It begins! The ebooks-in-the-cloud concept that I warned against earlier this week, the one publishers say is the ideal future marketplace (for them, not for consumers), is in private beta right now in Australia.
It’s using the Monocle web-based ebook reader–which I find really awesome, to tell the truth–and partnering with Readings, a small Australian book chain, to sell ebooks to Australian customers. It looks great. It’s the future of ebook sales. And it stinks.
I really don’t have any complaints about Monocle, except that I caught a couple of bugs during my brief testing of the interface on the Readings website. As far as making it easy to read an ebook online, Monocle works great, and it’s compatible across a wide variety of devices. You can try it out for yourself on the Booki.sh site.
The small detail that ruins everything, though, is that when you buy an ebook from Readings/Booki.sh, you never get to download the file to your computer or device. It’s stored permanently with the retailer, then called up and displayed to you whenever you request it. To head off customer complaints, Booki.sh takes advantage of HTML5′s ability to store offline files in your browser, so in general it’s possible to read your purchases even if you’re not online.
But you’re never given the option to download a file of the ebook, even a file with DRM. Here is how Booki.sh puts it on their “about” page:
Can I download ebook files to read in another app? – In Booki.sh, an ebook is a web link – we believe books are part of the web, in much the same way as a YouTube video is part of the web. It’s always there when you want it, but you don’t “download” anything.
I’ll give them points for copywriting–that sure sounds like a perfectly reasonable and forward-thinking approach, when it’s put that way!–but it doesn’t change the fact that Booki.sh is basically telling you, “We keep full control of your purchases, so suck it.” You will never be able to do anything with your ebook that Booki.sh doesn’t approve of first.
No matter how nice the Monocle interface looks, it fills me with loathing. It’s the most anti-consumer approach to ebook retailing yet, and you can bet it’s going to spread to other retailers in the coming years if enough consumers don’t push back.