Excuse me, but I only just found out – and I’m still reeling.
As of last month, Better World Books, my favourite online used-book retailer (by far!) has started offering an “eDelivery” option when you order a used book.
At first glance, I didn’t think anything of it – and then I did a double-take. What is eDelivery? I wondered.
I quickly found out. Think they’re doing something like this to your book???
Think again… eDelivery is BWB’s code for “destroying a book.”
When you order a used book with eDelivery, workers will pull the book off the shelves for you normally. And then they will slice it open with a guillotine and scan the pages, one by one, presumably recycling them into toilet paper when they’re through.
Here’s what’s left of your book when it’s finished the guillotine process – just the spine:
Sure, most of these books probably weren’t masterpieces to begin with. Many could look forward to a lively new future in the virtual realm… maybe. Or maybe they’ll get read, deleted, forgotten – gone. Who am I to judge, with the click of a mouse, that a perfectly good book (after all, I’m willing to pay to read it!) should be ruined forever?
According to the hype on BWB’s site, “instead of throwing it in the mail we scan it, producing a PDF file which you can then securely download… How cool is that?”
Naturally, they think it’s cool – BWB has gotten famous (and, presumably, rich) by selling books with FREE delivery worldwide. Free delivery is a lot cheaper and easier to arrange if it’s a scanned copy you’re “shipping,” rather than a wrapped-up book in an envelope.
Perhaps it exists somewhere, but I can’t find any information about what guidelines BWB will follow when it comes to listing books as “available for destruction.”
They also don’t mention exactly what they’re going to do with the scanned book,
but my suspicion is that they’re going to go the “quick and dirty” route, meaning simple, non-OCR page scans that amount, essentially, to a photograph of each page. You’re not getting an ebook, and the text probably won’t be searchable or copy/pasteable, either.
UPDATE: I was wrong about this. John Ujda, BWB’s Marketing VP, says, “Digital delivered files are composed of page-by-page photographic scans with optical character recognition. Therefore, the PDF file that you receive will have searchable, highlightable text”. (see his full remarks in the Comments section)
(However, this raises a ton of other digital rights / licensing concerns, as I also mention in the Comments.)
Notice also (in the fine print above) that there are no refunds available for books that have been ordered with eDelivery. This worries me since I have received several books in error – books that were inventoried as being one item and actually turned out to be something completely different.
Imagine if I ordered a fourth-edition Trumpet of the Swan, and they scanned and emailed it to me, only for me to discover on opening my email that they had, in fact, destroyed a vintage, signed, first edition? Which would be gone now, of course, shredded into a million sheets of toilet paper.
And heck, even if it isn’t a vintage first edition that was lost… is the world really a “better” place with fewer books in it, Better World Books???
What do you think? Do you agree that this is a sad, sad thing, or is it a step in the right direction, giving old, forgotten books an exciting new life in the digital age?