Electronic Books and Reading Devices Come of Age

E-books have been gaining in popularity the last few years. Devices to read these books come from a plethora of manufacturers; Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony’s what-ch-may-call-it device, plus multi use tablets from Apple and those running the Android operating system. Not to mention the explosion of smart phones some with screens that match the dedicated e-reader devices. The problem for me has been the proprietary nature of these devices and the books that go with them. Buy into an ecosystem and your books are stranded there, harsh digital rights management (DRM) sees to that.

I’ve always been a reader, as far back as I can remember. From the time that my first grade teacher read the class Charlotte’s Web I was captured by the magical escapism that comes from reading. Since then, books have been a constant companion throughout my life. Years ago when e-books were first appearing, I shunned them in favor of the familiar dead tree variety of books. Then with the advent of dedicated e-readers and screens created specifically not to fatigue the eyes my interest grew. But the proprietary closed nature of each seller’s ecosystem held me back. Buy a book from Apple and you can only read it on Apple hardware. While Amazon’s Kindle software runs on a wide range of devices if you choose to end your relationship with Amazon all of your books become inaccessible. The gross and unfair DRM prevents you from actually owning the items that you buy.  As you may recall, digital music went through a similar phase.  Apple’s heavily DRM encumbered music store was a niche product until Amazon released non-DRM music (forcing Apple to follow or become irrelevant).  Then digital music bloomed.  I don’t recall the last time I bought a physical CD, and e-books are nearing that phase now.  I think it is safe to say that when the DRM comes off, traditional publishers, bookstores, and their agents will become a historical footnote.  Authors will go direct to consumers, books will be cheaper and authors will earn more, the middle man will disappear.

I read my first full e-book about a year and a half ago.  Since then I have read 15 or 20 e-books and but a single paper book.  While I don’t have a dedicated reader device I do have a highly customizable Android tablet that allows me to have different settings for different lighting conditions.  This makes it easy on the eyes to read in pretty much any condition other than direct sunlight, since I never really read on the beach this is not a problem.

Much like iTunes helps organize your music and make it accessible, there are organizers that use meta data to organize your books.  I use Calibre Ebook Manager, it is fast, efficient, multi-platform, and open source.  If you can use iTunes, or Windows Media Player then you can effectively use Calibre.  It manages most book formats and has a built in reader application.  For mobile and tablets, where most of my reading gets done, there are a multitude of reader applications available.  I currently use Moon Reader on Android, it handles many formats and wirelessly integrates with Calibre on the desktop.  This provides a no-compromise experience that bests having a large library of physical books (I still have 3 large book cases filled with books but they are becoming less relevant.)

But what about obtaining books?  Most books are still DRM encumbered, holding back the entire industry.  This is a publisher inspired attack on both the reading public and the authors who are trying to reach them.  However, the time is fast approaching when DRM will fall by the wayside, in the meantime there are lots of books available without DRM.  For tech books, O’Reilly Publishing offers thousands of titles on vast topics all without DRM.  Tor, the publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy has gone completely DRM-Free.

The folks at Defective by Design have the best list of places to obtain DRM-free books, the list is currently quite vast and growing.

Currently if one wants to go all digital in their reading, it may be impossible to get some books in DRM free format.  So if you must buy these, leave comments for the publisher/seller that you prefer your reading to be unencumbered with DRM.

It is only a matter of time until freedom wins out and DRM falls by the wayside…in the mean time: Happy Reading.


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