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iPhones and eBooks

eBooks have been around for several years now, and in many respects are seriously behind other forms of media. While music is making the painful transition from DRM to open formats other media such as films and books are still subject to restricted use. This often makes it awkward if not impossible to view these files on your mobile device of choice.

Until last year I used a Palm TX PDA running the palm eReader software. I could buy a fair range of pdb format ebooks from ereader.com, or use the free dropbook for Mac and eReader Pro for Palm to convert and read text files myself. I have a large collection of mainly SF and Fantasy paperbacks that I have read over the past 20 years, and set about finding electronic versions of them to read again. It’s an issue that always gets a lot of attention, but if you have purchased media in one format is it fair to have to buy it again in another? I don’t think it is, especially given the price of some of the eBooks currently available. I’ll get to iPhone options for ebooks a bit later after a look at eBook pricing.

The most ridiculous thing about eBooks is the cost of new books. For this example I will use the first and latest books from the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. The first is Storm Front, published in 2000 in the USA and 2005 in the UK. I can buy this from Amazon.co.uk for £5.49+p&p, or Amazon.com for $7.99+p&p. Pre-owned I could get an as-new condition book for around £4. If I want an ebook it’s available from eReader.com for $7.19. That’s a little bit cheaper than the paperback, but why isn’t it a lot cheaper? There’s no manufacturing costs involved, just an electronic delivery of the text the author wrote packaged in a suitable format. We’re into economies of scale here, eBooks don’t sell as well as physical books so the profit margins have to be larger.

Prices get even more uneven when looking at a new book. The latest in the Dresden Files series is Small Favor in Hardback, published April 2008 in both UK and US. On Amazon.co.uk it’s £7.74, Amazon.com have it for $16.29. Amazingly it’s cheaper in the UK given current exchange rates. I had a search online for the eBook version, and found sites like BooksOnBoard, Ebooks.com and Mobipocket offering the electronic version for around $20-$24. eReader.com were the cheapest I found at $16.16. That’s still the same price as the premium physical copy of the text.

The only format I found offering a reasonable price for a newly published eBook is Amazon’s Kindle. If you are willing to buy the device for $399 you can get Small Favor for $9.99, delivered direct to your Kindle. This doesn’t help me in the UK where Kindle is not yet available.

All the sites offering the ebook version had a range of formats, including Adobe PDF, Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader and eReader. These are fine for mobile devices with software to handle these formats, but the iPhone and iPod touch don’t have an easy way to view these files formatted for the small screen. You can email a PDF to yourself and open it in mail.app, but zooming in on the text to read is a pain. There are currently two applications specifically for reading text on the iPhone/iPod Touch, Books and textReader. Both of these require a Jailbroken iPhone or iPod Touch.

Books has been around the longest, and was my choice of reading software until recently. Version 1.37 worked well and offers a lot of options for formatting, as shown on the right. The biggest issue I had with Books was the time taken to open a book when starting the application. 20 seconds was not unusual on an average size book, which was quite annoying when I only wanted to read for a few minutes. Apart from the startup delay the reading experience was good. The screen can be inverted for white text on a black backround which I find much less tiring on the eyes. A wide range of text encodings as well as html is supported, so you have a choice of how your text is formatted. Navigation around pages is by tapping the top and bottom of the screen, using a slider bar or chapter navigation. Font and size can be changed with a decent selection making text look much better than it ever did on my Palm TX.

I could live with the minor irritation Books had, until it was recently updated to 1.4-r469. There are some new features, including landscape support as well as portrait. That caught me out a few times, when I lowered the iPod to talk to someone the screen rotated and there was another lengthy delay while the content was re-formatted for the new screen orientation. The latest version felt like a work in progress to me, so I uninstalled it and manually installed version 1.37 from the web site. I checked the site this morning to see what the current status is, and couldn’t find any versions for download. It’s still available in Installer.app though.

I suspect other eBook users had the same complaint as me, as a new reader application has recently appeared. TextReader is a lightweight alternative to Books, offering instant opening of texts. It also has landscape support with instant reformatting of the text to fit the page. There are far fewer options on the setting page, but the font/size can be changed and the screen inverted. The only issue I have experienced with the stable 0.4.1 is to do with text encoding, as that version only supports Mac Roman encoding. There is a 0.5.1 beta available from the home page that adds support for file encodings, or you can save text files using Mac Roman encoding (TextMate and TextEdit both allow this).

eBook options may change once the SDK goes final in June and the Apple application store starts offering officially supported software. There may be eBook reader software available, and either of the two applications featured here could choose to go down that path. I do believe the eBook market needs a big player like Apple to get involved to sort out the pricing currently on offer and drag it into the mainstream. I want one reasonably priced device for PIM, software, music, video, photo’s and books, not several costing a small fortune. Kindle may be good but it doesn’t fit in my pocket or do everything I want.

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  1. September 6, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a
    lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement.
    Do you know any methods to help prevent content from being stolen?
    I’d really appreciate it.

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