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?

News wrap: Overdrive, Book Depository, Kobo and The Canberra Times

Just in case you read my last post and thought I’d lost touch with developments in the ebook world while reading Game of Thrones, here are my thoughts on some recent happenings.

1. Opening of OverDrive’s Australian office

Earlier this month US-based ebook distributor to Booku.com OverDrive announced it is opening an Australian office (in Collingwood in Melbourne).

This follows on from earlier news that they are working with the team from recent acquisition and Australian start-up Booki.sh on a browser-based ereading platform called OverDrive Read.

It’s great for Booku.com customers that our supplier now has a base here. It’ll mean a boost to local content as the team seals more deals with Australian publishers.

2. Book Depository’s ditching of ebooks

The company second only to Amazon as that most despised by independent booksellers, and indeed owned by Amazon these days in any case, has ceased selling ebooks, Bookseller + Publisher reports.

The people at Book Depository, which is UK-based and gained a huge share of the global printed book market by selling online and delivering free of postal charges, probably figured it wasn’t worth trying to compete with Amazon in the ebook space (or were given instructions to that effect by their US masters). If they’d continued, they’d essentially be competing with themselves, and given Amazon has so much of the market sewn up, why bother?

One Australian publisher told me he believes Amazon has as much as 80 per cent of the ebook market in Australia.

All this makes you wonder how long Book Depository will continue to compete with Amazon in the printed book space.

3. Launch of Kobo’s Writing Life

Self-publishing authors have a new starting point for ebook production following the arrival of Writing Life at Kobo.

Digital publishing consultant Anna Maguire has written a comprehensive post on the news here.

The coolest thing about Writing Life as far as I can see is that it allows authors to download the ePub (ebook file) version of their work created through Kobo, store it on their own hard drives, share it with friends, or sell it via other platforms (yes, including Voldemort Amazon).

The other most interesting point in Anna’s post is that a Kobo spokesman told her they claim to have 15 per cent of the Australian ebook retail market. If that figure is tallied with the Amazon one above, that leaves 5 per cent for the indies, Google and Apple. That seems unlikely to me and is, we can hope, indicative that the 80 per cent figure for Amazon is inflated.

4. Axing of The Canberra Times Literary Editor

During my seven years at The Canberra Times I occasionally filled in when the current literary editor, Gia Metherell, was on leave. I wrote regularly for her and continued to do until very recently. I read her section every week. I’m very sad that the pages will shortly be filled with content from the SMH and The Age and that her position has been made redundant. Not because I don’t rate the Sydney or Melbourne content, but because the local perspective on national and international works and coverage of the local literary scene will disappear from the newspaper.

That said, I believe the literary community here will rise to the challenge and build a new forum for book reviews, author interviews and literary news. Perhaps it will be crowdfunded – if so, it’s sure to succeed, because the audience is strong and loyal. The readership will grow, too, because such a publication will of course be digital and thus have broader reach.

The business model for newspapers may not be sustainable as it stands, but that doesn’t mean there is not a demand for their style of content if it is published in new and innovative ways.

If you’re interested in keeping track of developments in this story and showing your support for literary coverage in newspapers, you could join the Facebook group Save the Canberra Times Literary Pages.

DRM is so 2011

Digital rights management for ebooks is dead.

Readers knew it couldn’t last. It was simply a matter of when publishers and retailers would realise it was unsustainable.

Cutting edge Australian publishers like Pan Macmillan digital offshoot Momentum Books are leading the way by announcing they will remove DRM from their titles within months.

It won’t be long before their competitors realise they risk looking like dinosaurs, and mean ones at that, unless they join the push.

Though none of the other major publishers have announced they’re ditching it yet, I have heard the excuse, “Well, it’s the retailers who impose it on the publishers in any case.”

It’s an excuse that they can file away for good. The retailers are telling me they are either already selling books without DRM upon request, or soon will be.

Booku.com is among those who are keen to support publishers who make the shift.

Booku.com’s supplier, Overdrive, already offers DRM-free books in ePub and PDF format, and they’re coming soon to Booku (so are browser-based books a la Book.ish following Overdrive’s purchase of Booki.sh recently, incidentally).

ReadCloud, which is the ebook provider for many Australian independent booksellers, “can work without DRM, not a problem,” according to its CEO Jeremy Le Bard.

Kobo is already working with DRM-free titles for publishers, says Malcolm Neil, its Director Vendor Relations Asia-Pacific.

Even Google has come to the party. Mark Tanner, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google, told uBookish that Google allows publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM today.

We won’t hold our breath on the Amazon or Apple front. That said, Apple did remove its proprietary DRM from all music in the iTunes store back in 2009, so perhaps I should have a little more faith in the Cupertino crowd.

Momentum publisher Joel Naoum says they are working through the issues with selling ebooks without DRM through retailers.

“Unfortunately it’s not a straightforward matter, though it does appear at this relatively early stage that most (if not all) retailers will be able to sell our books without it,” he says.

Hooray for Joel (who was my predecessor as Booku blogger, by the way) for leading the way on this front as in so many others.

Perhaps he has been inspired by innovative publishers like O’Reilly in the US who have long ensured their titles were available without the restrictive encryption software.

O’Reilly’s General Manager & Publisher Joe Wikert says his company believes that “digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea”.

“We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you’ll earn their business.”

Hear, hear.

(See today’s earlier post for an outline of what DRM is all about.)

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku Pt 2

This is a two-part post. To read part one, please click here.

 

Reading Using Overdrive

Booku ebooks are compatible with any reader that’s can read Adobe Digital Editions DRM. That means you can use it with a Sony eReader, a Kobo eReader or any other (and cheaper) brand that is compatible with Adobe’s DRM (most e-readers are compatible with this, with the exception of the walled-garden Kindle). For a refresher on DRM (Digital Rights Management software) click here. The Overdrive app on Apple’s iOS devices means you can also read them on the go (read: on the toilet) from a device that can fit in your pocket.

The Overdrive app is a pretty barebones affair at the moment. As far as I could see there was no dictionary, search or annotation functions, but we can expect the reader to improve over time. There is a bookmarking function, and you can use the table of contents to flip through chapters. Overdrive is also the supplier for most library ebook selections, so once you’re all set up it’s worth getting in touch with your local library to see if they offer any ebooks for loan (which will be absolutely free). Overdrive also supplies digital audiobooks, so I’m hoping for a homegrown competitor to Audible as soon as possible.

 

Giveaway

To celebrate the move of Smell of Books to this shiny new location, I’m giving away $100 worth of Booku Bucks credit in the new store. To enter the draw, just leave a comment below or send me a direct message on Twitter. Tell me something you’d like to read about at the new Smell of Books location – questions, criticisms and commentary are all welcome. Alternatively, if you run a blog or other website, link to the Smell of Books and I’ll also put you in the running. I’ll draw the winner from one of these sources (randomly, not based on some kind of qualitative analysis, so don’t be shy!), and will announce it in the next week or so.

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku

 

Welcome to the new location for the Smell of Books. From now on you’ll find the blog over here at Booku. To celebrate the launch of the site at the new location, I’ll be giving away $100 credit in Booku Bucks. Read on to find out how.

 

What You’ll Need

To buy a book from Booku (pronounced, if you’re curious, as BOOK-OO, not BOOK-YOU) you’ll first need a couple of things.

  • Download the Overdrive Media Console app from the App Store on your iThing (skip if you use a Sony or other e-reader)
  • Sign up for Adobe ID by clicking here
  • Sign up for a Booku account here
  • Enter your Adobe ID in the Overdrive Media Console app by hitting ‘Get Books+’ then ‘Settings’ then ‘Authorize with Adobe ID’

 

Buying an Ebook

Once you’re all set up, buying a book from Booku is easy. For the purposes of this guide I’m going to buy a copy of The Finkler Question the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize.

Many bestsellers are available on the front page of the site, but if you’re looking for a specific title, use the search function to put in the title, author or keyword.

Once you’ve found the book, hit the green ‘Buy Now’ button and follow the prompts to buy the book using a credit card or PayPal. You can do this via your computer or your iThing. To download the book to your iThing, however, you have to log in to your Booku Shelf, by going to: http://www.booku.com/member/myProfile.cfm

Once there you can hit ‘Download’ and your book will open up in the Overdrive Media Console app ready for reading.

To load your book onto your Sony or other e-reader, check your manual to see how to load Adobe DRM ebooks. It’s usually pretty straightforward, but each reader is different. If you want some help with this, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to walk you through it.

 

This is a two-part post. To read part two, please click here.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 2

It was either ‘Apple Jumps the Shark’ or ‘Apple Screws the Pooch’. But which do you prefer – the scary apple or the adorable puppy?

This is the second part of a two-part article. To read the first part, click here.

Here’s where Apple made even me suspicious. In its clarification yesterday, Apple said that it isn’t only in-app transactions that it is forcing onto its system, but any transaction. To use Apple’s own words:

We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.

This great big steaming pile of crap basically means that any platform that wants to make an app for the iPad or iPhone to sell and/or read books has to at the very least give their customers an option to buy books through the Apple-sanctioned method – which gives Apple 30% of the profit. And it’s not just the profit. It’s the transaction – which means Apple can leverage the data collected (who bought the book, when they bought the book, how often they buy books and from which apps) to optimise their own book store – and they get that information for doing absolutely nothing. There’s also a massive doubling up of energy and effort here: Amazon, Google, Kobo, Overdrive and every other book reading app that offers a store already has a store. Apple skimming 30% off the top is nothing but pure greed. And if they stick with it, they will fail. And here is why.

Those who know me well (or know me at all) are probably acquainted with my pile of Apple gadgets and my willingness to justify spending vast amounts of money on the latest and greatest from Cupertino. That’s because despite every anti-competitive, backwards-thinking, mean-spirited thing they do on the iTunes or App stores they still make pretty things. Very pretty things. In fact, they make billions of dollars from selling pretty things for exorbitant prices. Just a small example of this: it was announced today that despite having only having 4% of the global smartphone market share, Apple still makes 50% of the profit from sales of the iPhone. That means there are a lot of people out there who are willing to spend a lot of money on Apple hardware.

And that’s because they make good hardware. It was the reason the iTunes store and the App Store were created. To sell more hardware. Apple may have revolutionised music sales, and made a killing doing it, but they did it by selling iPods – not by selling music. If they try and take complete control of ebooks on iOS (the iPhone and iPad operating system) in this way, then all it will mean is that ebooks will fail on iOS. Books are not like music. There are already quite a few established sellers of ebooks with more market share than Apple. And books are already too expensive, and too unprofitable for Apple to skim yet another 30% off the top.

So Apple have screwed the pooch. What are they going to do about it? The views on this story seems to be entirely negative. Will they try to spin it into something positive for consumers? Or will the famed Apple marketing machine fail? Only time will tell, but unless Apple rolls over on this issue it will be a bad thing for books in general.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 1

News has surfaced in the last couple of days about Apple and how they’re once again ruining it for everyone. Why, Apple, why? I didn’t want to believe it myself at first, but now Apple have clarified. Yup, definitely evil. But it’s not just evil – it’s really stupid. And here’s why.

To summarise: two days ago, The New York Times reported that Apple had some made some changes to the App Store rules which meant that Sony could no longer sell ebooks through their reading app on the iPhone. Instead, Apple would force Sony to use a system called “in-app purchasing” – which means that every transaction made within an iPad or iPhone app goes through Apple and the iTunes store. That means 30% of every book sold goes to Apple. There was a massive (I argued) overreaction to this, as every man and his dog predicted that Apple was being evil and trying to take over ebooks. I thought they were evil, but I thought they were being evil in the same way they always are. Apple have always had it in for software developers trying to sell things directly through their apps. This is why Kindle’s iPhone and iPad apps force you to go to the browser to buy a book, but Apple’s own iBooks app lets you do it without going to the web browser.

I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that this meant apps like Kindle and Overdrive wouldn’t have to change, because all of their transactions take place on the open web. If you don’t know what that means, let me explain: I open the Kindle app on my iPad; I want to buy a book; I click a button in the app which takes me to the Amazon website; I buy my book; the Kindle app re-opens and I can start reading. In Apple’s iBooks app, on the other hand, I press a special button inside the app; there’s a fancy-pants animation that turns my bookshelf into a secret rotating door; I buy my book; the secret rotating door rotates again and I can start reading. In other words, there’s not that big a difference, save for the magic rotating door.

This is the first part of a two-part article. To read the second part, click here.