Friday, December 27, 2013

Pet Peeves.

Time for another pseudo rant. Might as well sneak one in before the end of the year, eh?

Several years ago, after traveling overseas, I decided that it would be advantageous for me to buy an e-reader, so I don't have to carry around a stack of paperbacks in my luggage (I took five books on that two week trip). My friend, Stef, had done a great deal of research on readers, and had concluded that, at the time, the best option was the Barnes & Noble Nook. One of the selling points was that it had a feature which allowed you to loan a book to another person who had a Nook, and we were always swapping books back and forth, so I pulled the trigger and bought one.

Even farther back in the mists of prehistory, Baen Books - Bless their souls! - had created the Baen Free Library where their stable of authors could post downloadable versions of their novels (usually the first in a series, or a stand alone). I had used this quite a bit over the years to sample new authors, using the html version they posted. Possibly the best thing about this site, apart from it being free, was that they posted all of the books in as many formats as they possibly could, e.g., Kindle, Epub, Mobi, HTML, etc.

So, no matter what gadget you were using to read, you could enjoy the offerings. No barriers to entry, so to speak.

Later, Baen began to include, in a back pocket in their hardbound books, a Baen Free Library CD that had a collection of novels, often all of the novels currently published in the series that the book you'd just bought belonged to, like all of the Honor Harrington stuff by Weber, or all of the Vorkosigan stuff by Bujold. It was FANTASTIC! Baen was a true visionary, and his passing a tragedy to the world of publishing.

By the time I bought my Nook, there were slightly more than 400 novels which were either available on the CDs, or through the free downloads in the Library, and it made my new Nook immediately usable the moment I unwrapped it on Christmas morning.
With the addition of mountains of free books available on Project Gutenberg, and the occasional free book from Barnes & Noble, I acquired slightly over 700 science fiction and fantasy titles, most of which I already owned in hardback or paperback editions, that I can take with me when I travel. On top of that, I've purchased new titles as they came out from B&N by my favorite living authors, and I have about another 80 or so for which I paid full retail prices.

By the way, kudos to Kim Harrison for regularly releasing $1.99 or $2.99 versions of her Rachel Morgan novels. The last few books I've paid full prices as they came out, but I've been able to add the early books in the series to my Nook collection quite economically. Since I already owned the physical editions, it's a bit less painful to do this than having to pay full price. I see now that Amazon has a program where you can get the ebook version of a hardback you're buying, in a package deal, for a similar price. Just wish they'd make it retroactive.

The most recent statistics I was able to find on Ebook market share show that Amazon, with its proprietary Kindle format, has about two thirds of the market, with Barnes and Noble in second place with between a fifth and a quarter, and the rest tagging along behind. So, I can understand why, in terms of bang for the buck, independent authors are taking advantage of Amazon's easy self-publishing and putting their electronic books up on that site. Perhaps Amazon even demands exclusive rights to sell the books, and the authors can't also place them on B&N.

The problem I have, if I want to try out new authors, is that I can (for the most part) only get their books in Kindle format, which does not work on my Nook. Easily solved, you say, "just get a program to convert them from one format to the other. Have you heard of Calibre?" Well, folks, I've had Calibre installed on my laptop for a couple of years. I got it when I started getting books from Project Gutenberg, as they sometimes didn't have all file formats available. I subsequently have used it to convert a few Kindle books to Epubs, but...

First, if an author doesn't specify with Amazon that the book is to be sold with "Lending Enabled", Amazon puts DRM protection on it and Calibre will not convert it. And sometimes, even when Amazon lists the book as "Lending Enabled" it actually still has DRM enabled, and cannot be converted - this second one really pisses me off, since I won't find out it can't be converted until after I've paid for and downloaded the book. I had that happen, in fact, with the third book in a series I was enjoying. All three books said "Lending Enabled" but the third one Calibre simply wouldn't convert - it said DRM was present. Amazon is pretty good about refunding promptly when you make a purchase by mistake, but ...I wanted to read the book! When this happens, I am actually able to read it on my laptop with an installed Kindle app, but it's really not what I desired - I want it on my Nook so I can take it with me anywhere I travel.

But, "Jon" you say, "just go and download DRM remover XYZ".

Suffice it to say that I've googled DRM removers and haven't been too happy with the options of downloading a non-commercial application that may or may not skirt little legal issues with either the ethics or legality of DRM stripping, plus the fact that I have no idea just who these people are who wrote the software that I'm downloading to install on my personal system. When I finally get up the courage to download one that someone recommended to me, it doesn't work - its plugins won't install with Calibre as advertised, and the software developer's site doesn't have anything in the FAQs about that particular error (and I made sure all the other possible install issues didn't apply), and there's no way to simply email him my question.

In summation, it's all a big, hairy PITA. For no productive results.

If you're a new author, and you want the final third of the ebook market to buy and read your books, you - in my not-so-humble opinion - need to remove as many barriers to doing so as you possibly can. Don't make us jump through hoops; arrogant jerks who are getting six figure advances can do that.

Even just having to convert via Calibre makes me hesitate to buy a book. Possibly having to strip off DRM makes me even more nervous. I'm taking a risk every time I read a new author that I've wasted my money. Please don't make it harder.

More another time on Kindle vs. Nook issues - far too much to cover here.

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