Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Having an E-book Reader

Back in 2011 I wrote about the reasons why I wasn't getting an e-book reader. I had found that books generally cost more in e-book format than in dead-tree format, and I was nervous about the digital restrictions management (DRM) that e-books came with. These concerns were only increased when I read about Linn Nygaard who had her Amazon account closed (and all her e-books effectively confiscated) for some unexplained violation of Amazon policy that was probably committed by the previous owner of her second-hand Kindle. The fact that her account was restored after 24 hours of world-wide outrage didn't reassure me; fame is fickle, and relying on it as an ally against a giant corporation would be unwise.

However as a result of that fiasco a number of articles were posted about the removal of DRM from e-books using Calibre, which is an open-source program for managing your electronic library on your computer and converting between formats. You have to download and manually install some plugins in addition to the standard distribution, but once they are installed you just add a DRMed book to your Calibre library, and it automatically gets the DRM stripped out.

In parallel with this, a long-running legal case between the US Department of Justice and a number of e-book publishers resulted in a settlement under which prices have dropped considerably, and are now significantly cheaper than the paperback price.

So that was my two main objections to an ebook reader dealt with: I could now share books with family in a similar way to a paper copy, and I wasn't paying the publisher to leave out the paper. So I asked for a Kindle for my birthday last year.

I'm very happy with it.  I've downloaded some classics from the Gutenberg project, and also picked up some more obscure books like the updated edition of "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace" that I have been wanting to read for a long time. Specialist books like this seem to be a lot cheaper in ebook format, presumably because so much of the cost in the dead-tree version is taken up in the overheads of short-run printing and storage. But even Anathem was only £2.99 (although it seems to be rather more when I look at it now).

My wife tried out my Kindle as well, and asked for one for Christmas. When Amazon proved unable to deliver in time I bought one from the local branch of Waterstones bookshop. This turned out to be a mistake: the Kindles bought from Waterstones have the nice varied "screensaver" pictures replaced with a fixed bit of Waterstones branding that can't be replaced (I've come across some instructions for replacing that image by logging into the Kindle using TCP over USB, but that particular back door seems to have been closed now).