Bookmark for the “Used e-book, slightly foxed”

In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.

"Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,"  Artist, TheMistressT.  Accessed 10 February 2013.
“Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,” Artist, TheMistressT. Accessed 10 February 2013.

Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however.  In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.

And with the recent publication of a W3C specification for Open Annotation of digital text, what might be inside that used ebook?   As Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black and founder of Cultivated Wit, writes:

What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.

Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon.  Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers.  No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters.   How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?

But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook.  Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook?  Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?

The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious.  Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters?  If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?

This year looks set to be one of important bookmarks for the evolution of the book: secondary markets for ebooks, Open Annotation, social reading and still more devices and applications for reading.

An E-Reader Annotation Mini-Manifesto

Teleread and an employee of Readmill have begun a bookmarkable conversation about an important feature of books that must translate into the digital world:  shareable annotations.

To share annotations in a print book, you have to lend the book or photocopy the relevant pages.  Currently, our e-incunabula thrash about in the barbwire of a three-way no-man’s land: between publishers and librarians, between anti-DRMists and pro-DRMists and between the ebook as a licensed good and the ebook as a sold good to which the “first sale” doctrine applies. We haven’t brought sustainable peace to any one of those fronts yet, although there are fleeting signs of olive branches on the battlefield.

Penguin experiments with the New York Public Libraries, Bilbary has pulled together a collection of over 400,000 works (including Random House ebooks) to make available to US and UK public libraries, the Douglas County Library in Colorado continues its purchase-only effort.

Small and large publishers have been and are going DRM-free or nearly so.  In 2009,  Liza Daly of Threepress Consulting started a list of DRM-free publishers and stores.  Today, she can add among others Springer, Tor/Forge and Pottermore (with effects addressed in interesting detail by Mike Shatzkin).

As Matthew Bostock argues,

“Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web. … If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.”

See Matthew’s mini-manifesto on annotations on Teleread:

No doubt known to Matthew, but there are forces at work to nudge us toward his vision.  The standards world has not been sitting on its hands: the W3C and NISO both have initiatives underway to address the minimum required technical specifications for a standard on shareable annotations.

The book evolves.

For more about Readmill, see the post of 26 July 2012 below.