My last paper book (I hope).

Becky Hogge, you’ve ruined everything!

On a recommendation from a trustworthy source I purchased a paper copy of your book, Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in search of techno-utopia. As I sat down to read the first chapter I remembered something about an online version available for free from your website. There the .epub version of your book caught my eye, and immediately made me think of the compatible ebook reader that I had installed but never used on my Android phone. And once I put down the physical book and fired up the digital one that was it — no turning back, ever.

Of course, this isn’t the first ebook I’ve read. That honour goes to The Hacker Crackdown, which I first read on my Palm Pilot back in the late 1900s. Or maybe it was The Wapit Story, the chronicle of a failed Finnish startup from that same era — there used to be a .pdb of that too, floating around somewhere.

Point is, the grand total of all free ebooks in the known universe that I can recommend and you legally¬†download is three — four if you include Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which I hear great things about but haven’t yet read.

Up to this point I’ve been making do with paper books. Actually that’s not fair; the batteries on paper books never run out, after all. But in the past week or so I’ve become so accustomed to the benefits of going digital:

  1. Scribble and fold-free bookmarking;
  2. Reading in bed without disturbing anyone;
  3. Having a book (or several) with me wherever I go.

… that I could only consider the purchase of a physical book if it was something I really wanted and there was no other option.

Unlike the days of Peanut Press options for ebooks are now plentiful from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Chapters-Indigo and the like. And to no one’s real surprise they use wildly incompatible formats, each encumbered by their own form of technical protection measures, the more specific/accurate term for what we commonly refer to as DRM.

As you’d expect, the P2P community delivers a superior (if illegal) alternative, if you’ve got the Google-fu to find it and the technical skill to download and transfer the files to your reading device. I won’t link to any infringing material here, but suffice to say there are BitTorrents out there containing every single title in the New York Times Bestseller list, updated weekly. Not something that I’m particularly interested in mind you, but it’s not something you’ll find as a legal purchase either.

As with any shared file there’s always the risk of downloading a virus, a bad transcription or even an all-out fake — “It was the blurst of times…?” — but it’s more likely that these are legally purchased ebooks that have been “liberated” from their TPMs. You know it, I know it… DRM just doesn’t work.

You’d think that ebook publishers would see the writing on the wall like the music industry largely has. Instead digital books are taking their cues from Hollywood, choosing not to respect the rights of their owners.

Barefoot into Cyberspace bravely bucks this trend. I hope others follow; if they don’t, my digital library will forever be stuck in single digits…


  1. But, in all seriousness, I do agree. The issue around DRM is that is does not work. There will also be those who wish to tinker, crack, and hack away at digital walls and then liberate the content to the masses.

    Cory Doctorow is a perfect example of how authors can allow their works to be downloaded for free but are also available for purchase from a number of bookstores. It is a brilliant strategy as it also has unexpected offshoots where his books have been translated for free, modified into poetry, re-formatted into alternative reader formats – it just goes on. The community vouched for him and his books are still selling. From what I understand, his sales were higher than expected as well and it was attributed to how he released his work.

    If you cover both sides of the fence, you make almost everyone happy who is a member of your audience and it can translate into sales.

    Paulo Coelho does something similar, although it sounds like it is at the behest of his publisher. But he knows his audience and I gather his contracts with his publishers allow him to release his books on his website for free.

    It just boggles the mind how examples like this can’t be something to consider in a new economy. Don’t get me started about Go The Fuck To Sleep…

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