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What's good about Ebooks


When I last wibbled about ebooks I did finish by saying that it wasn't all bad news and I would try to write something about the positives. So here's some of them:

  1. The ebook readers that are available now use technology that is genuinely readable in any light conditions where you can read paper and have an enormous battery life compared to conventional portable gizmos. For example my PRS-350 has an estimated life of two weeks' reading on one charge.
  2. Even the most basic readers can carry a lot of books. My PRS-350 comes with 1.4GB of free memory and they estimate that you can put about 1,200 books on the device before you run out of space.
  3. They're cheap: the latest Kindles are £105 with WiFi, £149 with free 3G and WiFi, the PRS-350 can be got for around the £130 mark if you shop around.
  4. If you are as irritated as I am by DRMed books there are still a lot of books and other publication out there with no DRM waiting for you to read.

So what is there to read? Well, for a start there's out of copyright works; the sort of thing that's been on Project Gutenberg for a very long time, and I see they claim to have over 33,000 ebook titles to download at the moment. They're just one of a large number of people fighting for your attention offering out of copyright works.

Then there's people who are publishing for free for whatever reason. Two examples for you: Tom Reynold's excellent blog about being a London Ambulance Service paramedic was turned into two paperbacks Blood, Sweat and Tea and More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea but they're also available for you to download, for free, with his blessing1.

And here's one I prepared earlier: The Story of Milton, or Middleton, Cambridgeshire, From Early Times" by KP Humphries (Electronic Book, 86KB) is an ebook in EPUB format which I've published based on the version of this pamphlet I put online on the village web site recently2.

The third type of publication I'm now reading is essentially web sites. I've mention before some software called Calibre which I strongly recommend if you've got an ebook reader. One of its party tricks is that it can "screen scrape" a web site and turn it into a book. And it can do that to a schedule too. It comes with recipes for a wide variety of sites around the world.

The practical consequence of this for me is that my copy of Calibre collects The Guardian for me from their web site at about 5am and as soon as I plug my PRS-350 into the PC via its USB cable Calibre detects it and pushes that edition onto the device ready for me to read. So I can read the The Guardian wherever I am, without a Net connection. Often it's just the sofa or in bed (which is where I was today as I wasn't well this morning) and yes, I could browse the site using my netbook, but it's a much more pleasant reading experience using the PRS-350: partially that it's lighter and no heat or fan but also that it's much closer to reading newsprint and it's a much more satisfying read.

Anyway, to wrap this one up, here's the 56 publications I've currently got loaded on my PRS-350, which illustrates some of what I've been wibbling on about:

Alfred TrumbleIn Jail with Charles Dickens
Arthur Conan Doyle  A Study in Scarlet
Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
calibreThe Guardian _ The Observer [Fri, 05 Nov 2010]
calibreThe Guardian _ The Observer [Mon, 08 Nov 2010]
calibreThe Guardian _ The Observer [Sat, 06 Nov 2010]
calibreThe Guardian _ The Observer [Sun, 07 Nov 2010]
calibreThe Independent [Fri, 05 Nov 2010]
calibreThe Independent [Sat, 06 Nov 2010]
Charles K DillawayRoman Antiquities, and Ancient Mythology
Edward BerensMyths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome
EF BensonMichael
EF BensonMiss Mapp
EF BensonQueen Lucia
James BoyleThe Public Domain _ Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
John SchemberCalibre Quick Start Guide
KP HumphriesThe Story of Milton, or Middleton, Cambridgeshire, From Early Times
PG WodehouseA Damsel in Distress
PG WodehouseA Man of Means
PG WodehouseA Prefect's Uncle
PG WodehouseA Wodehouse Miscellany
PG WodehouseDeath at the Excelsior
PG WodehouseIndiscretions of Archie
PG WodehouseJill the Reckless
PG WodehouseLove Among the Chickens
PG WodehouseMan With Two Left Feet
PG WodehouseMike
PG WodehouseMike and Psmith
PG WodehouseMy Man Jeeves
PG WodehouseNot George Washington
PG WodehousePiccadilly Jim
PG WodehousePsmith in the City
PG WodehousePsmith, Journalist
PG WodehouseRight Ho, Jeeves
PG WodehouseSomething New
PG WodehouseTales of St. Austin's
PG WodehouseThe Adventures of Sally
PG WodehouseThe Clicking of Cuthbert
PG WodehouseThe Coming of Bill
PG WodehouseThe Girl on the Boat
PG WodehouseThe Gold Bat
PG WodehouseThe Head of Kay's
PG WodehouseThe Intrusion of Jimmy
PG WodehouseThe Little Nugget
PG WodehouseThe Little Warrior
PG WodehouseThe Man Upstairs
PG WodehouseThe Politeness of Princes
PG WodehouseThe Pothunter
PG WodehouseThe Prince and Betty
PG WodehouseThe Swoop
PG WodehouseThe White Feather
PG WodehouseThree Men and a Maid
PG WodehouseUneasy Money
PG WodehouseWilliam Tell Told Again
Stieg LarssonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tom ReynoldsBlood, Sweat & Tea
Tom ReynoldsMore Blood, More Sweat, and Another Cup of Tea
  1. There's a good interview with him explaining why he did this here on YouTube.
  2. There's a vaguely interesting issue with this particular example as the pamphlet is still in copyright: it was written in 1962 and the author has been dead for less than seventy years so in theory I needed clearance from his estate ...

Tags: books, Milton, toys Written 07/11/10

Previous comments about this article:

On 08/11/10 at 9:10pm Derek Law wrote:

There is also the rather splendid instapaper.com - which you can make into a bookmarklet and use to collect websites whilst you are browsing but don't have time to read a long article (e.g. at work). It has an option to export what you have collected in EPUB format, and read at your leisure offline. It is very good at fetching just the text of websites.

On 08/11/10 at 9:26pm Paul wrote:

Good grief, I use Instapaper, have done for ages, and I've never spotted the significance of that feature (I use it as a quick and dirty way of bookmarking things as I have multiple browsers across multiple PCs so there's no point in using the browsers' own bookmarks). Thanks Derek.

On 08/11/10 at 9:29pm J Fairbairn wrote:

It's worth mentioning that Cory Doctorow (craphound.com/) has several of his books available in various formats, and prefaces them with the reason why they are available free like this.

On 08/11/10 at 10:38pm Paul Butcher wrote:

At the risk of blowing a personal trumpet, all the e-books sold by The Pragmatic Programmers (who publish my book) are DRM-free :-)

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