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What MLB Fans Can Teach eBook Readers about Kindle and Other...

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MLB Makes Fools out of Fans

In 2003, Major League Baseball offered game footage for fans to download to their personal computers for $3.95 each. Red Sox fan, Allan Wood, took advantage of the digital offerings and purchased nearly $300 worth of digital video game footage. The video was downloadable to the computer and viewed via Windows Media Player. The video was also protected with a “DDS” system of digital rights management (DRM). As we have talked about before, DRM is a software key that controls use of a digital item. A digital item (with DRM) is “locked” and certain “keys” are given to the user to unlock and then use the digital item.

In 2007, MLB decided to abandon the DDS system of DRM, essentially it changed its locks and never told any of the users about it. When Wood (and presumably other fans) went to view past footage that he had paid for and archived on CDs, he was informed he didn’t have the right license any longer.

The purchase agreement stated that the license to watch the downloaded video would “exist forever” on the machine that first played the video:

7. Do I have to obtain a license every time I want to watch the downloaded video?

No. When you first try to play the video, a license will be distributed to you and stored by the player. Unless manually deleted, the license will exist forever and will be used when you try to watch the downloaded video on that machine.

Unfortunately for Woods and all other purchasers of previous game footage, MLB’s change in DRM systems meant that they would have to repurchase the video footage under the new DRM scheme. Woods received no positive response from MLB for over six months. It wasn’t until the story was picked up by the major tech sites such as Boing, Boing, Techdirt and ArsTechnica, that MLB made a change. When contacted by ArsTechnica, MLB promised that it had remedied the situation for all but a few games: post season games. That’s right, any post season footage will have to be repurchased although MLB says that it will remedy the post season footage at some unspecified date in the future.

Can You Rely on Amazon?

One of the things that all the reviewers of the Kindle agree upon is the ease of use of delivery of content. Because of the built in wireless access, Kindle readers can download books without being tethered to a laptop. The problem is that these books are locked with Amazon’s special key. The ironic thing is that readers who purchased Mobipocket books are in a similar situation to the MLB fans.

Amazon purchased Mobipocket in 2005. Mobipocket requires a special software key to be entered onto computers or personal digital assistants or smartphones before a mobipocket book can be read on it. In late 2007, Amazon decided to change its software key. Yes, Mobipocket books are still readable on existing devices, but they are not readable on Amazon’s own Kindle. Because the Kindle does not allow readers to enter in their own software key (which was previously purchased from Amazon as Amazon owns Mobipocket), Mobi books that are encrypted cannot be transported to the Kindle. Those books would have to be repurchased. No refunds will be issued either, as far as I know.

I certainly don’t have any confidence that Amazon won’t change the locks in the future or simply do away with these digital devices. I have weathered one Amazon deletion of digital material. Sometime in 2006, after Amazon had purchased Mobipocket, it stopped selling and supporting its previous digital sales (I had spent several hundred dollars there on books).

We are working on removing Microsoft and Adobe format e-books from Amazon.com, and soon they will no longer available for purchase. If you previously purchased an e-book on Amazon.com or purchase an available item before the availability changes, you will still have access to it through Your Media Library in Your Account up to 30 days after the purchase date.

As part of our commitment to provide the best customer experience possible, we are now supporting the Mobipocket format. We remain committed to e-books and encourage you to visit www.mobipocket.com where you can purchase and download tens of thousands of the most popular titles.

The fact that Amazon does not support its existing Mobipocket customers makes me very leery about the future of not only Mobipocket but its intentions toward ebook readers. Is past just prologue to the abandonment of yet another format?

The Prohibitions of the DMCA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act went into effect in 1998. It is one of the most anti consumer pieces of legislation passed in recent memory. It has broad reaching effects, but ones pertinent to ebook readers are as follows:

  • It is illegal to develop, promote, sell, or even giveaway software or hardware that will circumvent the software locks that copyright owners and distributors place on digital items.
  • It is illegal for a purchaser to use software or hardware that circumvents the software locks, no matter how unfairly the purchaser is treated in the end.

While it is true that a digital item can be copied easily, as opposed to a physical item, the current system robs the consumer of the traditional unfettered right to use a purchased item. For example, a book that I purchased at Borders can be traded, re-sold, given away, or even bequeathed in a will. Under the DMCA, I am not allowed to do any of those things with the ebooks I have purchased. If I died tomorrow, the strict interpretation of the law would require Ned to destroy all my digital books and neither he nor my daughter could make use of them (or hope that the laptop or ereading device that reads those books lasts forever).

Would You Stand for Your Books Being Taken Away?

If the DMCA applied to physical objects, Barnes and Noble could come to your house and say “We’re not selling mass markets anymore so you have to give all your previous purchases back.” Would you ever buy books from Barnes and Noble again? If you heard of this happening to someone else, would you buy books from Barnes and Noble?

To complicate matters, the current digital system is so complicated that David Rothman of Publishers Weekly and Teleread.org calls it the Tower of e-Babel. It’s as if publishers decided to publish books in code. In order to read the books, you had to buy a code breaker that cost anywhere from $100 to $400. Not all the books are published in all of the codes and sometimes the code changes or a new code is added, requiring the purchase of a new code breaker. If you lose the code breaker to the books you’ve already purchased, you’d have buy the books again. Only one code breaker per household.

No consumer would stand for the restraints of use on physical devices, but we do not seem to mind it when it comes to digital devices.

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me

As for me, I’ve been taken by Adobe’s DRM scheme in the past. My original ebook purchases had all been in Adobe. I read them blithely for about 3 years and then I upgraded my computer. I tried to re-activate the Adobe Reader on the new computer but because I had done fresh installs on my old computer a few times, Adobe believed that I had used up all my activations. I eventually found an Adobe customer service number and called. The technician attempted to help me and eventually re-authorized my new computer but the re-authorization didn’t allow me to read my old purchases. The only course of action was to contact my vendor and redownload the ebooks. Only the vendor where I had purchased the items was no longer in business and I could not redownload the ebooks. I was forced to repurchase them.

I have not bought another Adobe book since that time and I will never buy another. Adobe might come out with the best ebook reading software ever and the best ebook reader ever but I’ve been burned badly by Adobe and I just won’t go back. I’ve learned my lesson about DRM’ed books and it was a costly one.

I hope that those new ebook readers don’t learn the same hard lesson that I have. We readers need to be more vocal, not just about getting books out in ebook format, but calling for an end to the DRM system as it stands. There must be some kind of DRM that would allow portability of an ebook; that would strike a balance between the fear of piracy due to the ease of digital reproduction and the right of consumer to dispose of a product which she rightfully purchased.

There is an organization to which a number of publishers and players in the ebook industry belong to and that is the IDPF. I can’t help but wonder if enough of us email IDPF with our desires of a better, less draconian ebook future, that positive change can occur and the MLB fan lesson will become an urban legend rather than the impetus which abrogates digital purchases.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

29 Comments

  1. Jules Jones
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 07:11:28

    Sometime in 2006, after Amazon had purchased Mobipocket, it stopped selling and supporting its previous digital sales (I had spent several hundred dollars there on books).

    This wasn’t too pleasant from the author’s side, either. When Amazon pulled those formats, if the publisher didn’t transfer to the Mobipocket format (something involving time and money), Amazon left the listing on the site, with a note that the book was no longer available. The wording of that note was such as to leave many people with the impression that the book was no longer available from *anywhere*, i.e. that it had gone out of print. The listings stayed that way for quite a few weeks before Amazon finally pulled them. One of mine was affected, and I ended up putting a note on my Amazon Plog explaining that Mindscan was in fact still readily available from my publisher and Fictionwise. :-(

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  2. Jayne
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 08:45:17

    In all honesty Jane, I’d have to say that if you hadn’t already turned me on to ebooks, this post would turn me off of trying them. The thought of losing the ability to read books that I’ve paid for pisses me off. And it’s not as if we paid a lot less than the usual cost of a paperback edition either. In most cases, we’d be stiffed for the same cost or just slightly less.

    But now I am an ebook fan, I have two reading devices (kisses for those) and I love the capability of carrying around 40-180 books at a time. Or more with add on memory. Why can’t somebody come out with the perfect reading device and the perfect format for the books? We put men on the moon, have distantly explored different planets, can do amazing medical things and we still can’t get one ereader that’s perfect? How hard can it be?

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  3. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 09:09:41

    Why can't somebody come out with the perfect reading device and the perfect format for the books? *snip* How hard can it be?

    I suspect it’s not hard at all but that the problem lies in the competition to be the one to own the universal format so all must pay them for the use of their technology. *sigh*

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  4. Jane A
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 09:32:22

    “The one format to rule them all, the one format to bind them….”

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  5. Jules Jones
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 09:36:58

    I think Sarah’s got it exactly right. Anyone who thinks they’re big enough to get away with it is going to try to make their proprietary file format the de facto standard so that everyone else will have to pay them licensing fees. There’s nothing new in that — I’m old enough to remember the VHS vs Betamax wars…

    I’m going to do some self-promotion here and point out that *my* books are available in vanilla HTML. The epublishing arms of the New York publishers are usually locked into using DRM by corporate policy, even when the bods running the epublishing bit know that DRM is ultimately counter-productive. The smaller epublishers are not so constrained. :->

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  6. Jill Myles
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 10:17:43

    Eek. All the ebooks I have are in adobe. If we don’t have an e-reader, what format do you recommend so we don’t get burned?

    Also, did you decide to put the DA blog on Kindle? We almost signed up our group blog, but the contract they send you has some strange stuff in it, and my agent advised me not to. I was curious to see how what you thought of their contract.

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  7. Jennifer McKenzie
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 10:22:29

    See, this is why I haven’t bough an ereader yet. I simply do not understand all of this. I own over a hundred ebooks in Adobe. (Only because I started buying them and Adobe was the “default” ebook reader on my computer).
    This is another thing that keeps ebooks from becoming common place. If I update my computer every three years, I may lose all my ebooks.
    Can you store them in an email file and then download them from there again if that ever happens?
    I’ve spend a lot of money on my ebooks. I don’t want to suddenly not be able to read them. Some of them aren’t easy to find anymore.

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  8. TeddyPig
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 10:37:11

    Well don’t just pick on the Kindle. This DRM support scenario includes Sony and eBookwise and just about all eBook Readers.

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  9. Jia
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 11:00:36

    And this is the main reason why I keep dragging my feet when it comes to ebooks and ebook readers. Maybe when they come out with the perfect device and perfect format but for now, I’m in wait and see mode.

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  10. sula
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 11:45:35

    Like others have already said, this is exactly why I am still buying books the old-fashioned way. Except for a few impulse buys when I’m travelling and stuck in a hotel room in Japan with no access to a bookstore, I don’t really do e-books. I want to, but I’m too scared to invest money and get burned. :(

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  11. jay
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 11:48:37

    Like others have already said

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  12. azteclady
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 11:52:16

    No ebooks for me, thank you–at least not until (if) this BS is ever solved. Someone mentioned the VHS vs Betamax deal; I think something similar will happen with ebooks, though later rather than sooner since we have more than a couple of big corporations vying for a huge and ever growing market.

    As someone who still owns some extremely rare to find Betamax movies, I’m not keen on getting into yet another technology that’s just as likely to disappear after I’ve invested money, time, and effort into it.

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  13. Ann Bruce
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 12:14:49

    Any one of the current ebook formats will work…the DRM just needs to be removed. My ebook purchases are still only a fraction of my physical book purchases because of the DRM the NY publishing houses impose. If the publishing industry would just willinginly go the way of the music industry (where there’s only one main format that can be played on ALL devices: MP3), I would convert all my books to digital like I have with my music. And I backup all my files myself so I can have them forever and ever. I don’t need a company that can pull a 180 on me offering that service because (1) I know they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, (2) I’m small potatoes so they can afford to tick me off, and (3) I trust my skills more than theirs. (Cynic that I am, I refuse to use online data storage services for this very reason.)

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  14. Jules Jones
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 12:28:54

    Azteclady: Some publishers do supply ebooks in open format, unencrypted files. The big one is science fiction publisher Baen, one New York publisher that didn’t drink the DRM KoolAid. Not only are Baen’s ebooks available in open formats as well as the proprietary ones, some of their titles are available as free ebooks. Not just samples, the whole book. “The first hit is free” — people who get to try the first book of a series without having to pay are likely to go on and spend money on the rest of the series. More information here:
    http://www.baen.com/library/
    You can back those open format files up wherever you like, on CD or by emailing them to yourself. (Back when GMail was in beta and invite-only, I gave a few people invites specifically so that they had somewhere safe to stash backups of their ebooks.)

    A bunch of small publishers do the same thing. You can find some of them in Fictionwise. Fictionwise usually has several titles available as free downloads, which gives you something you can download to play with and see how it works.

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  15. TeddyPig
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 12:40:48

    You go Ann!

    This is the reason I fully support the major ePubs like Samhain or Loose-Id or Ellora’s Cave even (No DRM) but do not review Harlequin or other traditional publishers that depend on DRM.

    This is also the reason I can not recommend buying any of the current e-Ink devices that usually only support one DRM. At least Palm OS supports three different DRMs. Which to me means it will be useful longer than the one trick models.

    Amazon is switching their entire Mobipocket library over to the Kindle proprietary format. This could possibly mean they will eventually do away with that format entirely. So where does that leave these single DRM eBook Readers that depend on Mobipocket?

    Technically the problem is not so much the DRM but the eBook reader software supporting the DRM does not work across all OS.

    Mobipocket eBook Reader DRM never created an Apple OSX reader and only recently has provided a Linux version to only certain units.

    Microsoft eBook Reader DRM only works on Windows.

    Adobe eBook Reader DRM again never really has supported Linux.

    Sony, eBookwise, and Kindle DRMs which represent the latest market offerings are all proprietary to their eBook hardware.

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  16. M
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 14:04:32

    I first started buying ebooks five years ago, directly from the publishers. I became a fan of erotic romance back then and that was the only format available for my reading material of choice. I loved that the epubs were not using any sort of “security code” crap. The grand total of two times that I bought something from one of the big publishers (Penguin) I ended up getting the print copy as well because I don’t trust them. If the small epubs had been using “codes” or stuff that needed some type of key, I would have never even tried it, period. I am not a techie by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t take much to realize how anything that depends on specific software to be opened, can be manipulated and end up messing with the customers. Software is constantely “updated”, we are forced to constantly do “upgrades” … what would guarantee that in one of those “upgrades” I would end up losing my ability to open my books. Know what I mean?

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  17. eggs
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 17:10:18

    There’s another problem with these codes that I’ve come across. Generally, the ebooks I buy use my credit card number as the unlock code – which is fine unless, like me, you lose the stupid thing once or twice a year. When this happens, the bank issues me with a new credit card and although the number of the cc account stays the same, the last 4 digits printed on the actual card change. If I want to go back and read a book I purchased more than 6 months ago but never activated, then I have to start searching through the bottom of my handbag for old cc slips so I can find out what the stupid number was. So not only do you need to keep a backup of your ebook files, you also need to keep a copy of your cc number each time it changes.

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  18. Statch
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 17:22:32

    Just want to say that this was an outstanding post! You nailed all of the issues. I’m personally a big ebook fan (more than 500 ebooks now). I picked MS Reader back when I started because I figured they were unlikely to go out of business and leave me stuck. A couple of months ago when I heard that Amazon bought Mobipocket, I switched to Mobipocket. Imagine my surprise when Amazon abandoned the old Mobipocket format! Fortunately, I had only bought about 15 books in that format. I’ve gone back to MS Reader now, but with no feeling of security. This is really just wrong — I’m not paying that much less for the ebooks, yet I can’t be assured of keeping them forever.

    I’d love to walk off in a huff and go back to print books, but I travel a lot and the ebooks are just too convenient.

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  19. Bob LiVolsi
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 19:04:18

    Jane, Thank you for your very well thought out analysis today. There is a place for DRM and there is a place where it does not fit. The piracy question of intellectual property is not an easy one. Placing ads in non-DRM ebooks rather than charging is one interesting proposal that has floated around publishing. One difficulty would be finding advertisers for new authors or even midlist authors. Getting advertisers for Nora Roberts, James Patterson and the like would be a fairly easy assignment probably. Not so for unknowns.

    Re: Mobipocket – At BooksOnBoard, we believe that the Mobipocket format is here to stay, although we believe the proprietary Kindle format (Mobipocket with special DRM for the Kindle) is a fairly high risk choice for end users.

    BooksOnBoard would like to propose an idea we’ve talked about here. We want to recommend the creation of an industry “download pool.” In this model, if an ebook company closed its doors or shut down its bookshelves, there would be convenants in place that would move the ebooks into a repository where customers could continue to have access indefinitely to those titles. The Assigned Risk element of the insurance business has something like this in which the insured is protected when an insurance company goes out of business. The policy is automatically assigned to another insurance company.

    The “download pool” would be the kind of proposition that IDPF could entertain and for which it could seek industry consensus. In that event, readers would not have to be concerned about the longevity of the particular retailer’s ebook business. Others would argue that customers should maintain their own back-up, an understandable position, but even with that, customers currently need the e-tailer to handle re-sets, etc.

    Thank you again for the balanced coverage of the ebook space and all the commentary from your readers.

    Best,

    Bob L.

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  20. veinglory
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 20:04:12

    TeddyPig, I read pdfs on my Sony ebook all the time. The ability to do so was one reason I bought it instead of a Kindle.

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  21. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 20:49:01

    If the PDF’s are unsecured, as with the Sony E reader, you can read them on the Kindle. All you have to do is download the free mobipocket reader and do a quick conversion. (Takes about 2 seconds and one click.) No big deal. It’s if you bought in secure PDF that presents the problem for any of the ebook readers.

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  22. Keishon
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 21:00:28

    Jayne wrote:

    Why can't somebody come out with the perfect reading device and the perfect format for the books? We put men on the moon, have distantly explored different planets, can do amazing medical things and we still can't get one ereader that's perfect? How hard can it be?

    I guess it’s about as hard as getting healthcare for everybody in the country. I didn’t even get started with Mobipocket so I’m glad that I don’t own many books by them. I’m a devoted ebook reader and it’s my preferred format. I hadn’t walked into a bookstore in two months. I went Friday to get the Lara Adrian book since it’s only available in the Mobipocket format right now. I notice that many books are now coming out in Mobipocket before any other format. What gives?

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  23. veinglory
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 21:38:13

    Sarah, that’s not quite “as with the Sony E reader” because I didn’t download any software and do not have to convert the files. I just read them as they are.

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  24. Nicole
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 22:53:49

    I still like my Sony Reader, but I also have almost all of my books converted to html and plan my purchases so that I can convert to html.

    I used to like unsecured Adobe, but then it got annoying and I stopped. And MS Reader was okay, but it was a pain to keep having to reactivate everything whenever I’d reformat my computer. So now I just use the html and convert to whatever format I need. Like to be read on my Reader. If/when I get an iPod Touch (damn Apple for only using one wireless provider for the iPhone), perhaps I’ll read on that, as well.

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  25. Miki
    Dec 03, 2007 @ 02:54:39

    The sad this is that HTML is universal. But since publishers are terrified of piracy, only the independents (and Baen) will use it.

    For eggs: I have a suggestion. Consider saving your books with the last few digits of your cc number at the end. If you can remember the first set of numbers, the rest will be there. Depending on where you bought them, you might also be able to re-download the books with your latest cc number. Then you can delete the old ones. Or, if you’re organized, you could make a list of the last 4 digits of the cc numbers and when you changed them, and save the books with the date at the end.

    I know none of those helps you if you ever have to re-download everything without being able to update the cc numbers.

    I love Bob’s idea of a central e-book “repository”. But…who would run it? Would it be like insurance that e-book buyers could purchase? I remember when SimonSays stopped carrying eReader format for a year or two. If I remember correctly, they said they had to find a new “distributor” for the eReader format. Fictionwise made a big deal that they still offer those in the Booklist, but that they cannot be updated with new cc numbers like the ones available from the newer distributor. How would such a situation be handled by a centralized repository?

    I have both an eBookwise and a Sony Reader 500. But if only read non-DRM’d books on either of them. If I have to buy DRM…okay, if I choose to buy DRM…I only buy eReader. I feel it’s the most versatile at this time (without hacking the DRM, like many do with the Microsoft Reader version).

    Oh, and I think the IDPF has been trying for some time to get some commitment for a universal format. Emails from us would support their vision, but I don’t think they have the power to enforce anything.

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  26. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 03, 2007 @ 06:25:07

    Veinglory-

    Just meant it’s a no brainer and the books are totally available to read on the device. The only real difference between the devices is the ergonomics, the Kindle’s direct access to the store, and the chosen DRM, so it’s just a matter of preference but users face the same negative issues and enjoy roughly the same benefits.

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  27. DS
    Dec 03, 2007 @ 06:49:19

    I committed to Kindle. This is my first dedicated eBook reader although I tried to read on my iPhone and Nokia N800. The Nokia N800 with an open source reader (FBReader) was a more pleasant reading experience– size does make a difference, but I’m developing a repetitive motion problem with my right thumb due to the need to use it to “flip the pages” with the switch on the side.

    I nearly bought the Sony a while back with the credit card deal but I happened to find my old Clie that Sony stopped supporting without any warning and between that and remembering the rootkit debacle I decided– no. Between Sony and Amazon, I have to say Amazon has given me more reason to trust it.

    I don’t know if the Kindle is ungodly popular or they only have the capability of making a few at a time or if they are attempting a Grey Goose Vodka campaign of scarcity, but I ordered a week ago and I still haven’t been notified of a shipment date and in fact my order page shows that it won’t arrive before Christmas. I’ll be very interested in finding out how many Amazon actually sells this year.

    I read everything I could find on the Kindle before I ordered to make sure that if Amazon went down tomorrow I would still find this device useful.

    And I don’t trust anyone to keep my library for me on line. I keep all of my media on an external harddrive (I have four or five now) with a back up to CD or DVD– I have several large albums of these. While audible is very good about keeping things online, if you lose your iTunes library all music or shows purchased through iTunes is gone for good.

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  28. Jane
    Dec 03, 2007 @ 10:42:38

    I, too, buy all my books and then convert them to the “universal” html format. It lets me sleep at night (in case people were wondering what kept me up – it’s losing access to my books).

    As for the Kindle, not so far. I’m in a wait and see mode. Because it irritates me to no end that Amazon is charging for content that I choose to let people read for free, I am not inclined to offer up the blog for that. I do want more people to be tortured with DA but I don’t know that they should be paid to be tortured.

    If you are talking about the liability issues – I thought that those were pretty standard. I.e., if Amazon is going to get sued for something that I said, I would get sued for it anyway, right?

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  29. » Isn’t He Sweet? My New E-reader Rachel’s Reflections
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 00:56:06

    [...] interested in learning more about e-readers, this site has some reviews of different models and manufacturers.  Each word in the previous sentence goes to a different article or review on that [...]

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