E-books Just Want To Be Free

July 23, 2010

I’ve known about the excellent Project Gutenberg for a long time now. It was founded in 1971 by Michael Hart and is the oldest digital library. I hadn’t been back to the site for several years because in my mind it was still the place where all you could download was ASCII text versions of books, which must be the worst possible way to read them. Sure, you could change the font to something easier on the eyes, but by definition and by design ASS-KEY lacks all formatting information — forget about line, paragraph or type styles, including bold and italic.

When I did stop by for a visit last month I was pleased to see that Project Gutenberg now offers “over 33,000 free e-books to read on your PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, Android or other portable device.” Yes, the days of ASCII are a footnote today. What a difference a little formatting can make. (Another footnote is “Our books are free in the United States because their copyright has expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries.”)

Tonight I see that the 5th Annual  World eBook Fair is underway. From July 4th to August 4th you can select from 3,500,000+ free PDF -books. I just downloaded a very good scan of the 1866 edition of Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (with the marvellous illustrations from John Tenniel). I previously download an ePub versionfrom Project Gutenberg with the same illustrations. Very nice!


Meanwhile, the timely and trenchant blog TeleRead (“News & views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics”) brings word today that the Marc D’Hooghe has updated his Free Literature Site. I don’t know what it was like before, but it’s certainly a treasure now. Under “General” it offers over 400 sources of free digital books. There are 100+ sites for free poetry as well as sites for art books, music (books, scores and audio), and Classical Greek & Latin – Medieval.

Beyond that there is also a fine selection of links to:

  • Working on e-text: tools and information
  • Research, education and scientific publications
  • Books and literature in general

The site is frequently updated with new discoveries (RSS feed available). Some of the latest unique finds include Hinduism e-books as well as the Dutch version of Jules Verne’s De Kinderen van Kapitein Grant.

As Paul Biba notes on TeleRead, “I love browsing in a second-hand bookstore.”

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Barnes & Noble Enter the Future of Publishing with Purchase of Top E-Book Retailer

March 7, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports today that “Barnes & Noble Inc. acquired Fictionwise, a leading retailer of electronic books, and said it will launch a new e-bookstore this year, as the e-book market heats up.

“The purchase, for $15.7 million, comes only a few days after Amazon.com Inc., the country’s largest online bookseller, said it is making its Kindle e-books available for reading on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices.”

There is nothing very surprising in all of this, other than perhaps the low purchase price.

What I found fascinating was the statement from Stephen Pendergrast, a co-founder of Fictionwise, that “the single largest category is romance, which he said now accounts for 50% of all sales.”


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Amazon Kindle in Shotgun Wedding with Apple iPhone/iPod

March 5, 2009

Well, you hardly need my blog to bring you the big news that you can now Kindle your iPhone. It’s all over the place. Should you have missed the news, here’s the New York Times report, as comprehensive as any.

The details of the features and shortcomings of bringing the Amazin’ Kindle to a less capable device are described there and also on a blog entry on the site.

So the only remaining question is WHY?

WHY did Amazon, after all its proprietary secrets and obtuse stories and challenging dealings with publishers suddenly capitulate to the iPod/Phone so quickly after the introduction of the modestly improved and horrendously over-hyped Kindle 2? Surely this will not enhance Kindle sales, although it will surely enhance Amazon’s desired position as the #1 retailer of e-books.

Have a look at this blog entry titled “Apple’s Epic E-Book Fail.”

Digest it.

Then imagine that Amazon got wind of the fact that despite Steve J’s infamous pronouncement, “People don’t read anymore,” Apple may have caught onto Amazon’s attempt to corner a segment of the digital media market that it did not yet control, and that Apple had plans to break in.

Just a thought.

And here, for your edification, a screen shot from the New York Times that reveals the pleasure you can expect from reading a book on an iPhone/iPod:


Update: Ed Burnette’s ZDNet blog entry this morning is titled: “Did Amazon intentionally cripplw the iKindle?” Mr. Burnette writes:

“As soon as I saw that Amazon had released their new Kindle Reader for the iPhone I immediately downloaded it and tried it out myself. My initial reaction: unimpressed…the entire thing seems to be set up to make your phone an extension of your Kindle and not a replacement for it.

“Take shopping for a new book, for example. When you try that from the iPhone reader, the software simply opens up the web browser on the Kindle store at amazon.com. It’s practically impossible to actually order something from there, because the site is not very friendly to the small screen. The real Kindle has a real store that you can use right from the device. Obviously Amazon would rather you do your purchases from there.

“Another glaring omission is search. Searching is one thing you can do with an e-book that you can’t do with a paper book. The Kindle 2 has a physical keyboard for this purpose. They could have supported search on the iPhone with the pop-up keyboard, but didn’t. Why not?

“Kindle for iPhone is nice for people who already have a Kindle or Kindle 2 who might find themselves away from their device with a little time to kill. However, Amazon seems to have taken steps to make sure the iKindle does not cannibalize sales of their $359 money maker. If, as Amazon claims, the big-screen Kindle e-ink reading experience is so much better than reading books on a phone, then why bother crippling the phone reader?”

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An Interview with the Father of Self-Publishing

February 20, 2009

Dan Poynter is without question the guru/godfather/father of self-publishing. Long before self-publishing became a cinch on the Internet, Dan was the leading practitioner and exponent of self-publishing. We’ve met a couple of times over the years, and I thought him very bright, charming and completely committed to the endeavor.

Smashwords has a great interview with Dan. He holds many opinions that differ from mine, which, rather than make me doubt him, make me question my own conclusions.

On e-books:

“We still hear people say they like the look and feel of a paper book. They will get over it. I do not know of one of these detractors who has actually read an eBook. They may have glanced at a page but they have not tested the concept. I have been publishing eReports and eBooks since 1996. Because I fly more than 6,000 miles/week, I read a lot of eBooks (mostly historical fiction). So we can argue about what the customer wants but the deciding factor will be economics. pBooks cost too much. Their list prices are higher and their actual costs are much higher when you consider printing, trucking, inventorying, processing the order, picking, packing, licking, sticking, wrapping and shipping. eBooks require little or none of these and Smashwords takes care of the delivery, billing, paying and customer service.”

Check out the whole interview at the link above. If you’re interesting in self-publishing, buy Dan’s books!

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“Reading Books on a Cell Phone is a Demented Idea”

February 18, 2009

“…the students I talk to (and I ask regularly) would go to lengths to avoid reading a book on the Internet, can’t fathom the price of Kindle, which looks like an old person’s appliance anyway, and think reading books on a cell phone is a demented idea.”

— From a comment by Barbara Fister who “coordinate(s) the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library’s instruction program and participate(s) in collection development, reference, and collegial management of the library’s resources,” posted in reference to an article about online piracy of university press publications.

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