I think I see history repeating itself.
When people first began converting their CD's into MP3's and then started sharing them online with their friends, music companies panicked. Thus we entered a phase of litigation; threats, suits and eventually the push to introduced massive nationwide piracy legislation in the form of SOPA and PIPA.
Now eBook publishers are showing signs of going in the same direction. Specifically I am referring to the recent decision by Penguin to end their deal with OverDrive to allow libraries to "borrow" their eBooks. Penguin execs say they fear eBook lending will cut into eBook sales.
This is an interesting argument because libraries for print books have existed for hundreds, thousands of years. Right now I can visit my local library and check out just about any book currently in print. Free. I don't need to buy another book, ever, if I don't want to.
But I do any way.
Brick and mortar libraries have done little to prevent authors such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown from making millions for themselves and even more for their publishers. If the logic of Penguin Books is to be believed the exact opposite should have happened. After all, if we can borrow a print book from a library why would we buy one?
Of course there is something to be said for the fact that eBook readers are decidedly different from print book readers. Whereas I enjoy holding a book, keeping a book and treasuring a book, eBook readers are more interested in the contents of the book and could care less about the physicality of the medium which brings them the story.
The situation Penguin Books describes should have also resulted in the destruction of the film industry. After all, I can rent a movie or view it online through a streaming service; watch it on cable or even buy it at the store. I don't need to see it at the theater.
What is needed is a way to write code which expires after a given time, and a release process which delivers eBooks to libraries only after the book has been for sale for a specific amount of time. With expiring code, borrowed eBooks would only last so long before they could no longer be viewed again. They could also produce code which cannot be copied, much like some DVD's and Blu-Ray discs.
But instead of seeking a solution which makes sense for them and their readers, Penguin Books has instead decided to take their toys and go home. Not a smart move on their part.
I hope eBook publishers find a way to avoid the mis-steps of the past and resolve this issue in a way which benefits everyone who writes, reads, borrows or buys eBooks. But I'm not holding my breath for a logical solution.