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An Acerbic Look At the Future of Reading 318

Posted by kdawson
from the drm-weaver dept.
theodp writes "Using Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' own words against him, Mark Pilgrim offers his chilling take on The Future of Reading with a mash-up of Bezos' Open Letter to the Authors Guild, the Amazon Kindle Terms of Service, Steven Levy's Newsweek article on the Kindle, 1984, and Richard Stallman's 'The Right to Read.'"
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An Acerbic Look At the Future of Reading

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  • Reading? What's that? Is that some kind of new data bus?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Reading? What's that? Is that some kind of new data bus?
      No, it is actually Reading, UK. A fine city that has a wonderful Pub called The Hob Goblin. [google.com] Its ales are brilliant!
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      Reading? What's that?

      It's a computer science concept for accessing a hard drive or other device. Has nothing to do with people per se.
    • by Pope (17780)
      It's one of the railroads you can buy in Monopoly!

      Dunno why it's still an option these days, why not the iPod Railway or the Cellphone Yapping Railway?
  • Nice! (Score:3, Funny)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:10PM (#21575473)
    This looks more like a Daily Show script than anything else. Maybe they can just scrap their current writers and rely on blogger analysis.
    • This looks more like a Daily Show script than anything else. Maybe they can just scrap their current writers and rely on blogger analysis.

      Seeing as how the writers are on strike, I wouldn't go and give them any ideas...
  • Ok, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by no_opinion (148098) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:14PM (#21575547)
    I understand his points, but I think they are less relevant to a subscription service, which is what I want. I want to pay $X/month and be able to get as many books as I can read. I don't need to own, just to rent. Basically, a paid library where the benefit is that I can get the books right on the device because I'm lazy. $10/book to own is too much for me, since I won't read most books more than once.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      They already did this, remember? What was it now? Subscription music? It's all well and good, except that the licenses will expire at random, and then what are you left with? A half-read book that you need to buy to read the rest of. No, people rather own the books than depend on a shaky subscription service. That being said, I'm in love with Yahoo Music Unlimited, and would purchase one of those neato Amazon contraptions if they offered a subscription service... So I'm not against the idea. I just don't
      • by cduffy (652)
        They are doing this, you mean, with books, but without the EVDO-based electronic reader; personally, I think Kindle support would be a great feature. See Safari [oreilly.com].
      • I agree, but think that's largely a testament to the music industry's inability to market subscription. I'm a fan of Rhapsody, myself. Also, I think books are a bit different because you tend to listen to music over and over again, but how many times do you re-read most of your books? I've got a few that I re-read almost every year, but for the most part, once is enough so the time out is not an issue. BTW, if you are ending up with timed out subscription music, try syncing after the month boundary or y
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        However, I don't think that most people would want to read a book twice. Maybe if it was a really good book, but still, maybe not more than 2 or 3 times. With music, you may listen to the same song/album multiple times a month, if not multiple times a week. Unless it's a reference book, I probably wouldn't read most books more than once.
      • They already did this, remember? What was it now? Subscription music? It's all well and good, except that the licenses will expire at random, and then what are you left with? A half-read book that you need to buy to read the rest of. No, people rather own the books than depend on a shaky subscription service.

        I disagree. Generally music is something you want to listen to over and over and over again, so your entire collection expiring at some point in the future if you stop paying is a huge problem. Video rental, on the other hand, are mostly shows you want to see once, then never see again, which is why NetFlix does so well compared to DVD sales. I don't want to own the first season of "Transformers" I just though it would be fun to watch some night while drunk off my ass with a bunch of hooligan bikers. I'll

    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:22PM (#21575681) Journal
      I don't need to own, just to rent.

      You've never heard of a "public library?" Damn, just when I'm starting to like the 21st century* some bozo reminds me that the mamon worshipers are trying to take away every good thing I've taken for granted all my life.

      -mcgrew

      *click the sig for explanation
      • by ubrgeek (679399)
        True story: On Saturday, my wife and I walked past this building with large windows. She looked in and said, "Oh cool. A used book store. Let's go in." I felt bad pointing out that it was actually the local library.

        Thank goodness we have a comfortable couch ;)
        • by CRCulver (715279)
          Usually you can tell a library from a bookstore by the presence or absence of homeless-dude smell.
      • by lymond01 (314120)
        Actually, while Amazon, Borders, B&N, etc could continue selling books for your devices, perhaps a library could leverage "renting" books. You'd pay $10/month for the ability to download books for X amount of weeks. The issue, of course, is removing the book and/or renewing the "lease". Anything a public library could manage about expiring an electronic document would likely be cracked inside of 10 minutes.

        Too bad, really: public libraries don't get enough attendance given their resources (though peo
      • by no_opinion (148098) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:50PM (#21576169)
        In fact, I'm a fan of the library, went every week as a kid, but I never get to go now. My wife has to get me books, and that's not a good way to browse. I work long days and don't have time to go to the library, and I am willing to pay to get my books on demand because I have more money than time. A Kindle subscription would be perfect for someone like me (working professional with a family), and I don't care if the books time out because I'll buy the ones I like.
         
        • Can you and your family go to the library together? It seems like a win win to me. You get to borrow books, encourage your kids to read and spend time with them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Sax Maniac (88550)
          I have three kids and know what you're going through, but really, the Internet and interlibrary loan has fixed libraries. You don't actually go to the library to find books, you just pick them up there. I don't think I've borrowed a single book that actually lived at my local library since I was a kid. For me, it goes like this:

          1. Decide what to read (maybe based on good /. recommendations).
          2. Log onto library's website, and find the book on the interlibrary loan network.
          3. Request it, and have it droppe
      • by stg (43177)
        Does your public library have unlimited books on all topics you want? Because my local ones were awful (at least, last time I checked), and they aren't even near... I'd much rather pay a monthly amount.

        I already buy e-books at the regular Fictionwise.com prices. I didn't really mind the DRM much, till last week when I realized that while all non-DRM e-books I have will run fine on my new cell phone (N95), eReader doesn't seem to have bothered releasing their software for S60 3rd edition, and the older editi
    • Sadly, with DRM'd ebooks, I don't know if you can own the book. If you could, maybe you wouldn't need to rent the book in the traditional sense. If you "owned" the ebook, you could buy it used, or sell it to someone else when you are done reading it. Unfortunately, I'm not so sure that is possible right now, or even feasible in the near future.
    • by sckeener (137243)
      I understand his points, but I think they are less relevant to a subscription service, which is what I want. I want to pay $X/month and be able to get as many books as I can read.

      Lets make it really cheap...say $1/month to get all the books you could want. Everyone signs up because after all it is so cheap!

      Why would anyone buy a physical book? Oh sure there are some people that would prefer holding a book, but lets just wait them out. The next generation would grow up with a subscription model because it
      • by Culture20 (968837)
        No, public libraries would just be public kiosks where people could sit and read, and the "fee" for the book would be spread across the donations/taxes that fund the library. The bad part is that you'd have to physically be in the kiosk to read the material.

        Another option is advertisement-based datapads that the library hands out. At the end of every chapter, you're subjected to an ad for another book you might like (to buy), x-ray glasses, or sea-monkeys.
    • Re:Ok, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 4iedBandit (133211) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @03:04PM (#21576405) Homepage

      $10/book to own is too much for me, since I won't read most books more than once.

      It's way to much for something that has no physical presence, that you can't share, give away, or resell. It's a money grab. The publishing industry needs to learn from the music industry. You cannot charge an insane amount of money just for the content. At least with a printed book there is a recognizable investment in printing plant, paper, ink, and distribution. With an ebook there's just distribution. Amazon has a significant infrastructure for distribution already in place so adding ebook distribution is really only maximizing use of their existing assets.

      Publisher formats the manuscript then sends it to Amazon for distribution. That's a one time expense for them.

      Amazon's distribution costs...well how much does is cost to send 100k of data over a network? Storage costs? A 200GB hard drive will hold approximately 400K books given each book is 500k in size (which is insanely generous for essentially a text file with no compression.)

      Let's see, refunds for unsold books? None. Expenses for additional print runs? None. Sales lost because a book is out of print? None.

      $10 for the e-version when even the paperback isn't that expensive? Get real. Everyone loves to hate on Apple, but thanks to them I don't have to spend $20 to buy one track anymore. $1 gets me just the song I want, legally.

      Kindle will do more to kill print media than help it. $5 for new releases I would consider. $2 once it's in paperback I would do. But only if you scrap the DRM, and don't charge me for web sites or loading my own content. If they did that then the only thing that would still keep me from buying it is the absolutely horrible industrial design. Hello platinum colored speak and spell...no thanks.

    • since I won't read most books more than once.

      Try reading better books?

      I rarely have the time to indulge the luxury of reading like I used to, but there isn't a book I've owned that I've not re-read at least once. If the Classics aren't your kind of thing, I'd suggest starting with something like a hard cover edition of Douglas Adams 5 book trilogy [amazon.com]. If you don't read that at least a few times, consider turning in your Slashdot card at the door.

      I re-read things whenever I can. Being able to quote some poet
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Colin Smith (2679)

      Basically, a paid library where the benefit is that I can get the books right on the device because I'm lazy. $10/book to own is too much for me, since I won't read most books more than once.
      That's what eBay is for. You'll probably find pretty much any book you care to read on ebay. Think of it as the national grid of books, movies and games.

       
  • How about that, both links are to fiction!

    (for those of you who didn't RTFA, which is everybodyt but me and that other guy, the links are to Orwell's 1984 and Newsweek's "the future of" something or other.
  • an article on the future of listening to audio tapes?

    When a thing becomes outmoded, don't we always let it fall to the side? I mean I don't see many people beating their steering wheel with a buggy whip. electronic reading materials and electronic readers are beginning to be more popular. The MPAA and major networks want you to watch a movie version of the book rather than read it. It's going to be a hard sell to get people to keep turning pages on a paper book. Does anyone reading this post have a set of e
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      In short, no. I know it's very unslashdottish but you actually have to RTFA on this one. Or at least the damned summary!

      Mod parent offtopic.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:33PM (#21575889) Homepage

      an article on the future of listening to audio tapes?

      When a thing becomes outmoded, don't we always let it fall to the side? [snip] electronic reading materials and electronic readers are beginning to be more popular.

      You know, I see this sentiment on Slashdot quite a bit. Apparently a lot of people around here think the printed word is archaic and is in the middle of being phased out as obsolete.

      I can assure you, that books in their physical, paper form are nowhere near being obsolete, outmoded, or about to be left to fall by the side. This isn't about abandoning an old file format of a word processor. To many people the actual physical book is still the preferred method of reading. Hell, send me a long enough document, and I'll print the damned thing and keep it on my desk.

      I buy a tremendous amount of books, I don't want an electronic reader of any form, and I'm fairly sure that a larger proportion of the populace does their reading against the old-school dead-tree formats than any form of electronic format.

      While your assertion that "electronic reading materials and electronic readers are beginning to be more popular", might be somewhat true, they're only more popular than they used to be. They're simply not more popular than paper.

      I would say that people who argue that paper books will go away in the short term have their heads so far up the ass of technology as to not really have a clear view of the world any more. I would say it would be years, if not decades, before we actually see electronic formats really supplant paper. And, you can have my physical books when I'm dead and gone -- I don't personally foresee giving them up any time soon. Books have a warmth and tactile feedback that a cold, digital screen will never offer to me.

      There will be people who want electronic books, and they're welcome to them. But, I and countless others want real actual honest to goodness books. Don't look to see them fall by the wayside for a long time.

      Cheers
      • I agree with you completely, but you left something out.

        I don't need an electrical outlet or batteries to read the dead-tree edition of a book. I can just open the blinds or, heaven forbid, go out into the bright sunlight.

        Remember the old question: what ten books would you take to a deserted island? You better make sure they are dead-tree editions. :)

      • by Jason Earl (1894) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @04:27PM (#21577735) Homepage Journal

        I used to feel the same way about books, until I started one of the Baen.com [baen.com] ebooks online and found myself reading the whole thing in front of my computer. It turned out that this particular book had a sequel that was also part of the Baen's free library and so I downloaded that too. This time, however, I spent a little bit of time coercing the ebook into the plucker format so that I could read it on my palm.

        Next thing I knew I had purchased the entire series, including the final version of the book as a $20 advanced reader copy so that I could get it before it came out in print. What's more, I realized that what I really liked was reading, not books. All of a sudden I saw used book stores for the creepy, smelly places that they really are instead of the magical place of wonder that I had built them up to be in my head.

        I liked being able to fit an entire library in my pocket. I liked being able to read in the dark without waking my wife. I liked being able to search my book collection with grep. I liked the fact that I no longer got ink on my hands from a cheap paperback, or had to worry about breaking the spine of a book. Most of all I liked the fact that I no longer had to plan time to read. I always had my palm with me, and so whenever I got a bit of time, even just a few minutes, I could make progress on whatever it was that I was reading. You can't do that with a book, unless you happen to be a security guard.

        What's more, even including the price of the pda ($70) I was actually saving money by reading ebooks. I did this by only purchasing unencrypted ebooks, which are generally priced at paperback prices (or less), and by utilizing resources like Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org]

        The real reason that ebooks have not taken off to this point has nothing to do with the format, and everything to do with the price of ebooks and ebook readers. The Kindle is a perfect example. Seriously, who wants to pay $400 for a dedicated ebook reader? I will grant Amazon.com that the price of the books for the device are mostly reasonable. They are still a little steep, considering the fact that they will be delivered digitally, but not as bad as most ebook vendors. However, $400 will buy a large pile of hardback books.

        Eventually, the ebook folks are going to get things right, and that will be that for books. Oh, there will still be some folks that stick to their books in the same way that some music lovers still purchase vinyl, but the mainstream will move on.

    • by mh1997 (1065630)

      Perhaps we would be better off to read articles on the ergonomics of new electronic books etc.
      You can tell by your post that you did not read TFA, your name will be removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done on slashdot will be wiped out, your one-time existence is denied and then forgotten. You are abolished, annhilated: vaporized
    • by nuzak (959558)
      Judging by the shops on Folsom St, buggy whips are doing a brisk business. They're just not used on horses.
    • by netsavior (627338)
      not to be a jerk but ford never really STOPPED making the fairlane 500. You can go to Australia [ford.com.au] and plunk down your $50k(aus) and drive away your brand new 5.4 liter 430hp V8 Fairlane.

      joking aside
    • Does anyone reading this post have a set of encyclopedias?
      I have two sets, a Britannica 9th Edition (1875ish) and an 11th edition (1910ish).

      Oh, and get off my lawn!!!
  • Support authors who publish their content using Creative Commons [creativecommons.org] style licenses. What little writing I do is published using CC licenses, Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is moving to CC, and I never would have even heard of Cory Doctorow [craphound.com] years ago (still one of my favorites) if not for CC.

    I'm considering licensing the majority of the content on my educational resources site under a CC license. Seriously, support these kinds of effort at (1) making high-quality published works accessible to a broader audience, and (2) supporting authors who are willing to try new business models to earn a living.

  • At least here on Slashdot, everybody just comments, nobody reads.
  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:32PM (#21575857)

    The issue with all electronic media is the ease of duplication. That's what all the DRM stuff is trying to address, and making such a mess of everything in the process.

    This is nothing new: there was never any physical impediment to sitting down with a paper book and a Xerox machine, or even writing it out by hand. But it was laborious and time-consuming, sufficiently so that few people bothered. It was easier and cheaper to just buy a copy of the book.

    So how you you do it? If I'm going to sit down and write a book I expect to be compensated for my efforts. How can you ensure the author's rights to fair compensation in a world where files are so easy to duplicate? It's clear that there is a business model issue here, so how would you fix it?

    ...laura

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by GryMor (88799)
      Perhaps we could start with trusting and respecting people? Thankfully, Baen [baen.com] has seen fit to try this revolutionary practice of trust. A few other publishers are dipping their toes in the water, as you can see on WebScription [webscription.net], and with luck, this practice will spread to the rest of the industry.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      This is nothing new: there was never any physical impediment to sitting down with a paper book and a Xerox machine, or even writing it out by hand. But it was laborious and time-consuming, sufficiently so that few people bothered. It was easier and cheaper to just buy a copy of the book.
      woo hoo! I'm one of the few! I'm special! My life has meaning!
    • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:57PM (#21576281)

      How can you ensure the author's rights to fair compensation in a world where files are so easy to duplicate? It's clear that there is a business model issue here, so how would you fix it?
      Write on contract only. The contract can be with a single person with a ton of dollars or a ton of people each with a single dollar, or somewhere in between. Once the work is finished, collect your money and then publish it to the public domain. Viola! Ease of duplication is no longer the creator's enemy -- it is now their friend as each person who copies the finished work is no longer stealing from the creator, they are promoting the creator.

      1st Objection - How does an author get started? Who is going to pay a penny for an unknown author to write something?
      1st Answer - New authors just have to suck it up, the way the majority already do today and give away some of their work in order to develop a reputation.

      2nd Objection - How is an author going to make a bazillion gazillion dollars if their book is super-duper popular? The price is fixed before release, what if they under-price it?
      2nd Answer - If the book is super-duper popular, by definition that means there will be lots and lots of people who liked it enough to pony up for the NEXT book. So the author can increase their asking price for their next work based on the popularity of their previous work.

      3rd Objection - How can millions of people all pay a dollar each to an author's escrow account?
      3rd Answer - They can't, at least not without a lot of overhead. Today. But that's just a business opportunity waiting for the right person to come along and start the next paypal.

      4th Objection - What if nobody is willing to pay the author's asking price?
      4th Answer - That's business. Either lower the price, or cancel the offer. At least this way very little time and money gets spent on creating a product that no one wants to buy. It ain't a perfect system but at least the feedback comes from the actual consumers rather than some intermediate businessman whose only purpose is to sell eyeballs for advertising dollars.
    • by sckeener (137243)
      Successful methods I have seen do the following:

      They have a downscaled version that is complete without all the frills that is totally free.

      They have premier product that costs money, looks nice, but includes everything that the free version has.

      Heck I can even use current libraries as an example. Frequently I've read a book at the library and then turned it around at Christmas time buying the same book for all my friends. The free no frills product above serves the same function...a filter to find the ge
  • I scrolled to the bottom, and didn't see a video on the page. Does anybody have a link to the video?
  • Wal-Mart Joins Amazon to Push Labels to Ditch DRM Once and For All: http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/drm-deathwatch/amazon-and-wal+mart-push-labels-to-ditch-drm-once-and-for-all-329105.php [gizmodo.com]

    You can't write this shit.
  • Nerd = luddite. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shumacher (199043) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:40PM (#21576009) Homepage
    Many would identify me as a bit of a nerd. I have a moderately low UID, I work in IT, and I have too many features on my cell phone.

    Part of the nerd world tends to be life on the "bleeding edge" of technology. While a nerd may not always own the latest and greatest, he or she will tend to at least follow the news and allow that to influence their purchases. They probably got involved in the internet, BBSing, mobile internet, and any number of other technologies before their non-nerd friends.

    But today, we have DRM. I've bought DRM, and I've skipped purchases because of DRM. DRM really annoys me, because it interferes with my interest in the latest techology. While the Kindle might not have been a "must-buy" item for me at its current price, if it were to be subsidized below $100, it would have entered my consumer radar, had it not been afflicted with the restrictions Amazon has placed. While I currently subscribe to a music service, (Rhapsody, if it matters) I tend to buy music that I wish to keep on old-fashioned CD. I'll rent DVDs, but I'll seldom buy them because I don't want to violate the DMCA to get them on my PMP.

    Blu-Ray? HD-DVD? I have no idea; who's farting on my pizza less?

    When I go out to eat, I don't have someone screwing up my food on purpose, and when I'm getting a haircut, they don't reserve the right to shave areas I'm not supposed to be able to see - why is it then that all of these great technologies have to come with a little "oh by the way..." restriction?

    • by Pope (17780)

      I'll rent DVDs, but I'll seldom buy them because I don't want to violate the DMCA to get them on my PMP.

      Why would anyone be worried about violating the DMCA with something so minor? Hell, there are so many laws these days that you can violate dozens just by going about your daily business, being caught and proven in a court of law is an entirely other matter.
  • by Vthornheart (745224) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @02:42PM (#21576041)
    I think the article is overreacting. Being able to change an E-Book is very different from being able to erase all evidence of an event taking place from all media (as was the case in the book "1984").
    He seems to draw the conclusion that this capability will lead to such a situation. I think it's got a long way to go before getting there. If the government begins censoring everything *other than* remotely editable E-Books, I'll begin to worry. Until then, there's plenty of media other than that where you can find out what's really happening.
  • Anyone use one of these Amazon Kindle things yet? Can you read any text/PDF file on it, or do they have to be in a proprietary format or digitally signed by amazon.com?
  • The Kindle (Score:3, Informative)

    by suitti (447395) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @03:40PM (#21576959) Homepage
    As far as i know, the Kindle can be used to read non-DRM books, just as an iPod can play non-DRM mp3's. One can, for example, format Gutenberg books for free, load them onto a Kindle, and read them. There are also DRM works available, but not, for example, Harry Potter. I can't think of another book i'd read under DRM.

    So for me, the Kindle should be judged as an electronic reader. Like the Sony, it has a large format, high res, gray scale screen (no color). There's a pause displaying a new screen, but once there, power drain is minimal to keep it there. The batteries last a long time. Books can be text, PDF or web pages. It does WiFi and USB. It can play audio, but at the expense of consuming the batteries. You don't have to play audio. It can display images, but, they are gray scale.

    On the down side, it doesn't scroll well (there's that pause). It's larger than a shirt pocket. I prefer the Palm form factor. Portability is important. The Kindle is something like $400, which i consider outrageous.

    My old Handspring Visor Platinum has an LCD screen, works well in direct sunlight, ambient room light, and darkness (with backlight), runs more than 20 hours on 2 AAA batteries (10 with backlight), spares can be carried for more endurance, does USB, turns pages quickly, has two font sizes to optimize readability with it's small screen, fits in a shirt pocket, was $110 new (closeout), and can run other apps, like a calendar, memopad, planetarium, and games. There are DRM readers available. I happen to like weasel better. 8 MB RAM/file store allows apps and at least a couple Bible sized books on line. On the downside, it doesn't display images, and it is no longer available. For long battery life in black and white, LCDs rock.

    I'm now using a Nokia 770. It fits in a shirt pocket, has stunning color but it is weakest in direct sunlight, does PDF, and web, the text reader: FBReader offers fonts, sizes, and colors, runs 5 hours on a charge, a spare battery can be purchased, was $150 new (closeout), can run other apps including a Palm emulator, does WiFi, Bluetooth and USB. It runs Linux. It comes with a 64 MB flash card, for huge libraries online. A 2 GB flash card allows audio and video, or this stuff can be streamed over WiFi.
  • I get the problems: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThousandStars (556222) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @04:48PM (#21578037) Homepage

    When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.
    Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author's Guild, 2002

    You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party [...]

    Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007

    This kind of juxtaposition is what I had in mind when I expanded a /. comment in this piece on the Kindle [wordpress.com].

    I think the Kindle gets so much press because it's technologically so damn impressive but legally so damn irritating. Until there's a way of solving the hurdles to distributing books, I wouldn't even consider buying the Kindle.

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