Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another 'Lorena's Look' - More on Ebooks and Ereaders

I can't believe I forgot to post this! Here's my second Lorena's Look column from the WSU New Media Group Ning site (of course, given that Ning will no longer be hosting free groups, it probably won't be accessible for long there anyway...): Lorena's Look: Ebooks and Ereaders . It covers some of the same ground as my last blog post Kindle + Calibre (With a Dash of Samsung Moment)

Here's the original text, with a very few changes:

Is 2010 the year that ebooks and readers will finally go mainstream? There has been a lot of interest in technical and usability aspects of ereaders and the publishing issues inherent in ebooks, but perhaps the ultimate indicator of  `itness' is the publication of a Stephen King novella about a horrific ereader, Ur. For this installment of Lorena’s Look I’ll be checking out some resources relating to ebooks and ereaders - as a new Kindle owner I’ve discovered the value and productivity of reading fiction and other documents on my device, but I also have learned how ebooks and ereaders can be used by anyone with a computer or a smartphone to easily access reading material when you don’t want to carry around an actual printed book -- or bookshelf.

Ebook readers can be hardware or software. Popular hardware devices linked to online bookstores include Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook (soon to be joined by another B&N device, the Samsung E6) and Sony’s family of Readers, but there is a raft of other devices that include the Foxit eSlick ReaderIrex ILiad (not to mention Apple's forthcoming iPad). Most popular ereaders use E Ink technology that makes it very easy to read off the screen, although the iPad will have a computer-like LCD screen. The absence of backlighting and/or (in most cases) a touch screen provides an experience that allows for comfortable long-term reading activity. and the

Software readers don't have those advantages, but they have benefits of their own. Many can be used on desktops or laptops, but they are increasingly being used for reading on smartphones. Both the Kindle and the Nook have applications that work on  smartphones such as the iPhone. A cell phone screen is small, but it is surprisingly easy to read off (although battery life and tired eyes may make them better for shorter reading stints). The Kindle and Nook readers have a built-in benefit in that they are tied to the Amazon/B&N servers, and so users can pick up where they left off in a book, whether reading on their phone or their dedicated ereader.

Other free software applications include Stanza and MobiPocket Reader (both owned by Amazon, actually) -- both of these can be used on desktops/laptops as well as smartphones. Many other ereading programs are available as free or paid applications that can be downloaded for particular cellphone flavors.

Converting and Managing E-books and E-Documents

Ebooks are files, and like all files they exist in many different file formats which can be read by particular devices. The closest thing to standard formats are the PDF, Mobi, and EPub formats, which are widely used. Due to the lack of an official file format compatibility standard and the intellectual property issues of Digital Rights Management (DRM), file formats can be a big headache. Amazon's Kindle, for example, has its own proprietary format, AZW, and if you purchase an ebook from Amazon it will come in that format. AZW is a actually a slight variation on the Mobi file format, however, so Kindles can read documents that are Mobi files. The Kindle does not support the EPUB standard, although the Nook does. So what to do? If you have an ebook or edocument that has DRM content, there is nothing you can legally do except read it on the reading platform it is meant for (i.e. if you bought it from Amazon it can only be read on the Kindle; if it is an Adobe Digital Editions file, it has to be read in that interface. However, if your document does not have DRM attached, you can convert it from one file format to another so that it can be read on different devices.

Under my office desk I have a stack of PDF printouts that somehow I have never gotten around to reading. Now that I have a Kindle, I no longer print out my PDFs, but instead convert them so that I can easily read them on my device (there is a significant caveat, however; as the college students who participated in Amazon's textbook trial noted: the lack of an easy way to annotate documents on the Kindle limits its use). I could email them to Amazon to be converted to a form that my Kindle 2 will easily read -- for free if I drag'n'drop them on to my Kindle myself, or for a small fee if I have it done automatically via Amazon's WhisperNet -- but I've discovered that in most cases I'd rather do it myself.

There are a number of ways to convert ebook file formats, but I'm going to briefly mention just two of them. Calibre and MobiPocket Reader/Creator allow you to not only convert file formats but also store, organize, and manage your ebook files. I use Calibre, and with it I can import a document, for example an out-of-copyright book I downloaded from Google Books in the EPUB format, or an article PDF I found online or in a library database, or even a Word document I created myself (although I have to convert Word files to RTF or HTML documents first). I can convert it to the Mobi file format (or vice versa) and add in my own metadata, including complete bibliographic data and tags that will allow me to easily filter and sort my Calibre library. I can then easily export it to my Kindle -- and I have a backup saved on my computer. Later on I may choose to delete the item from my Kindle, but its always available on my computer if I want to read it again. Calibre can also automatically download updated blog posts for ereader viewing, and has its own built-in ereader if I wanted to use it (I don't - if I were going to read an ebook on my computer I would prefer to use Stanza or Kindle for Windows). Calibre also works with smartphone applications, including WordPlayer on the Android platform and Stanza on the iPhone/iPod Touch. I have to admit that the formatting can be a bit awkward, but I find that that rarely gets in the way of my reading experience.

Ebook Sources

WSU Libraries
The Libraries does purchase ebooks in a number of formats, including NetLibrary, Ebrary, EBL and others. Unfortunately these formats generally do not allow downloading and must be read on your computer screen (yes, we know...

Free Sources
Google Books(for out of copyright) – epub and pdf
And many others...
Note: These sources provide out-of-copyright works or works that have been made publicly available by their rightsholders. There is considerable content overlap, but books from different sources may have noticeable differences in the quality of their formatting.

Free and (Some) Free
Publishers with proprietary hardware: Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Further Reading
Giz Explains How You're Gonna Get Screwed by Ebook Formats - This is an excellent explanation of file formats and more - read it and weep...

How Can I Create EPUB files from my Books? - a good overview of conversion utilities

Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal (Soon to be expanded and published as a book - this essay is very much worth reading!) This version of William Powers' essay is from Scribd and can be downloaded as a PDF or TXT file or sent to many ereading devices directly: See the upper left corner when you click on the book:
E-Books Must Be Accessible(from the Chronicle of Higher Education; if you are off the WSU campus network you will need to go through the WSU Libraries proxy server in order to read the full article) - Provides an overview of some issues relating to accessibility.

1 comment:

Mental Meanderings said...

John Olmschneider, at the REFolution, opined that the E-Ink readers were a dead technology that would be consumed by the tablets.