The Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad and other e-readers are fast becoming mainstream and their usability has improved tremendously over the past years. However there is one area in which printed books are still much better: the ability to open multiple books at once. This might not matter if you are reading the latest “50 shades” novel and want to be uninterrupted. However, if you are working on a research project and constantly need to switch across multiple books, you will find that current eBook readers are a nightmare. Switching eBooks involves creating bookmarks, returning to a main menu (library page), going to another book and navigating it. This quickly becomes tedious. I cannot understand why tabbed browsing is absent from eBook software since it is rudimentary and exists in practically every web browser.

One solution is to buy multiple eBook readers and open one book per device. This turns out to work quite well. One might argue that the savings from not having to ship printed books will more than cover the cost of additional eBook readers. However it occurred to me recently that another solution exists: simply remove the DRM from your existing books. This is really easy to do. You can then manage your books using software like calibre, which allows multiple eBooks to be opened at the same time. On a fast computer with a large screen, this is a liberating experience! A 27″ or 30″ screen is sufficient to give me as good an experience as with 3-4 printed books. You can even do things that you cannot with regular books (without mutilating them) such as opening multiple instances of the same book for quick cross-referencing across different sections. If you take the extra step and export your library into pdf format, you then have the ability to manage, annotate and search your eBooks using software like Papers 2, treating them just like any other pdf file and merging them with your collection of journal articles.

There are other benefits of unlocking DRM, including the ability to prevent vendor lock-in (e.g., read your Amazon ebooks using Apple iBooks), avoid arbitrary and unfair removal of your books, and to overcome silly device download limits. For some of us, opening multiple books at the same time is another big plus. I suspect that over time, eBook DRM will go away. We are at the stage of the eBook industry that we were at with music 10 years ago, when we had to rip music from our personal CD collections or the proprietary formats on iTunes and convert them into unlocked files that were more flexible. Today music is sold unlocked and I don’t see why it should end up otherwise with eBooks.

(ps: yes I know eBooks are licensed, not sold, but lets save that for another discussion).

Reading multiple books at once

Your 30″ monitor can show all these books at the same time

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2 Responses to Unlocking DRM Lets You Open Multiple eBooks Simultaneously

  1. [...] However, if you are working on a research project and constantly need to switch across multiple books, you will find that current eBook readers are a nightmare. Switching eBooks involves creating bookmarks, returning to a …  [...]

  2. A fine incitement to civil disobedience.

    In my experience, the iPad is great for reading and highlighting while you’re working on your laptop, but the lack of interoperability between reading applications and devices can be infuriating and justifies the alternative means Kwang outlines above.

    I agree with Kwang that the current focus on DRM by book publishers should give way as new business models emerge within the content sector. In my experience, many book publishers are having a hard time devising forward-looking strategies, adapting to a world where information wants to be free, without feeling they must compromise on their instincts as cultural gatekeepers (and dismantle business models built around control of the supply chain).

    I remember vividly watching a panel at the London Book Fair last year as the publishers from Brown and Little proclaimed that they are tracking book piracy with an aim to deliver cease and desist notices to users, and on that basis justifying to authors the company’s traditional 25% cut, now on digital sales.

    This, in my opinion, betrays a disappointing lack of vision and understanding about the roles and opportunities opening up for publishers, authors and readers alike. Entrepreneurs in publishing, technology and news media are fast devising new business and service models, leveraging skills in organising information and developing creative communities to capture greater insight into demand and implement stronger, more meaningful pathways for discovery.

    If you’ve enjoyed Kwang’s article, I would recommend checking out the following presentations:

    Richard Nash, giving the “best speech about the future of books & publishing” Chris Anderson has every seen: http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/04/richard-nash-gives-best-speech-about-the-future-of-books-in-canada/

    And Context First, by Brian O’Leary: http://vimeo.com/20179653

    Cheers.

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