PEBKAC: Readers, Readers Everywhere, and Not A Library To Spare

This column originally appeared in the October issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

I have a problem.

I love to read. (No, that’s not the problem, but we’ll get there.) Last year, I read forty-three books and novellas, a personal best since I began tracking annually three years ago. Over the past couple of years, a steadily increasing amount of my reading has been done electronically. With iBooks, Kindle, and Nook apps on my iPhone, I could read pretty much anywhere, any time. My wife and I each have our own hardware Kindle now, too. And, of course, there are still the dead tree editions stacked about.

So what’s the problem? Sounds like maybe Erasmus’ quote writ large, perhaps, but no, not having money for food and clothes isn’t the problem.

The problem is that there’s no way to track my library across dead-tree, iBooks, Kindle, Nook, et al. And when I say track, I mean in a manner that doesn’t have me endlessly typing into some sort of database each and every title. Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble already have a database of what titles I’ve gotten from them, both free and purchased. If only that information could be harnessed.

And therein lies the rub: even if an enterprising developer rose to the challenge, he would have to have access to certain information which I’m pretty sure Amazon’s APIs do not allow access to, I don’t think B&N even has APIs for, and know for a fact that he wouldn’t be able to get it out of Apple.

Now, as a good capitalist, I do not begrudge Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble from keeping this information proprietary. After all, they’ve spent considerable monies and man-hours on building these systems for their benefit. Yet as a consumer, it would be nice to be able to use my personal information from these companies for my benefit as well.

I know I’m not alone in this problem. Some may not have even realized yet they have the same problem, which only makes it more frustrating for those of us who are aware of it, as it means there’s little demand for the above companies to relinquish access to the information we’d so desperately like to house under one roof for our own benefit.

“But Chris,” you may say, “why not just buy from a single source, like say, Amazon. Then your problem’s solved.” Very true, but how often is that the case, that we’ll be able to have 100% of our electronic and dead-tree book purchases come from a single source? Sure, it’s easier than ever to make that happen, but personally, I like to spread the wealth around. For one, I actually prefer the iBooks interface to the Kindle app’s on my iPhone. Granted, owning a hardware Kindle means I’m more apt to purchase from Amazon moving forward, but that still doesn’t fix the problem of the myriad titles across different apps/sellers now.

Sadly, looking at the landscape, the only conclusion we can reach for those of us who really care about the one-roof concept is that we’ll be spending a lot of time in our database of choice entering it all manually.

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