Dan Frommer asks for something that would be a holy grail for me and my wife: Amazon’s AutoRip, but for books. He also notes why it’s unlikely, and how it could go horribly awry. But this exact idea is what my wife wanted three years ago, when I was considering buying her a Kindle or a Nook.
The last time we used LibraryThing, which was four or five years ago, we had more than 1,000 books. Now that total is easily 1,500. We acquire books at an astonishing rate, and Emily reads them even faster, so imagine two dozen library books being around at any given time, as well. And unlike me, she re-reads books, so she doesn’t want an e-reader until she’s able to take an enormous collection with her but not have to carry any physical books alongside the e-reader. I can’t blame her—the beauty of the e-reader is that you just have to pack one thing.
Buying digital copies of all—or even most—of our books is obvious cost-prohibitive, and selling them and using the proceeds to buy a digital copy doesn’t work either, because most books lose half or more of their value the second you buy them. And that’s setting aside the old or esoteric books that don’t have digital versions. I looked into creating a DIY book scanner, but scanning all of our books would be the work of a lifetime, considering we both work full time. And we wouldn’t have time to read the books if all we did was scan them. Most scanning solutions capture either one page or a full spread at a time and require constant attention.
Frommer notes wisely that leaving this to the publishers would lead to another Ultraviolet. (Serious question: Has anyone ever USED Ultraviolet?) But I think they’re really missing the chance to change the balance of power with Amazon. How amazing would it be to scan the bar code of a book and be able to download the digital version? I don’t know how you’d handle piracy, and I’m not sure of the best way to handle distribution and verification, but it would make more sense for the publishers to offer it than it would for Amazon, at least from a consumer perspective. After all, it doesn’t matter where you bought the book, only that you own it.
The DRM problems are staggering, of course, and there’s no way the books would be offered DRM-free (really, there’s no chance of this happening, at least not in the foreseeable future). But when the day comes that she can download any of the hundreds of books that she owns onto the device, Emily will be the first in line for an e-reader.