Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to Celebrate Democracy with Your eReader

It's time to do one of my favorite things: Summarize. Based on brief but frenzied experiments with my eReader, I've compiled a list of tips on enjoying ebooks, with a special emphasis on avoiding DRM:

1. Buy something other than a Kindle. (See my previous post or this article about Sony's "Open Kimono" policy.)

2. Download Calibre. You're going to need something to manage your ebooks--an iTunes for books, if you will. Calibre is a free, open-source ebook management software. Although it doesn't work with DRM-protected ebooks, you can avoid dealing with those except when you download library books. In that case, DRM is necessary to make sure the book gets "returned," a.k.a. deleted from your eReader. More about that in a minute.

Calibre does two other things I particularly like. For one thing, It will format the content on news websites into an ebook (really, it's like an emagazine or enewspaper), so you can download the articles and read them on your reader. This is what the New York Times Book Review looks like:

The other thing it does is allows you to edit metadata. In other words, you can add tags (like "steampunk"!), add a summary, or edit the author and title info if it's incorrect.

3. Download the Classics for Free. You can do this from lots of places. Project Gutenberg and Google Books probably have the largest selection. In the case of Google Books, you're looking at the scanned pages of specific editions of the books, with any illustrations, foot notes, or formatting tricks. Other sites just give you the raw text without the formatting--sometimes these flow more smoothly.

Some smaller sites are nice, because they add distinctive covers and clean up the formatting with unusual attention to detail. They're also more browsing friendly, in case you don't know what you want. For example, I like ManyBooks. The website design is crisp and it has browsing friendly features, like book reviews and reader recommendations. They even let you browse through cover images:

I'm also excited to try Bartleby's ebook store, which encourages you to donate money when you download. Bartleby's specializes in really classy classics, like Goethe and Tolstoy. Stuff I sometimes pretend I've read, because I honestly forget I haven't read, because I've been meaning to read for so long.

4. Download E-Books from Your Library. I know I said there were an annoying number of steps to doing this, but to make it easy, do three things first (if you live in Rhode Island): download the Sony Reader Software (this will download pretty much automatically when you plug your reader into your computer), download the Adobe Digital Editions Software, and get an Adobe ID. Once that's out of the way, it will seem easier.

You can search for ebooks using the regular catalog, but I prefer to go to the E-Zone Digital Downloads section (there's a link from the regular catalog). The E-Zone has audio books as well as ebooks, so make sure you limit your search to ebooks. Other than that, it's just like online shopping, except you enter your library card number instead of your credit card number.

After you download an ebook, there will be a link with an .acsm extension on your desktop (or wherever you downloaded to), and when you click on the link, that should launch the Adobe Digital Editions.

If your eReader is plugged into the computer, an icon for it will either appear in the left hand column of the Adobe Digital Editions window (see where it says PRS-300 in teeny-tiny letters?), or a window will pop up, prompting you to authorize the device by entering your Adobe ID (good thing you have one!). Once both the computer and the device are "authorized," you can drag and drop the icon for the book over the icon for the reader, and you're good to go.

The ebook will self-destruct after 21 days, and when you look at the list of books on your eReader, there will be a little number after the title that counts down the number of days til the book is due.

5. Buy eBooks from Independent Sites. As I mentioned before, if you download books from the Sony site, you will be limited in what you can do with those books in the future. What I didn't clock before was the fact that eReader-makers aren't the only ones who love DRM--publishing houses do, too. So many of the mainstream titles you might want to download will be DRM-protected no matter what site you get them from.

However, if you love sci-fi (or anarchism) you are in luck! Webscriptions has a fantastic selection of ebooks by authors I love like Cherie Priest and Elizabeth Bear, and the epub files are beautifully DRM-free. Ahhhhhhh. Fictionwise also offers some books in "multiformat," like my adored Kelly Link short story collection, Magic for Beginners.

There are lots of other bitsy sites that offer DRM-free books, but I thought they were kind of eh. You can find a lists of them here and here. You can also subscribe to this blog which alerts you to new DRM-free ebooks.

There are some signs that there will be a swell in DRM-free ebooks in 2010. Google Editions will launch, allowing you to view ebooks on any device as long as it has a web browser. Harlequin's Carina imprint will offer DRM-free Romance starting in June, and Diesel Books is relaunching mid year with DRM-free titles from publishers who agree to loosen their strangle-hold.

6. Stay alert to cool projects. This is why an eReader is really fun--you get to be a subject in cutting-edge publishing experiments. Since the market crashed (I love say that--it's so 1930s), publishing houses have been looking for a sleeker distribution model. And as always, writers are looking for ways to get their work noticed.

In 2008, Tor famously gave away ebooks to those who subscribed to their newsletter, which worked out pretty well for some of the authors. Cory Doctrow is always giving stuff away. And there are plenty of zine-like things (like Steampunk Tales and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet) that are available for download and will make you feel cooler than you are. Some people are into obscure bands. You can be into obscure books.

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