Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Google Ebooks: A complete and utter rip-off

I've been following the ebook thing for a long time, but seldom have I seen such a disgusting rip-off as google e-books. Doing research for the novel I'm currently working on, it became necessary to have a copy of the Sears, Roebuck catalog from the late 1890s. Great, I figured. Here's a job for an ebook. I looked on Google's ebook site and they had one. I read through the information on it, and nowhere did it say the book was not available in PDF or epub format, so I purchased it.

First problem: the price. Google ebooks are either free or expensive, in this case I paid $9.95 (plus tax) for a book I could have bought on paper for $12 from Amazon.

Second, I'm stuck reading the book on the cloud. This sounds nicer than it is. It really means that on my desktop I'm limited to using their browser-reader, and on any other device it has to have an active, battery sucking internet connection. Oh, and by the way, there is no way at all to read it on Kindle. Let me repeat that, because it's one of the main reasons I'm calling this a rip-off: there is NO downloading this book. You read it from Google's servers or not at all. Basically, you're paying to access a web site.

Third, this book is a plain scan of the reproduction of the catalog. This is as primitive as ebooks get. It is in no way searchable. It has no internal organization other than was present when the catalog was published 114 years ago. While this simplicity (the only addition is a foreword from the republisher) would be charming in a paper edition, in an ebook edition it severely limits the book's usefulness.

Fourth, of course, is the web-page reader itself. Consisting of a web page listing the books you were fool enough to buy on this service, and a link that takes you to the ebook in question. Once there, you get a bar at the top of your browser to take you back to your "I wasted my money on THIS?" page, and a button at either edge of your browser to scroll, one page at a time, through the ebook, along with an uncalibrated slider at the bottom of the page so you can scroll to about the middle of the book, or somewhere near one end or the other. That's as accurate as it gets. Using the forward and back buttons is no special joy. Each time you hit one of the buttons, the web site has to send you another page (remembering this is a scan, so it's a big image file of some kind, so even on my 16mb/s link it takes a certain amount of time). If you hit it more than a couple times close together (I need to get to page 500) it will stop responding altogether. As if these defects weren't sufficient, there is one that is above all, unforgivable. If you shrink the window it buckles the text and hides the forward and back buttons altogether. Read that again. If you scale your browser window the PRINT BECOMES UNREADABLE and THE FORWARD AND BACK BUTTONS ARE HIDDEN. THE READER BECOMES UNUSABLE IF YOU TRY TO SCALE IT.

If you're entertaining the idea of buying a google book for any reason, I encourage you to think twice, maybe three times. Google has not done any work at all to make a quality product here.


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