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Archive for the ‘ebook’ Category

After going DRM-free

Posted by Zumbs on January 2, 2014

A year after going DRM-free on eBooks, Tor Books published a piece on why they went DRM-free and the effects. One little tidbit was that

As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.

Given the wide availability of pirated books and tools to remove DRM from eBooks, this hardly comes as a surprise. However, it is nice to get ones theories verified by experiments. Still, the move was courageous, and also lead to some resentment from other publishers where a letter was sent by the CEO of Little Brown U.K. to authors, as described here explaining

to the author that Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.” Hachette’s proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles.

These few quotes make it abundantly clear that the reason that publishers insist on DRM on books has little to do with stopping piracy. It has to do with control over where a book is sold and by whom. Fortunately, it seems that the letter has fallen upon deaf ears: Tor does not appear to be changing their stance on DRM-free eBooks. And they are not the only publisher to offer DRM-free eBooks.

Baen Ebooks has been doing so for quite a while, and in November 2012 publishers John Wiley & Sons and O’Reilly Media announced that they would serve their books DRM-free on oreily.com. Other publishers have also dropped DRM from their eBooks, e.g. Independent Publishers Group, Angry Robot Books and Carina Press. I’m sure that there are others out there, so keep your eyes peeled!

Let’s just hope that more publishers go that route – I would love to be able to get a digital library of all the books from my favorite authors!

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EBook DRM part 2

Posted by Zumbs on July 31, 2012

As some of you may remember, Tor Books recently announced that they would start offering DRM free eBooks. Their entire catalog should be DRM free by July. So, with July almost over, I decided to have a look at the eBook market. I should point out that I have never purchased an eBook, so I am a noob at this.

The first step was to investigate if I could purchase eBooks directly from the publisher. Unfortunately neither the US or UK site allowed direct purchase. The UK site had a nice little box informing me that the eBook was in stock (duh), but did not have a Buy button (the button was available for paper books, though). It should be noted that the site did have a small beta next to the logo, so one can hope that it is on its way. The US site allowed forwarding to a number of vendors, i.e. Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, Google and Amazon.

Of the 6 vendors above, Kobo is the only one to show if the eBook is DRM encumbered in a prominent location. The other 5 vendors try to hide this very important piece of information. They obviously consider DRM to be the default and do not want to flaunt this to the consumer. Most of the remaining 5 vendors sell Tor eBooks DRM free, but hide the information in the last line of the Overview/Book Description section: At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied. Sony is the only one not to add this line, so one should expect their eBooks to be DRM encumbered.

However, Tor is a publisher in the US market, so if you (like me) live in Europe, your attempts to purchase Tor eBooks may be halted with messages that basically say that the eBook is not available outside of North America. Some of the titles may be available, but not published by Macmillan, and, thus, may be DRM encumbered. Adding to the confusion, some titles may be available in both DRM encumbered and DRM free versions. Sigh. This is bound to cause a lot of confusion, as this blog entry by John Scalzi and following comments illustrates.

Long story short, I managed to purchase Looking for Jake and other Stories by China Mieville at Kobo. As advertised, the book is DRM free 🙂

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Initial thoughts on Sony ebook reader PRS-T1

Posted by Zumbs on May 3, 2012

Before making my choice, I had a good long look at the available ebook readers. While support for multiple ebook formats was a plus, my main objective was to get a book that would help me organize my notes for tabletop roleplaying.

After making a odt to pdf converter, it was easy to convert my notes to pdf, so the ability to handle pdfs was the primary functionality. In order to be convenient, it would need many of the abilities of regular paper. I would need to be able to add notes, maybe even drawings, to the pdf. It should be reasonably easy to skim through a pdf. I have a lot of documents, so some way of organizing it would be useful. Being able to connect the ebook reader to a computer and transfer pdfs were, naturally, of the utmost importance.

After looking at reviews, including some nice youtube videos, I made my choice: Sony PRS-T1. Primarily because its pdf handling is quite good. Like other readers, the screen is a bit slow to update, and sometimes the touch screen does not register your presses. But it does all that I need it to do. The reader can be connected to a PC, pdfs can be copied to it and opened on the screen. The reader also run Android, which is nice.

It does not come with reader software for the PC, so you have to download it from Sonys homepage. Like iTunes, the PC software helps you manage your library on the PC. When using the reader software, it prompts you to log into your Sony account. That is a bit annoying. It’s pretty easy to import files into your library – simply point it to a folder and it will import anything in it.

The library files can be moved into collections that can help organize your library. With 190 pdf documents, this is important as the ebook reader cannot use the folder structure to organize manually added pdfs. However, using collections requires that you add the library by using the Sync feature of the ebook reader. And the Sync feature requires that you have logged into your Sony account. Annoying!

So, let me reiterate: In order to get the most of your ebook reader, you have to have a Sony account and be logged in. Thus far, this is my major annoyance with the ebook reader.

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Tor ebooks going DRM-Free

Posted by Zumbs on April 25, 2012

I recently got a hold of an ebook reader. Not to purchase ebooks, but to aid me as a tabletop roleplaying tool. The reason that I did not plan on purchasing ebooks is because of Digital Rights Management (DRM). Whenever I want to read a book I paid for, the ebook reader has to make sure I am not some filthy thief, often by contacting a server provided by the store.

And many vendors (I’m looking at you, Amazon) would want to lock me into using their electronic gadget to read their ebooks. And if the thing broke? Well, I would have to get a new one from the exact same vendor … or lose access to my purchases. And if they were to go out of business, or shut down the authentication servers for some reason, I would lose access to the books I paid for. Moving to another vendor would also be difficult as conversion can be both difficult, time consuming and maybe even illegal. This comic illustrates the issue.

As noted by Charles Stross, this is not only harmful for the customer, it is also harmful for the publishers. Notably, it has allowed Amazon to gain a virtual monopoly on ebook supply as well as a monopsony on being the distributor as well. So, Amazon is well on its way to being able to dictate terms to publishers and customers alike. If publishers want to break Amazons dominance, they have to lower the bar for independent stores to sell ebooks. This requires going DRM-Free.

The people at Tor Books must have come to a similar conclusion. A few days back, they announced that come July, they are going DRM-Free on their ebooks. So, there is a good chance that I am going to be using that ebook reader to … well … read ebooks. Thanks, Tor.

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Bulk conversion using LibreOffice

Posted by Zumbs on April 22, 2012

I do a lot of tabletop roleplaying. As a Game Master, I play with two different groups in the same world. The oldest running campaign has been running for more than a decade. The notes populate more than three large binders. As we do not play at my flat, it is infeasible for me to carry all that to the game. Rather, I try to pick out the important portions and leave the rest be.

A significant portion of my notes are stored on my computer in different formats. The newer documents are stored as odts, but older documents were created using various versions of WordPad and Word.

Over the last few years, the quality and functionality of ebook readers have been improving. Most of these handle formats like pdf. So, if I could convert my notes to pdf, I could bring an ebook reader with all the notes that I did not have room for in my bag. Some of the better ebook readers I have been looking at, even allow adding notes and handwriting as a new layer to existing pdfs, so I can make notes in the documents during play.

But I still need to convert all my files to pdf. There are more than 200 files involved, so doing it by hand is way to time consuming (and nigh impossible to maintain). My office program of choice, LibreOffice, comes with a nifty command line utility that is able to convert files from one format to another. Unfortunately, LibreOffice does not currently support bulk conversion on Windows.

And then there are all the custom needs, things that would be nice:

  • Keeping the same folder structure
  • Copying time stamps from the original file to the copy
  • Sync of files that are not odts (e.g. maps)
  • Ability to set metadata for generated pdfs

In the end, I wrote my own little utility program in .NET that have those features. It’s available on Sourceforge. LibreOffice 3.5 is required, but not bundled. The screenshot below shows the user interface.


Screenshot of the Bulk Converter Using LibreOffice utility. The upper part of the window is used to configure what the bulk converter should do. Move your mouse over the different options to get more information on what it does. The big, white space in the bottom is a text box that is used to write output from the converter. Press Go to start and Cancel to stop the current run.

As noted above, the utility only supports conversions from doc to odt and from odt to pdf. LibreOffice supports a lot of conversions that I have not enabled. Partly because I do not use them, and partly because it would require extensive testing to enable all of them. But I am open for requests 🙂

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