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How International Travel Can Make eBooks Disappear

Georgetown professor James J. O’Donnell discovered the hard way that eBooks are not the best reading companions when traveling in Singapore. Instead of being able to crack open an eBook, he updated his Google Books app which undownloaded his entire library.

He explains the story in an email that he sent to Liblicense Archive – DRM Follies:

I noticed that several of my iPad apps had updates on offer, so I clicked and approved.  One of them was Google Play. When it finished and I went to open the app, it told me that it needed to update my book files and this might take several minutes.  Time passed and the screen filled in the covers of the 30 or 40 titles I keep live on the machine.  Two of them were books I am actively reading for my teaching this fall.

O’Donnell tried to redownload a couple of books from his library but he wasn’t able to because Google Play doesn’t have the rights to sell books in Singapore. Unfortunately inquiries to Google didn’t help. Thankfully he found one of the titles that he needed to teach through Archive.org and he is able to read it in GoodReader. 

UPDATE: O’Donnell shared more details about his experience in the comments section of The Digital Reader blog, revealing that the issue could stem from a differentiation between Google Play and Google Books. He wrote:

Two footnotes: (1) The books were not bought books, they were Google Books scanned 19th century books, all of them *clearly* public domain; (2) I have since discovered that about 6 of the 40 are in fact downloadable, but there is *no* pattern — volume 2 of Middlemarch is downloadable, but not volumes 1 or 3 of the same issue. The error message is that they don’t have Google Play in my country. (Via BoingBoing).

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