After living through three months of my computer limping along — its internal hard drive crashed, and its system running from an external hard drive — I finally broke down and got a new Mac laptop. The new computer works like a dream, and setting it up only took an hour after I plugged it into the old one — all of my settings were exactly the same without any tweaking!
I also took the opportunity to upgrade my major software: the new Microsoft Office works (surprisingly). My new version of FileMaker Pro is great. Adobe CS5 with Dreamweaver is amazing, and I got 90 days free training from lynda.com. And right now I’m dictating this blog entry using Dragon dictation for Mac.
So, with everything else working perfectly, you can imagine my consternation when several purchased e-books refused to open in my Sony e-reader library software. Since I purchased the e-books from Borders.com, I assumed it would be a rather easy thing to download them again. But, alas, I had to reinstall the e-library software from the Sony e-reader. After a week of going back and forth with Borders, I finally got my e-books re-downloaded. But then, I discovered I couldn’t synchronize my computer with my e-reader!
For some odd reason, connecting the E-reader to my Mac resulted in an icon appearing in the library titled “Error.” With no error code associated with the mysterious error, a visit to the Sony website did little to help. After a half-hour on the phone with Sony, manipulating the E-reader in various ways by plugging paperclips into holes, and triggering repetitive stress injuries from holding various buttons in contortive ways, I was finally told that my e-reader, which I had spent in excess of $80 on two years ago, is not compatible with my new computer’s Intel processor.
This episode brings up two separate issues: First, there is no guarantee that, when a system crashes, replacement e-books can be retrieved from the merchant websites where they were purchased originally. I lucked out this time, because my e-reader software was easily reinstalled, although I had to jump through hoops to reactivate both my Sony account, and my Borders.com account. (Heaven knows why it had to be this complicated in the first place.)
Secondly, what is the point in paying $100 or more for an E–reader which will not remain compatible with newer computer systems? It’s true that many new e-readers use Wi-Fi to download books, and if my current e-reader used Wi-Fi I wouldn’t have had the library problem I experienced.
The Wi-Fi approach, however, has two big operational holes for consumers, and my experience only serves to underline those issues. Firstly, there is no guarantee that an e-book store will remain around forever. In the case of Borders.com, even though the company is restructuring, if somewhere down the line they go out of business, my e-library on Borders.com is gone. There is no retrieving my purchases again. And for that reason, I need to have a way to back up my e-books. But, and this is the second issue, if my e-reader only had a Wi-Fi connection, then there would be no way to synchronize it to my computer for backup.
With e-book purchases, the consumer is not actually purchasing a book. We are purchasing a license to view the book on a particular device. If that device becomes defunct, there is currently no way to transfer an existing e-book library to a new device. As most computer consumers know, technology is upgraded on average every three years. What this means is that every time a new device is purchased, our entire e-book libraries will also have to be repurchased, or restored from the original e-book store where it was purchased (if it still exists.)
So where does that leave me? I’m stuck with an e-book library which I can only read on screen on my computer. Until I purchase a new e-reader — which at this point is wholly unlikely. Many e-reader manufacturers may claim that the technology is mature, but until these issues are ironed out they are still not ready for prime time.