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Struggling with a Tattooed Girl


I have already wibbled about ebooks and prices but I've just been through the pain of trying to acquire my first ebook for money. The lucky winner was Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". It's a book I wanted to read anyway; not to mention being the book on the sample photo Sony put out to promote the PRS-350 (which I now possess).

Sony Reader PRS-350 Pocket Edition So who to buy it from and in what format? To set out some benchmarks to begin with Amazon have it in paperback at the moment for £3.86.

Now to me it's worth more to me on paper than it is electronically: data is such an ephemeral thing so the good news was that Amazon also had it as an ebook for £2.68. They also had the first 30 pages or so available as a free download.

So I gave that a go. It's perfectly possible to buy ebooks from Amazon without a Kindle, you just install their software on your PC. It has to be a Windows PC (or a Mac I expect) but that wasn't a huge problem for me as although I use a Linux desktop I've got a Windows virtual machine (VM) running on it.

The ebook came in AZW format, as I expected: that's the format their Kindle uses. But having downloaded it using the Amazon software I was able to give it to the wonderful Calibre (which is the software I've been using to manage my reader) and Calibre offered to convert it to EPUB format before uploading it to my PRS-350. And it did. Kewl!

And here I made my first mistake because I assumed Calibre had cracked the DRM lock on the ebook. It hadn't. It hadn't because the sample pages weren't locked.

I only discovered that after I'd bought the book. So now I've got an AZW version, with DRM so I can't read it on my ereader. There are hacks about, but they largely rely on you owning a Kindle first!

At this point I almost gave up. The next cheapest vendor was Waterstones who wanted £5.59 for the ebook in EPUB format. Other were worse, some a lot worse.

And then I discovered Kobo. On a random sample of one Kobo seem to be price matching with Amazon as they had the book for £2.68 in EPUB format and there's lots of good words on their site about open standards. These for example:


We believe open standards for eBooks are best for consumers, publishers, retailers and hardware manufacturers. Closed systems stifle innovation and growth. Kobo proudly supports EPUB and encourages our users to read a Kobo-purchased eBook on their smartphone, Sony Reader, laptop, or whichever device they choose.

Available on any device

Consumers are only just beginning to discover how they want to read digitally. Some will choose dedicated eReaders, others their smartphone or laptop. Most will choose all of the above. We support personal preference and are assembling the world's best catalogue of eBooks, no matter which device our customers use.

So I bought the book again. Only this time in the right format for my ereader.

And then I discovered the practical reality of the above. The first is that when they say "whichever device they choose" that doesn't include Linux. In order to download the book you've just purchased you first have to install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) as that's what manages the download. It's only available on Windows and Mac. Having installed ADE you have to register with Abode, including giving them all your contact details.

Then you have to install the Sony ereader software so that ADE can recognise your ereader as a valid device which you can then register as a device on which you wish to read your book (I think they said you can have up to six of those).

Then, and only then, you can copy the ebook to your ereader using ADE.

For me there was also the extra pain of getting the ereader to be recognised by the VM at all as you have to "bridge" the USB through from the host Linux box to the virtual Windows PC.

Anyway it's now done. And I do have "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on my Sony PRS-350 in a readable format.

The total cost was £5.36 so despite buying it twice it was still cheaper then getting it from Waterstone as an ebook, and if I'd only bought it once from Kobo it would have been cheaper than a paperback.

But what still niggles is that ten years from now I doubt I'll still be able to read that book. As I understand it the DRM means it can be put on six devices at most and I've already used up two (the PC running ADE counts as one).

And for me lots of paperbacks end up going to the charity shop. I can't do that with an ebook. So it's worth less to me that way too. Overall it seems like a poor deal compared to paper.

Not that ereaders don't have their good points, especially with software like Calibre about, but I'll say more about that later.

Tags: books, toys Written 05/11/10

Previous comments about this article:

On 05/11/10 at 11:50pm Paul wrote:

A brief footnote to this. I discovered after writing the above that it's fairly easy to remove the DRM from ebooks in EPUB format. this page explains how to do it but adds this very valid closing comment

And on a preachy note, please don't be a jerk with these. DRM is bad, but piracy is wrong kids, and only validates the opinions of those who think they need DRM in the first place.

Yeah. What he said.

On 06/11/10 at 12:09am Paul Butcher wrote:

I still buy (almost) all my books on paper, and I still buy all my music on CDs. The e-books that I have bought have all been DRM-free.

I point blank refuse to buy anything that's DRMed. Not because I want to copy it (I make my living writing software and am a published author, so I understand the importance of copyright!) but because when I buy something, I want to *own* it. If I decide that I want to use a different MP3 player, or e-book reader, or whatever the hell comes next, I want to be able to take my content with me.

DRM is considerably worse than the problem it's trying to solve. The only people it hurts are legitimate customers.

On 06/11/10 at 12:45pm Derek Law wrote:

Being a Windows user (I can use Linux, I just don't have the time), I had no practical problems with the awful Sony reader software and the irritating doubling up of functionality with the Adobe policeman. I think it is particularly cheapskate of Sony not to include the DRM themselves.

But I'm a professional, and I didn't get an e-reader for Wendy until the third generation Kindle came out. She loves it. However, to share books across platforms we'll have to break the DRM (thanks for the tip, Paul). That makes no sense at all.

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