I bought an ebook over the weekend for my Kindle Fire, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
(I learned of it from Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution.)
I’m liking the book and disliking myself for buying it as an ebook. I had my reservations about ebooks before experimenting with them, and those concerns are just as strong now after trying a few. This one in particular created some mental distress for me.
I grew up reading and loving books. This meant the traditional form of paper books, but I don’t think I’m overly attached to that — I read very few paper books these days. Most of my reading is on the web. I’m already digital in my textual consumption.
My concern about ebooks isn’t the form. It’s about the control. The way things are developing, we don’t own the ebooks we pay for, and we’re not free to do with them what we want. (This isn’t true in all cases, of course, but it’s the standard with Amazon and others.)
So I wasn’t in a hurry to buy a Kindle or other reader, but then I got the Fire — intending it for other uses. But once I had it, I became curious. I borrowed a book from the Amazon Prime “Lending Library.” You can get one book a month for free, and keep it as long as you like. Kind of neat how you can just tap the screen and now you have a book! It sat unread on the device for a couple of months as we proceeded to use the device mostly as a game machine. (Lots of Plants vs Zombies.)
Then I heard about the Hunger Games books, and a friend of mine loaned me his Kindle edition of the first book, which was again pretty cool how you can just send it over the ether. How convenient!
But also aggravating and stupid in the way the restrictions work. He can only lend it one time. Ever. While it’s on loan, he can’t read it. Okay, maybe you can argue that’s how a traditional book works, although of course you can also loan out a traditional book as many times as you want, so… which is it? Are we pretending it’s a paper book or not?
Then, I can only keep the book for fourteen days. What?! What purpose does that serve? Why should it matter how long I keep it?
I suspect the publishers create these dumb rules to make it more likely we’ll buy our own copy, but it’s so abusive. This is how you want to treat your customers? They’re taking away all the benefits — not to mention the joy — of using and sharing digital information. I find the publisher’s fear, greed, stupidity, and shortsightedness to be mildly irritating.
And none of this is winning me over to becoming an ebook consumer. Remember that I’m not buying a lot of paper books either, these days. You’d think the old publishing industry would be interested in selling to people like me.
But I read the book, and quickly grew to like the experience. It’s nice reading on the tablet. In many ways it’s an improvement — the “book” lays nice and flat, for example. We actually have two Kindles and they keep in sync so that I can pick up either one — when my wife hasn’t drained the batteries for me — and resume reading at my spot.
I looked up the second Hunger Games book on Amazon, wondering if I might buy it. It was only $5 for the Kindle edition, which I might have paid, but then I saw I could get it free through Prime, which I had mostly forgotten about. So I downloaded it and again was happy reading a book this way, and then I got the third book through Prime also, although I gave up less than halfway through it, not caring anymore about the story.
I’m still not sold on the concept, though, and don’t know about the path I’m on. Maybe I’ll continue to borrow books and “buy” lower cost books, trading freedom for convenience. There’s some line where I’ll pay for the words and the privilege of being abused as a customer.
I read Fred Stoller’s ebook, My Seinfeld Year, after being made aware of and sold on it by Bob Lefsetz’s recommendation. It’s a short work for $2, and a great read. It’s the first ebook I paid for, and well worth the price. At $2, I don’t have to grapple with the problem as much.
Maybe I’ll continue to fall into the ebook habit, gradually accepting the denial of freedom for the limited conveniences that the publishers “allow” me, deciding a little bit at a time that I’m willing to pay for books that I can only read and share in limited, frustrating ways, but not really own them and not get to pass them on or give them away or re-sell them. I’ll get some convenience along with forced, irritating restrictions. I’ll know that I’m contributing to the growth of a problem for society, but I’ll do it anyway. Maybe.
And then there’s this Charles Duhigg book. The Power of Habit. I’m aware of the power of habits for good and bad in my own life, and was interested to learn more. My first thought was to look up the Kindle price, thinking for $5 to $8 it would be an easy decision to buy. But no, the Kindle edition is $14.
I thought, no fucking way am I going to pay that much. I had heard about the outrageous pricing of ebooks but this is the first time I might have wanted to buy one where I’d care. I can get the hardcover for just a couple of bucks more. In what world does it make sense to price a digital product that close to the analog version? For something I’m just licensing. It made me not want to buy the paper version either, just to spite the publisher.
Instead I requested the paper book from the local library, although with the number of copies available and the number of people ahead of me, I knew it would take a few months to get it. But maybe that would be fine. I’ve been reading books this way more often, and I’m used to the delay.
But this one I really wanted to read sooner. I want to make changes in my life and I believed it could help. I checked the book’s page on Amazon again, hoping it might be available for lending through Prime, but no, it’s not. I continued to fume about the pricing, cursing the publishers. You morons.
Maybe I’d buy the paper book. Or, wait. Maybe I’d try the Kindle sample first. Yes. I downloaded that on Friday and read it and I liked it. I wanted more. But now I was impatient. I didn’t want to wait a couple of days for a hard copy to be shipped out.
I really didn’t want to reward them for their behavior in pricing the book at $14. But then I said to myself: “Let’s be rational.” Maybe I shouldn’t make the whole thing so personal. I thought: is it worth it to me to pay $14, even with all the restrictions I get for my money?
And the answer was, probably not. But. I wanted instant gratification. I wanted to start reading the book now. So I bought it. And I’m enjoying it, which helps make me feel better about it, but I so, so, so hate that I gave in to their demands. I feel resentful. Not “ripped off” — no one made me buy it, of course — but I’m not satisfied.
I don’t think I’ll do this again anytime soon.
I wonder, are “they” happy when their customers feel this way? Maybe they are. Maybe they’re happy with my $14 and that’s all they care about.
And look — I’m promoting their damn book anyway, despite all that. But I’ll look at it as spreading the word about Mr. Duhigg’s good work.
I won’t even judge you if you buy the Kindle edition. I’ll simply keep walking around naked in my glass home.
Of course, digital is your only option on the Stoller book, but at $2 that’s like buying a disposable magazine. No big deal, right? It won’t be our fault in the future when we’re living in a Nineteen Eighty-Four world.