Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why I Like -- And Hate -- Shopping At iUniverse

iUniverse POD books are particularly well-represented on my bookshelf. It’s not that iUniverse authors are uniquely talented. Every POD publisher has a few great books, and a whole lot of dross. It's certainly not that iUniverse produces an especially beautiful physical product. iUniverse's cover art is as unforntunate as any POD publisher's.

Rather, I like iUniverse because it allows me to read several pages of the books I'm interested in before I purchase them. Other POD websites offer less extensive preview functionality. For example, Lulu (which I also really like, and which will be the subject of a future post) recently began providing pages from most (but not all) of its newer offerings. AuthorHouse sometimes provides a few random paragraphs. But iUniverse lets you check out the first several pages of all of its books.

This obviously does not advantage every iUniverse author. I've often passed on a book that initially looked intriguing after I've read the first few pages (or sentences). However, the fact that iUniverse gives me the opportunity to make this assessment is what makes me willing to buy its books at all. If I bought every POD book that caught my eye without further investigation, I'd be broke (and my house would be filled with awful fiction).

However, as much as I appreciate iUniverse's preview policy, its absurd e-book policy drives me crazy. Because POD paperbacks are expensive, I only buy a novel if I am very confident that I will enjoy it. However, I would be happy to take chances on more novels, ones that I am not quite as certain about, if I could purchase them in the cheaper e-book format.

In this regard, ordinary pdf e-books are convenient: they can be printed, read by a variety of software on a variety of systems, and freely transferred between all of my computers and handheld devices. Indeed, several POD publishers (like Lulu) distribute their e-books in basic pdf format.

Unfortunately, all of iUniverse's e-books are sold in Adobe Ebook format. Adobe Ebooks cannot be printed, which is a huge inconvenience for me. Moreover, Adobe EBooks can only be read using Adobe's own proprietary Reader software. The Adobe Reader must be installed and registered on every computer or device on which you want to read your Ebooks. If Adobe doesn't make a reader for your device, you're out of luck. If you buy an Adobe Ebook but then change your system someday so that the Adobe Reader no longer works or is not available, your investment is gone. You can never read your EBook again.

This is unacceptable. Why shouldn't I be able to print my e-books to read in the bathtub? Why shouldn't I be able to read my e-books on any program I want, and on any computer I want, without registering my every move with Adobe? Why should I have to worry about someday losing access to my EBooks altogether? Is iUniverse really that afraid of POD e-book piracy? I'm as big a POD novel booster as there is, and I truly believe that some POD novels are as good as any contemporary popular fiction. But let's be honest: the demand for these books in the black-market underground just isn't that great. All that iUniverse has succeeded in doing is alienating me and reducing its own sales.