On ebooks

Tagged as books, tech

Written on 2013-09-21

EDIT 2014-08-25: I added a few links.

I love books. I love books a lot. I've loved them since I was a little kid. My parents read me books before I went to bed. They read books for pleasure. So naturally, as a kid I wanted to read books. I was really happy to learn to read. Because guess what, books are awesome. And with a few francs you could get a library card that would grant you an unlimited amount of stories, adventures and fun. Then I grew up and added blood, sex and philosophy into the mix and books were awesome and mature. So yeah, I love books, but how is that interesting?

Well, it's not. It's my personnal life and this is not some teenager's tumblr. I guess, I could make that interesting by writing book reviews, but not today. I however have relatively interesting things to say about the interaction between books and technology but before talking about that, I'm going to bore you a little more with my life.

I am a child of the Internet. At some point after my tenth birthday (I don't remember exactly, not that it's important), my family bought a computer and got an Internet Access. I ended up being its main user. As a result, I grew up with the Internet. It affected the way I perceive technology, art, and even life. It is part of who I am and it is the core of how I conceive and deal with Information. When I talk about art, until recently, there was one medium which was an exception : books. Movies, I could download. Series, I could download. Comics, I could download. But books ? I borrowed and bought books made of paper. Of course, I've always imagined that we would have some cool datapads in the future but I've never imagined that this future would be now.

Because, here we are, 2013 and accessible ereaders are a reality. It has been the case for a few years actually. For the price of 17 books, you can get an ereader which can store hundreds. So, everything is wonderful, right? No.

By the way, just because this article is pretty long and has a lot of headers, here is a table of contents :

Ebooks {#ebooks}

First, let's talk about how ebooks are awesome, especially with an ereader (a non electronic paper ereader is not an ereader, it's a tablet). They are simple and structured. You never lose your page, since the bookmark is saved inside your ereader. No more bookmarks blown away by the wind ! And you get to play with your display. You can make words bigger and change the font. Plus, you can carry thousands of them in a device and sort them by author, genre, series, and etc. You can read any book of your entire library which you can easily organize using awesome software like Calibre. How could I not fall in love with ebooks?

Adobe, why are you so cruel ? {#adobe}

I hope that you didn't think that anybody would come and spoil everyone's fun, right? No ? Good. Well, Adobe did(They're not the only ones, just the ones that are affecting an open standard in the most harmful way), producing a wonderful DRM, or as I like to call them digital handcuffs (Why).

I would just like to remind you that it is not Adobe's first time.

Tu quoque, Amazon? {#amazon}

(Warning, I know I am referring to an apocryphal quote. Do not send me emails about that.)

So what about Amazon ? They surely didn't fail at noticing the importance of ebooks. They even were the first ones to become popular with their Kindle. Well, unfortunately, Amazon is not your friend. On their platform, they have so much power over the user that is would give Stalin wet dreams. Basically, they give themselves the right to collect data on the users as well as deleting content on their customers' devices. Of course, for maximal irony, it had to be George Orwell's books.

Would you trust Amazon ? I wouldn't.

The real culprits {#culprits}

Of course, blaming Adobe or Amazon for creating digital handcuffs would be like blaming Einstein for the creation on the first Atom Bomb : it would be stupid. They are just tools. Those who use them are responsible for the consequences of their use, not the makers of the tools.

Publishers are responsible for the use of DRMs. Sometimes authors too but most of the time they don't have any choice, or they are not aware of the consequences of selling a book with DRMs.

Consequences ? {#consequences}

DRM are intrinsically bad. They are arbitrary limitations on files. Like on which devices you can use them. How many time you can read them ? How you can modify the file ? Who can read the file ?

When are you supposed to read a book ? Whenever the fuck you want ! How are you supposed to read a book ? However the fuck you want ! How many times are you supposed to read a book ? As much as you fucking want !

And about that last question : yes, books are meant to be shared. You can lend it to friends, family. You can, as you read it, hand it over to your friend and say, look at that paragraph, it's hilarious ! So why should you not be able to do that with ebooks ? Because they are files ? Because every time you give the file to someone it's actually an identical copy ? I call bullshit ! You cannot stop people from doing that or else they will just bypass it. Come on ! What's going to stop people from using a search engine, going in the first result and downloading some crappy freeware that will remove those DRMs ? Nothing !

Also, will these ability really kill books ? Or aren't just people going to continue to buy them, especially if they were as cheap as they would cost. Why not set the ebook price to the double of the authors' and publishers' margin ? It would be incredibly cheap. As well, isn't the satisfaction of knowing that the author you like will earn money and be able to write more books if you buy it a compelling enough reaon to buy a book ?

Anyway, I'm giving you a tl;dr for this part : DRMs are evil and pointless.

Am I naive ? {#naive}

So, yeah, am I not an idealist by thinking that this situation could evolve positively ? Maybe. I hope that one day, publishers will realize how pointless it is to lock their contents. It might however be possible, by putting pressure on publishers, by sensibilizing writers to that question ; simply, by bringing light into darkness. It is unlikely yet still possible so I think it is worth trying.

Where to find respectful ebooks ? {#respectful}

Ok, now that I have been boring about the threat of DRMs, do I have any alternative to propose. As a matter of fact, I do.

First, do not underestimate the power of the Dar… I mean Public Domain. There are numerous project of digitalization of Public Domain work, here is a list :

  • The Project Gutenberg contains thousands of public domain books, regarding US Laws. Most countries, especially European ones have better polices so you shouldn't worry a lot.
  • The Project Gutenberg Australia considers that fact most countries do not let Disney set their copyright laws, and have a more realistic Copyright (or Author's right) duration, like 70 years (it's also the case in the European Union).
  • The Roy Glashan's Library seems to be based on the same idea.
  • Wikisource also contains public domain texts, although I don't know which one. Probably, the American one. This link is the English version but it's available in other languages.
  • The Internet Archive also have free texts.
  • I don't know much about Many books except that they're free.
  • Feedbooks has a few free Public Domain and Original books.
  • Books should be free seems to be well named as it specializes in public domain books.

Here is a list of public domain books in French language. It might be of limited usefulness but I'm posting everything I have here.

You can also find respectful publishers. Most of them are small companies but usually offers fair prices as well as DRM-free ebooks. This is not an exhaustive list, just a list of those I stumbled upon.

  • Publie.net : French publisher
  • Bélial : French publisher specialized in what we call in French Imaginare (Imaginary), a genre composed of sub-genre related to imagination such as Science Fiction or Fantasy.

The FSF is also maintaining a list of DRM-free ebooks here : I strongly advise you to look into it. It is interesting.

Ereaders {#ereaders}

So now that I've talked about files, I'm going to continue with the physical part : ereaders. Remember earlier when I told you about the deletion of George Orwell's books from amazon's devices ? Well, if you do not want that to happen to you, the devices that you use should matter to you. It is important; if there is a store on the device you plan to purchase, you must carefully read the terms of use. To be simple, don't buy Amazon's Kindles, Barnes and Nobles's Nook or the Kobo ereader. As for Sony, e-readers, I don't think it's the case, but my reading of their terms of use was quick.

However, there are brands that I am sure of the quality. Those are Pocketbook, Booken, and Onyx International. They offer good quality ereaders, for a decent price, with great features. They are pretty easy to find in Europe, however, if you live in North America, I wish you good luck. I could barely find some models from them. But you still should try if you're interested.

tl;dr {#tldr}

The ebook situation is mess, full of evil DRMs, thanks to evil publishers and evil platforms. Most ereaders are full of DRMs too and will delete your books if their overlords tell them to. However, there are some good publishers and good manufacturers of ereaders, and public domain. So not all hope is lost.

By the way, I'm joking with my overusing of the word evil. However, you might want to consider the position of the following action on your moral compass : sacrificing the interest of humanity for money.


Unless otherwise credited all material Creative Commons License by Reihar