Re: Cover to Cover #319B: Electronic Formats Revisisted

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Dragon Page: Cover to Cover has been discussing ebooks at length lately, especially since Mike Stackpole is selling his stuff in the iTunes App Store. In the latest episode they spend the opening section lampooning the idea of e-book standards. The conversation that ensued contained a good deal of misinformation1 .

So I’m posting this in response here, hoping to keep the conversation going (I could post it as a comment on the site, but it’s a bit long for that, and it’s way to long to leave as a voicemail without sounding like even more of a crank).

Stand Alone Readers in the iTunes Store

The discussion gives an impression about the stand alone readers (specifically Stanza and eReader) having access to a bunch of old public domain content nobody actually wants to read. No mention is made of putting content you purchased outside iTunes or creative commons works into these readers, which seems to be their primary purpose.

Stanza

The Stanza iPod Touch/iPhone app is an offshoot of the Stanza desktop reader (Mac Only). Any file you can read on the desktop reader2) can be transferred to the mobile Stanza app. This covers a lot of commercially available content.

Also the mobile Stanza app is pre-configured to pull ePub files from Feedbooks. Feedbooks has 2500+ titles available for free. While many works are those you avoided reading in high school, it also includes titles from authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Del Rey, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H. P. Lovecraft, Andre Norton, H. Beam Piper, Robert Silverberg and E.E. “Doc” Smith. Those too old school for you? How about Steven Brust, Tobias Buckell, Cory Doctorow, James Patrick Kelly, and Charles Stross, to name a few.

eReader

Although it’s stated that the eReader can be used to download free content (I admit I don’t even know if can download free content), no mention is made that it is actually designed to download your purchases from eReader. Also, any multi-format purchase from Fictionwise is also supported.

Since I personally avoid books that come locked in one format, the vast majority of my Fictionwise purchases are instantly downloadable to my iPod touch. That’s a big win for me, because it means when I’m home I can read on my dedicated e-book reader, with it’s larger screen, but when I’m stuck in the waiting room I can keep reading the same book off my iPod Touch without buying it twice.

ePub and Tower of eBabel

There is a group of [...] e-book enthusiasts who are deaf on anything that is not the one true ring, the one true way. They want everything to be available in one universal format, which doesn’t happen to exist yet. [...] and they want it to then be cross-platform available because they’re very resentful if seven years ago they bought a book for their palm pilot and now they can’t play it on their iPod.

Yeah, those people. Me.

Mike and Mike then then proceed to talk down to “those people” as if we all just fell off the esparanto truck by giving the same arguments all the digital music players that didn’t play MP3s used to give and why music would always have DRM. Making a buck will always trump the demands of the consumer. Format wars will always go on forever and ever and there will be no standard delivery mechanism3 .

More importantly, the format does exist in the form of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)‘s ePub, and it does have vendor support. Adobe, Amazon4 , eBook Technologies, OSoft, VitalSource and LibreDigital (among others) all support ePub in their current products. Sony just added ePub support to it’s line of readers, and Bookeen is currently working on adding it to their Cybook readers. You can get any of Feedbooks 2500+ titles in .epub. Heck, even the last of the freebie releases from TOR was released in .epub rather than .mobi.

Maybe I’m Crazy

I like e-books. I prefer them to print. I like being able to increase the font to rest my eyes. I like being able to read them on multiple devices. I don’t want this to happen to my books. I feel that e-books have to be more convenient that print to really take off5 . So either I’m a nut-job, or I’m who the people trying to sell these things should be targeting. I’m the one going to go out and extolling the virtues of these things to the people I know who are hanging by the sidelines waiting to see if they want to jump in. Feel free to tell me which one you think I am in the comments6

  1. I honestly don’t believe this was intentional. []
  2. Stanza supports HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, RTF, Amazon Kindle, Mobipocket, Microsoft LIT, Palm doc, and EPUB (at least the DRM free variations of the above []
  3. Yeah, that’s why we don’t have a way to deliver audio programming in mp3 files over HTTP using RSS to any number of devices. []
  4. Amazon supports ePub in it’s Mobipocket products, but there’s no mention of the Kindle yet []
  5. It’s very likely publishers don’t what them to take off. Record companies still want you to buy CDs too. []
  6. If I don’t get any I’ll know I’m a crazy person talking to myself. []

Links of Interest (June 25th 2008 Through July 16th 2008)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
Digital Dickens: How Scott Sigler is changing the way we read
The Independent (UK) covers the upcoming UK release of Scott Sigler’s “Infected”.
Leo Laporte Does 24 Hours of iPhone to Over a Quarter Million Viewers
I always find Leo entertaining. I tuned into this a few times and was amazed at how even with numerous technical faults and no sleep he kept things interesting.
Human Mirror
Improve Everwhere fills a subway with identical twins creating a human mirror, and messing with peoples minds.
Interview: Gaiman, Zelazny and More Coming To Your iPod
An interview with Steve Feldberg, content director for Audible’s science-fiction/fantasy line Audible Frontiers who have been releasing some very exciting audiobooks (including the upcoming release of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories)
Story of a Peanut: The TiVo Remote’s Untold Past, Present and Future
Fascinating history of the TiVo remote.

Links of Interest (July 21st 2007 Through August 3rd 2007)

Friday, August 3rd, 2007
Official iPhone Tool
This looks somehow familiar.
Math Book Helps Girls Embrace Their Inner Mathematician
Interview with Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper from “The Wonder Years”) about her new book: Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math and not Break a Nail
Sandbox Designs Competition » The Designs
Gallery of entries for the Sandbox Designs Competition. All entries are the same XHTML styled with CSS.
Fisher-Price recalls 1M toys
If you have any Dora or Sesame Street toys in your home you want to be aware of this. We do. A lot of them. Oddly the online recall only lets you return six items. Not sure exactly what they expect us to do with the rest.
AjaxRain – Ajax/Javascript/Dhtml examples and demos to download
Interesting site. Lacks search. I recommend using the “Tag Cloud” to navigate, but be sure to scroll down after clicking a tag because it looks like nothing happened.
A Series of Unfortunate Events ::: NOW IN PAPERBACK!
Are you made fainthearted by the work of Lemony Snicket? Does the thought of strange new siblings unnerve you? Your answers likely reveal the following brief video to be ill-suited for your personal use.