eReader Rage

The Networked NonprofitOh sweet mother of dog, can anyone help me work out how to download and open a goddamn PDF book on my iPad Mini? I bought the book. The default reader is Overdrive, but Overdrive doesn’t support PDFs and won’t download the file. I cannae work out how to download and open the book via another reader. (Adobe PDF Reader for iPad, Kindle, iBooks, etc.) Gah, ebook format wars and incompatibility make Fi very angry.

If the above Facebook post slash cry for help hasn’t already alerted you to this fact, I should probably spell it out for you: This blog post has been typed in anger.

I held off buying an ereader for this precise reason until just a few weeks ago. I wanted the format wars to be over and for the dust from them to be settled. I wanted to be able to purchase and read a book with just a couple of clicks and plenty of ease, with the biggest decision I had to make being which book to purchase. I didn’t want to spend hours researching and troubleshooting downloads and formats and getting increasingly exasperated and incensed.

This is not how I should be spending my Sunday afternoon.

The ultimate irony is that the book I’m trying to download—Beth Kanter and Allison H Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit—isn’t even a book I want to read for fun. I mean no offence by that—I’m sure it’s a rollicking read. More importantly it’s a book I absolutely must, must, must read and reference for my university study (and it does contain, I’m sure, and by pure virtue of currently being inaccessible to me, the key to my entire thesis).

I should preface the rest of this rant with a note that this is not the fault of Booku, the ebook retail site that complements Boomerang Books. In fact, although Booku doesn’t support PDF files on iPad Minis, it had the clearest, most concise, most communicationally designed (that’s a technical term) help information I was able to find. If it weren’t for Booku, I’d still be googling and randomly attempting to download apps and readers and who knows what else (and no, I’m not just saying that because I technically work for them). I also feel the need to specify that it’s not an Apple product thing. It’s an ebook format war thing. Every ereading device currently available comes with quirks and cons.

The issue is that downloading a book to any device shouldn’t have to be this hard. This format war stuff needs to be sorted the f$%k out.

The Indigo SpellI can’t recount the steps I took to get my PDF onto my iPad, partly because I don’t want to bore you and mostly because I can’t remember the myriad, seemingly unending, largely fruitless steps I took. I should also admit that although I’ve now got the book open and readable on my Macbook Pro, I still haven’t managed to do it on my iPad Mini (it appears that I can only download the Adobe Digital Editions to the former, because it’s not an app, which kind of defeats the purpose of me specifically purchasing an iPad Mini to be an ereader). If you’ve got any advice on how to do this, I’m all eyes and ears.

Sigh.

Who knows, maybe half of what I’ve typed here today is incorrect. But I don’t apologise for that—this ebook stuff is unnecessarily confusing. Because here’s the rub: I don’t care what format my ebook is in. Nor should I even have to know. As the producers and distributors of this product, the publishers and retailers should be across that. And they should be making it as easy as possibly for me, the enduser, to simply decided on my purchase and download it with ease. That’s how the interwebs work these days.

There’s a reason why iTunes and Amazon’s (particularly with the latter’s oh-so-dangerous, impulse buy-encouraging one-click functionality) are dominating the sales spaces, and it’s not because they’re behemoths. It’s because they’ve made it easy for people to get the things they’re after. I’m actually reasonably tech savvy and interested in ebooks (it is, after all, central to my work and industry). If I can’t work it out, what hope is there for the lay reader who just wants to enjoy some Sunday afternoon Vampire Academy (I’m eagerly awaiting the arriving of my just-released The Indigo Spell)?

To be blunt (not that I haven’t already been), I resent having to have about 17 different ereading apps downloaded to my ereading device and playing which-one-will-work roulette every time I want to read a book. I resent not being able to use the ereader of my choice, instead being dictated to by the format that it may or may not support. I also resent having my ebooks spread across various apps—I imagine there’ll be a time when I lose my s$%t trying to find a book I know I own but can’t remember its format and, subsequently, in which app’s library it will happen to be stored.

I’m sure downloading Kanter’s book didn’t and doesn’t need to be this hard. But I didn’t know the steps and I shouldn’t have had to. They should be intuitive and the process should be seamless. It shouldn’t have involved me having to first find and then type in my stupid Adobe ID multiple times. (As a side note, Adobe also forced me to give the company my birthday, which enraged me no end. The only reason they need such information is to gather marketing data on me is that they will use against me or sell on to a third party. It’s not ok, Adobe. You knowing my age doesn’t affect whether I can get a goddamn PDF downloaded and opened on my device.)

Nor should the process have had to involve me becoming an expert of what kinds of ereading apps are available and which formats they support. For the record none of the ones I looked at—Goodreader, Stanza, Kindle, iBooks, Overdrive, and Bluefire—and especially not the last two, are intuitive titles that people would think to use as search terms. Where is the generically named ‘ebook reader’ app? Where is the ereader that’s easy to find, intuitive to use, and that reads all formats?

Hello iPad Mini

photo[4]There are some weeks so bad that only comfort food and obscenely expensive aspirational purchases can save you. I’d argue I’ve just had one of those, having found out I have two tears in my knee and require an arthroscopy, getting flooded twice as badly as I did in 2011, and discovering that my stove has sprung a mammoth gas leak that will need wall-punchingly expensive plumbing repairs.

So, although I’d like to say that I bought my long-awaited, much-adored iPad Mini under happy circumstances (perhaps even—as I inadvertently worded it the other day—getting the clap on the way out of the Apple store), it’s come more as a consolation prize.

As consolation prizes go, though, I’m not complaining. The iPad Mini’s pretty incredible, and in just a few short days and limited plays, I’ve fallen in love with the following …

Its ereader capabilities

iPad_Mini_ereaderI’ve held out buying an ereader until now because I’m a dedicated worshipper of the cult of Apple, because I wanted to wait until the format wars died down, and because no ereader on the market did quite what I’d hoped (read: none were ‘Apple pretty’).

The crisp, white, Garamond font-inked pages unfurling on the iPad Mini actually made my heart soar. The handy functionality that enables me to highlight paragraphs, add notes, and more kind of make me wonder if I’ll ever return to physical copies, where I’m forced to dog-ear pages, add post-it notes that easily become unstuck, and rustle through pages down the track when I’m looking for a quote about something interesting that I vaguely remember marking somewhere along the way. In short, I’m obsessed with it and am currently plotting which ebooks I should buy.

Its accompanying magnetic cover

photoI had to buy it separately, but the iPad Mini’s light grey, magnetised cover that snaps on and snaps to without affecting usability or streamlined pretty is fantastic. Sometimes it’s the little things that really please.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) app

SMH_AppThere are, rather confusingly, two SMH apps, and I downloaded both before discovering that the one I want appears in the iPad Mini’s newsstand. And, despite the initial confusion, the correct app’s proving brilliant. Indeed, traditional newspapers may be struggling to make the digital shift, but you wouldn’t know if from Fairfax’s SMH app. It’s crisp, clear, image-driven, and extremely aesthetically appealing. It’s also packed with handy functions to save stories for later, share with others, and jump to favourite sections.

I’m pretty sure this newspaper app will be my gateway app to the likes of apps for the New Yorker, Longform, and the New York Times.

The Foxtel Go app

photo[3]Released just a few weeks ago and sounding far too good to be true, this app enables you to connect two iPads/iPad Minis to one Foxtel subscription. My parents have two Foxtel connections these days purely because they were sick of me poaching the TV to watch football at precisely the same time they wanted to watch some form of British TV.

I’ve long since moved out and drive back over to take advantage of said second Foxtel connection (I mean, it’s not as if I can afford to install Foxtel at my own place) and, though I’d heard I could effectively siphon off their connection to my iPad Mini, I was convinced it wouldn’t work. Surely Foxtel would detect I wasn’t on the same network, that I in fact wasn’t even in the same house?

It turns out not (although I’m still unsure whether this is deliberate or an as-yet-undiagnosed quirk), and I can now successfully pilfer Foxtel’s football from my parents’ connection. Provided it doesn’t change the ‘loophole’, Foxtel Go is officially the best. app. ever.

Finding out what’s next

I’m just days into my iPad Mini discovery tour, so I’m sure there are more than a billion features and apps I’ve not yet discovered. Are there any you’d recommend I download immediately and roadtest?

*Please excuse my rather dodgy phone photos—I’m a little incapacitated and a lot a fan of take-it-from-your-phone efficiency and ease. You get the right idea from them, yeah?

Hello ereading

Given that most of my work is digitally based, most people are surprised to find out I don’t yet own an ereader. It’s not because I’m dinosauring it up, dragging my heels and wailing that nothing will ever replace the smell of books (then sniffing physical books in a slightly creepy way). It’s just that I’ve been waiting for the format wars to end and for someone to release the ereader I’m after.

And by ‘someone’, I mean Apple. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but I’m such a staunch Apple supporter and such an it’s-not-pretty-enough snob that I’ve turned my nose up at the previously released devices from other suppliers that have come close but not close enough.

I’ve resolutely steered clear of Amazon’s Kindle for reasons that I realise could just as easily be levelled at Apple itself: with their device and their one-of-a-kind file type, Amazon try to lock you in to their store.

Besides, Kindles utilise the nostalgic Etch-a-Sketch magnetic filings and they-used-to-be-handy rocker button technology, but deep down I’ve always known that LCD touch screens were the way of the future.

Combine those issues with region restrictions and the fact that Kindles aren’t the ugliest device ever but that certainly aren’t the prettiest and, well, despite desperately wanting to get in on the ereading world, I’ve been sitting, arms crossed, on the fence line.

Until now.

After weeks of others predicting it (it truly was one of the worst kept secrets in the company’s recent history), Apple released the iPad Mini. Despite Steve Jobs’ now-wrong prediction that no one needed a device sized in between the iPhone and the iPad (yep, even the best don’t always predict it right), the company’s relented and I’m, frankly, fist-pumping euphoric.

The iPad’s always been too large to be an ereader and it’s roughly the same size as my 13” laptop, making it a little redundant (and back-straining) to carry around both. But the just-over-seven-inch iPad Mini is, as Goldilocks would say, just right.

I will concede that this inaugural iPad Mini edition isn’t as speccy as it should be—with technology matching the now outdated iPad 2, it’s lacking such improvements as retina display.

But I also know I’ve held out on investing in an ereading device for too long to hold out even longer for Version 2. Besides, close inspection of the iPad Mini evokes in me words (superficial as they admittedly are) I’ve not been able to coo about any ereaders preceding it: ‘It’s so pretty’.

One of the things I find most interesting about the whole ereading and ereader world is that the content and devices through which to devour them are controlled not by publishers but by companies whose primary businesses include retail (Kindle), hardware (Apple), and advertising (Google).

That speaks volumes about publishers’ tech-unsavvy heel dragging and missed opportunities, although it arguably also says much about ones emerging from out-of-the-box thinking by publishing non-experts.

Likewise I’m intrigued that although everyone originally complained about backlit screens hurting the eye, that’s all but disappeared with the release of retina display. We may have unknowingly been complaining about the wrong thing (and yes, I realise that retina display absence is yet another reason why I should wait until the next iPad Mini version comes out … but won’t).

I’m also unsurprised but happy nonetheless that people with ereaders both purchase and read more books rather than the feared fewer (cheap prices combined with ease of purchase combined with not seeing the money disappear from their credit cards should never be underestimated).

And, as this infographic shows, ebook revenue is only on the up too, with ebooks now making up more than 10% of 36% of publishers’ revenue. Ebook sales are also starting to outstrip physical book sales, with that much-touted figure that Amazon sells 114 ebooks for every 100 physical books it sells. Imagine if publishers embraced the opportunities and got themselves across the technology, eh?

The infographic is a few months old, though, and I wonder how the iPad Mini will change its data. The graphic shows that Amazon owns the content corner, but people prefer reading on the iPad.

With the more portable, more manageable iPad Mini on the market, this market share will likely go up. Sure, it’s one behemoth stealing market share from another, but it’s a behemoth with a better looking device. I’ll let you know how I go with the iPad Mini (I’m thinking of getting the white one—what do you think?) once I’ve had a chance to properly road test it.

Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

It’s handy being a geek and a September baby. Launches from Sony, Amazon, Kobo and Apple all land around about this month each year, well timed for birthday gift requests, even if some involve long term contracts (the new iPhone) international wrangling (Kindle) and long waits (Kobo).

Last year, my birthday meant a crimson Sony Reader. The year before, a white Kindle. In 2012 … maybe, if the rumours are true, a 7- to 8-inch iPad (dubbed the Mini by the media).
Continue reading Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

The big gorilla is firing up

The Kindle Fire.

Amazon looks set to give the Australian book market a mighty shake-up.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Amazon is seeking warehouse space in Australia.

The Australian’s IT section has this week run a piece outlining rumours that the Kindle Fire’s arrival in Australia is imminent.

It seems the greatest of all the ebook industry gorillas (so-named by Scribe founder Henry Rosenbloom during a speech he gave at an Australian Publishers Association conference last November) is finally setting up shop in Australia.

The SMH says Amazon.com.au changed its name to Amazon Corporate Services last year, and “has appointed two vice presidents of the American parent – Michael Deal, associate general counsel, and Jason Bristow, the online retailer’s treasurer – to the local company’s board”.

It also reports that several marketing staff have been hired here.

If it’s true that Amazon is about to make a big push into this market, what will this mean for us readers and for the rest of the industry?

In my view, it will be very bad news for any ebook retailer that has not already established a niche for itself here – I’m thinking about the Copia-powered Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage Plus solution here, but also any of the independent booksellers yet to implement an ebook strategy, and those who will have to rethink existing strategies in coming months, like Booktopia and Dymocks, who learnt just before Easter that their supplier Google was pulling out of reselling.

Kobo’s Malcolm Neil reflected at a Copyright Agency Limited event earlier this year that while Kobo still has strong market share, this had fallen as new players including Apple and Google set up shop here. Kobo was a pioneer in the Australian market, selling local ebook titles via its own site and partner retailer RedGroup for some time (starting in May 2010) before entrants like Booku, Booki.sh, ReadCloud, Apple and Google joined the fray.

Amazon’s Australian ebook stocks were limited when Kobo launched, but they had the advantage of offering the Kindle device, locked into the Kindle store, to this market for seven months before the Kobo and iPad arrived.

With a dedicated, local marketing presence and the prospect of local multimedia content (music and video in particular) becoming available via the affordable and portable 7inch Kindle Fire colour tablet here, Amazon would have the power to shake up not just the book industry, but the television, film, music and gadget market too.

Given the outcome of international legal action on book pricing has gone in Amazon’s favour, a local push will likely see further drops in ebook prices here. This will benefit consumers in the short term but will hit publishers’ bottom lines hard and is unsustainable. The greatest risk it brings is that consumers’ expectations on price will be locked in at these unsustainable levels, impacting on the future viability of many of our beloved book publishers and booksellers.

Me? I’m anti-Amazon because of this pricing strategy, and because I like to be able to choose to buy my ebooks from whichever retailer I like, be that a gorilla, Kobo or (and this is always my first preference) a local indie like Booku and those who have partnered with Booki.sh and ReadCloud.

But I have to say I’m tempted by the Kindle Fire. After nearly two years of lugging my iPad around in my handbag, I have finally given up. It stays home. My Sony Reader comes out to play. A device that has been designed for reading and offers many of the benefits of the iPad in a smaller form has definite appeal – not as much allure as the mythical iPad mini (of which there are rumours again), but a little more than the Kobo Vox, which had plenty of pluses but didn’t quite nail it for me. The rumoured Google Nexus tablet would be worth a look too.

Meanwhile, Bookseller + Publisher has a couple of big ebookish stories this week.

The first wraps up the ongoing legal stoushes in the US and Europe over the agency pricing model used by Apple and major book publishers. B+P points readers to this piece in The Bookseller.

B+P also reports that Kobo is expanding into new international markets and is set to launch its global self-publishing program within months.