On “E-Book Logic: We Can Do Better,” by John Maxwell

On “E-Book Logic: We Can Do Better,” by John Maxwell

John Maxwell takes issue with the current state of e-books in “E-Book Logic: We Can Do Better”– or, more precisely, with the e-book market. He argues that e-books are touted as being new (as of 2013) but that the electronic book, or at least electronic-facilitated writing, has a decades-long history. What is new, Maxwell suggests, is that large corporations (cough *Amazon* cough) are inventively controlling how consumers interact with digital media versus other consumer goods. In this article, Maxwell aims to identify the strategic, profit-centric handling of e-books. He suggests that Amazon’s business model has shaken up the publishing world, as they have created a system with the Kindle where the only products being consumed are Amazon-certified; that is, they are all created within Amazon’s proprietary format. Developing hardware that only runs a specific, proprietary software for certain file types is an increasingly common business tactic for the major tech companies, Maxwell reminds us. In fact, Apple has nearly perfected what Maxwell terms as “using the technology to enforce customer loyalty” (37) (see: iPod and iTunes). The best take I’ve heard on this tactic was in a talk by Cory Doctorow, who likened Apple’s practices to buying a toaster and then being told that there is only one type of bread that you are able to toast. Where most consumer tools and appliances are just that — tools and appliances for the consumer to use in whichever way they seem fit, once they own them — computer hardware and software systems are increasingly siloed, single-purpose, inflexible systems.

Rather than perpetuate the anti-network of contemporary e-book publishing, Maxwell suggests an alternate system, ideal in its simplicity: open-web based publishing. He argues that the closed system appification of everything is not going to lead to e-books that take advantage of their context (the Internet). Rather, having closed, proprietary e-book systems precludes any hope of e-books becoming the dynamic, interlinked, and creative artifacts they could be; instead, they are by and large relegated to the realm of pricetagged PDFs.  I would suggest that boutique organizations like TouchPress and Visual Editions are breaking out of the corporate e-book mold. Although, these publishers do not necessarily take full advantage of the network either, and the products they create are generally self-referential object-like artifacts rather than fluid, web-based experiences. This does not mean they’re not social, or innovative, or brilliant — au contraire. They do, however, continue the trajectory of isolation and ownership that Maxwell argues against in this chapter.


Work cited

Maxwell, John. 2013. “E-Book Logic: We Can Do Better.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 51 (1): n.p.


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