Ebooks: Abandoned providers, DRM and fair use

February 21, 2013

It’s been a few weeks now since the Fictionwise and Ereader.com websites have been mothballed by Barnes & Noble, but I’ve been doing some ebook stuff recently and tried to access both of them without thinking. I remember getting warning emails back in November – US and UK customers were apparently offered the chance to roll their bookshelves over to the Barnes & Noble website, but for the rest of us, it was basically “Make sure you’ve downloaded backups of all your books, and have a nice life.”

It’s certainly not a great digital tragedy, but I’m disappointed to see those ebook providers disappear. Ereader.com used to be ‘Peanut press palm reader’, which was my intro into the world of electronic books, and they had a great, smart format that was supported by a wide range of devices. Fictionwise didn’t have a great selection of novels to my taste, but I was able to pick up some great short stories there, (as well as some interesting audio adaptations,) and I loved their ‘multi-format DRM free’ program, where you could download the story you purchased in any of 13 different popular formats, all of them without any copy protection mechanisms.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve downloaded copies in every format that I might have a use for, so the biggest immediate impact is that I can’t use the ereader.com online bookshelf to access my books from my iPhone or android phone. With the iPhone, this is just an annoyance, because I can put up my book files on another website and access them that way. But the Ereader.com app for Android is just about useless now; the ereader.com website was the only way to load books onto it, and I’d only loaded on one book so far.

But I’ve figured out another way to get those books onto my phone.

I don’t really have strong feelings one way or another on DRM; I don’t think of it as an offense against human rights the way a few people seem to, and I don’t hesitate to spend my money on DRM content; depending on my impression of the DRM system and how likely it seems that I’ll lose access to the file entirely, of course. On the other hand, I don’t really scruple about hedging my bets and using software tools to crack DRM protection when it seems to be in my best interests.

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Some random Ebook musings.

May 10, 2012

I was a fairly early adopter when it came to the idea of ebooks. In the winter of 2003 I ordered a Palm PDA off the Dell Canada website, and it came pre-loaded with Palm Reader and a link to their website. I checked it out, and ordered my first few books – copies of fantasy novels that I’d read from the library but didn’t have print copies of, and installments of spinoff paperbacks like Roswell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That site, and other digital gadgets that I added to my collection, led me to other ebook vendor sites – the Simon & Schuster online webstore, Fictionwise.com, and ebooks.com . I heard about the Kindle and other dedicated ebook readers with lots of great features and bigger selections of books, but for a while those didn’t appear to be available in Canada. Finally, I got my Kindle delivered once Amazon started offering some kind of international sales and service for Kindle ebooks, and I haven’t regretted it.

Over the past few years, readers like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo, and smartphones and tablets have changed the ebook marketplace a lot. Some vendors have kept up reasonably well. Ebooks.com has their own iphone app that lets me download and read books that I originally ordered in mobipocket or Microsoft reader format, and read them anywhere I have the phone.

Palm reader is now Ereader.com, and they didn’t have much trouble adding iPhone, Android, Blackberry and others to the list of devices supporting their own proprietary format. Though I wasn’t impressed by their attempt to make a native linux version, probably because it was badly back-ported from the iphone version to devices that need a very different user interface. Fictionwise is still making a priority of selling books and stories DRM-free and offering as many different formats as humanly possible, which is a great approach.

But some formats have failed, and some vendors have had issues in keeping up with the technology. The Simon and Schuster e-store, unfortunately, seems to be in this category. I bought a lot of ebooks from them, mostly ‘Pocket Books’ paperbacks from franchises like Star Trek, Charmed, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some of them were bought in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Reader format – with digital rights management technology to prevent piracy.

Yes, some will say, I should have known better.

The Adobe PDF DRM authentication servers appear to have been offlined years ago, as they moved on towards ‘Adobe Digital Editions’ and their ePub standard – though I still have a few devices that have kept their authentication codes and can read the books. Microsoft has said that it will discontinue support of Microsoft Reader in August of this year – but when I had to hard-reset my HP pocket PC a month and a half ago, I found no way to re-authenticate it again.

Simon and Schuster still has my account active, and apparently tried to migrate my books to Adobe Digital Editions, but apparently couldn’t get them all in that format for whatever reasons, and some of the books that they say they have are still stuck in technical difficulties – a few won’t download at all, and more than a dozen of the ones that I downloaded can’t be transferred to another device with the same Adobe ID – which means I can’t read them on the iPhone through Bluefire, (which is a nifty little ADE-compliant ePub reader program.)

I don’t have a problem with DRM in the concept. But when a failure in the system means that I’m not able to read the books that I bought, then the theory isn’t working out in practice. It makes me want to go out and crack the DRM files just out of spite.


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