper eBooks. I don’t see them as a long-term investment (that’s what I buy dead-tree versions for), I see them as a long-term loan.

This is not the only reason, though. I always favoured paperbacks over hardbacks. They’re more convenient to carry around and less bulky to read. So yeah, the same reason I favour my Kindle over a physical book. I like to read, I don’t like the hassle of a bulky form factor.
It has always bugged me having to wait the extra six months or more to get something in my preferred size-class. It’s not just the price of paperbacks I favour(ed), it’s the actual medium.

Enter the eReader and the problem just escalates, especially given Agency Pricing. This is what stops the various online stores (namely Amazon) from heavily discounting popular eBooks toa  point where other stores can’t compete and that people won’t buy the paper copies.

News Flash: Some of us have Kindles specifically to avoid paper copies.

Now, there are fair reasons behind this, but it then has the slight disadvantage that is especially noticeable in long-running series.
The latest hardback-only book will have an eBook price of £7 or more. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe it is, but the rest of the series is available for under £5, which can make it hard to justify the price. Especially if you already own the book. Why pay almost twice the price of what it’ll be later this year when you already own it in one format?

Did that make no sense? I guess it wouldn’t to most people. And that’s the problem. Nobody really envisioned a case where you might want to get a cheap digital copy of a book you already own shortly after getting it.

Like maybe wanting to re-buy a convenient form-factor of something you were given as a gift?

I mean, hardback books are great to own. Hardback booked are a wonderful gift to receive. hardback book are also a bugger to read, and the opposite of portable. The idea situation is to have both. One to keep (if you like the book) one to read.
But not at these prices.

“The Publisher has set the price for this book”.
I guess the publisher wants me to read stories published by their competitors, then. Because for a DRM-encumbered platform-locked copy of a book, price is a deciding factor. It can make the difference between “impulse buy”, “maybe alter” and “not happening”.

BBC iPlayer – A different type of TV download

This is a repost of a comment I left on a thread on the BBC Internet Blog back in September.

Yes, the tone was completely humourous but the points I raise are valid. The feature-set of the iPlayer, along with some of it’s most persistant bugs, really let it down in comparison to other… less official means of acquiring TV content.

It all becomes clear whe you realise that, above all else, BBC iPlayer is a legal download service. As such, it has to distance itself from any other method of viewing content via thw internet, just to make sure that nobody gets confused and uses… other means for catching up on what they missed.

“Unofficial downloads are illegal. BBC iPlayer is not.”

Good start good start. Fantastic in fact. This is exactly how it should be. So now we’ve got our theme, lets run with it.

“Unofficial downloads are free of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BBC iPlayer ensures you are not missing out of the social networking revolution”

Ummmmmm. OK. I guess. I follow a lot of people on Twitter whose recommendations I trust. Were I to use iPlayer, this might be useful. Maybe.

“Unofficial downloads can work on almost any platform you can name. iPlayer makes sure that you can only use the hardware and software we endorse.”

If you say so… After all, you’re the BBC. Anything you don’t support obviously isn’t worthwhile as a media player.

Although… I do seem to recall my Xbox 360 handling DVD, downloaded and streaming content quite well. But I must be mistaken. After all, no iPlayer. So it can’t be any good. Right?

“You can watch unofficial downloads offline. Whereas with BBC iPlayer, all but one of our solutions works purely by on line streaming.”

Good. Good. Because I wouldn’t ever watch to watch files when out of signal. Or during a peak time of the day. It’s not like those hours I’m asleep or at work could be used by any of the devices I might have when I’m not in the lounge.

“Unofficial downloads can be kept after you’ve watched them. BBC iPlayer deletes things before you’ve even had the chance.”

See. Another feature that you don’t get from the Torrent sites. No why would anybody wish to break to law when we offer functionality such as this?

So yes. It’s a marvel of success. BBC iPlayer is a download service that works nothing like the non-legit ones. There’s no way anybody could confuse the two whatsoever. 100% legal. 0% like Torrents. After all, it’s not like any of those “other features” could ever be of use to anybody…

– Tiggs
(with tongue firmly in cheek)

The Futility of DRM

I’m following several discussions relating to DRM (and other methods of content restrictions & protection). They’re mainly in conjunction with the BBC, owing to some changes they recently made to the iPlayer service in freezing out unofficial third-party clients – such as XBMC.

Many people bring up the quite valid point that the restrictions are seen as stupid because people getting caught out by them will just turn to Bit Torrent.
This is not to say that it’s legal. Just that it’s convenient, and such acquired media files tend to work with pretty much any media player going.

The responses against that tend to be “this is illegal”.

No… kidding… Sherlock!

But that’s missing the point that people are trying to make.
They (we) are not trying to advocate illegal means. We’re trying to say make the legal means easier and more convenient.

To put it simply, illegal downloads are a competitor. This does not make them legal. But them being illegal does not make them any less a competitor. You need to make the legit options appealing, convenient, and pretty much platform-agnostic.

Everybody “loves” a car analogy. Mainly as they suck, and everyone loves to slate them. So here’s mine…
Only, it’s more of a car boot analogy.

The BBC iPlayer is like a drive-in movie theater. It has a certain barrier to entry, naturally.
Between the limited platforms and DRM requirements, it is like having a dress code (or restriction to certain specific car brands) to get in.

This is the only legal way to watch the content. We’re not arguing that other methods are legitimate.
We’re just poking at the idiocy of the situation that trying to pitch a platform-limited legal alternative whilst Bit Torrent exists is akin to the following part of the analogy…

You’re opening your drive-in across the street from the weekly car boot sale where Pete’s Dodgy DVDs operates on a constant basis.

The alternative is not legal. But it’s convenient, accessible, and doesn’t have the same barrier to entry.

The thing is that the moment you drop your barrier to entry then people don’t need to visit Pete’s car boot. (Or whatever torrent aggregation sites are popular and active on any given week).
But the problem with this is that the people who mandate the barriers honestly think that merely being legal is enough of an incentive. Even if it restricts someone’s choice of player.

Well here’s the real choice you give people by locking the content down. If people don’t like the restrictions, they go one of two ways.
They acquire it anyway. You lose. Or they just don’t watch your content at all. You still lose.