eBook Purchasing and Personal Values

An App to Proritize eBook Purchases by User-Set Priorities

I’m excited to read a new book, Sophia Samatar’s A Stranger in OlondriaI came across Ms. Samatar’s name and her work on the site Islam and Science Fiction and I was so excited about the perspective and literary references in A Stranger in Olondria that I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle store. Then, after I’ve already bought the book, I noticed that it is also available from Weightless books, a niche retailer of ebooks that is small press and author friendly and sells books without DRM. I immediately regretted my Amazon purchase and wished I had sent my money to a vendor whose values are more in line with my own. The values I’m concerned about deal with DRM-free purchase options and the amount of my purchase dollars that go into the authors’ pockets.

I have a rough mental sketch of the ebook vendors I would prefer to use and in an ideal world, there are some resources available as well to help us choose. (If any readers *cough* librarians *cough* can help fill out this list, I’d appreciate it.)

My preferred ebook shopping list looks something like this:

  • Shop Smashwords first. In a conversation with Lindsay Buroker (the author of the fun steampunk series Emporer’s Edge) on Twitter, I learned that authors get a bigger cut of the purchase price on Smashwords then they get from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
  • Shop Weightless Books second. Weightless books have no DRM, and they work with small presses to develop new authors.
  • Shop direct from the publisher third. There are several publishers such as O’Reilly, No Starch, or BAEN who offer better service and DRM-free purchase options.
  • Shop Kobo next. Kobo sometimes has DRM-free options when the next item on the list does not. I buy John Scalzi’s work from Kobo for this reason.
  • Shop Amazon if all other options fail. I like the convenience of Amazon. I don’t necessarily care for their privacy policies, their clout in the industry, or their DRM policies. (Their MP3 store has no DRM, but Kindle and Audible books are locked down.) I don’t mind shopping there and I maintain a Prime subscription, but I prefer to use them as a vendor of last resort, not my first stop. Shopping at Bezos’ store first means that vendors with values that reflect my own are less likely to thrive or exist at all.

The App:

This  experience has me thinking: there should be an app that can do this for us. If such an app exists, please let me know about it in the comments. If not, it sounds like a good summer code project. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin sketch of how I want this thing to work:

Step One:

  • The first step is for the user to enter an ISBN, title, title keyword for the book they are looking for. This is a tool for known-item-searching so it doesn’t need to be able to browse.
  • The user input will return a list of possible titles and the users can confirm that this is the precise item they are looking for.

Step Two:

  • Once the exact title has been identified, a unique identifier such as an ISBN, DOI, or ASN will be used to search a set of vendors.

Step Three:

  • If multiple vendors stock the book, the user will be directed to the first vendor on a list of priorities. These priorities can be set by the user.

Step Four:

  • If the vendor selected has an affiliate program, purchase the book using the affiliate code. Otherwise, just send the user to the vendor’s storefront. It is important *not* to privilege affilate programs, otherwise we could just use Amazon all the time, but if such options exist, no reason the designer can’t get a small slice of each transaction enabled with the app.

I’ll throw something together when I get some project time and put it up on Github. Unless, of course, it already exists or one of you smarty-pants beats me to it.

Wrapping Up:

That’s it. It seems simple enough, but I’ve bought enough ebooks from the Kindle store, only to regret not shopping with my values that I think I’d benefit from having a tool like this. What do you all think? It should be noted that using a queue system like this assumes the user has the ability to strip the DRM from the books they buy. I use Apprentice Alf’s plugins for Calibre to do this myself. If there is interest, I’ll do a technical walkthrough for novices on how to own your ebooks using this method. Please let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “eBook Purchasing and Personal Values”

  1. And if you do have to shop at Amazon, make sure you click through from an affiliate you want some of that money to go towards. I’m a fan of ‘best of the left’, but there are many out there.

  2. I hate to be That Guy, but I’m hoping you mean “web app” when you say “app.” Coding something for one platform over another would seem to create the same kind of lock-in caused by ebook DRM.

    I’ll stop being such a Poindexter now. I could totally see this working, perhaps along the lines of canistream.it. Either through screen-scraping or (if the vendor is nice) an available API, you could likely whip up some kind of metasearch without too much trouble.

    1. You are 100% correct Toby. I still have my code training wheels on, but I’m visualizing this in HTML5, javavascript, & some jquery mobile. I intentionally use app in a general sense, but it probably would pay to be more specific.

  3. I’m wondering if, rather than entering an ISBN, it mightn’t make more sense to have a browser plugin that was like “you’re on amazon.com. would you rather buy the book from ___?”

    Disad of have to code for more browsers, potential advantage of reminding you inside your workflow.

    Also, if you do this, maybe do it collectively with the interest group? Could be a great project for the web-services niche.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>