Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ebooks (Vol. 3): I Know Which Device, but Where to Find eBooks?

So, I've talked about why you might want a digital book reader, and gave examples of readers on the market for you to choose from. Now: where can you go to actually GET ebooks for the reader?

First, I need to make something extremely clear: you will NOT find every book you want in an ebook format. Ebooks have been slow to catch on, especially with bookstores (brick and mortar, AND online) and publishers. Some authors, like Stephen King, have come out strongly in favor of ebooks; others, like J.K. Rowling, have explicitly denied any chance of their books coming out in ebook form.

Also. Ebooks can be free. Some of them. But most aren't. You won't find your latest volume in the Twilight series for free, but you'll likely find them in several formats across various ebooks stores and libraries. Don't expect to always get fantastic discounts for not buying paper, either; I've seen modern releases discounted for as little as 5% off the paper price. On the other hand, I've also seen as high as 70% off the paper price, especially if the ebookstore is pushing a particular author/genre/series. If your reader can support multiple formats...shop around, you might find a better price someplace else.

Classic literature is usually the least expensive to find, and are often the ones you'll find for free. At most, you'll see them being sold for maybe $4, perhaps as little as $1. Buy generic, unless you feel you need to pay more.

Now, I would like to say that certain truths are self evident: that all ebook stores are created equal. That all digital readers are endowed by their creators with comparable digital rights, that among these are PDF, PUB, and DOC files.

But alas, true believers, this isn't the case at all.

Ebooks come in all shapes and sizes, depending on where you find them. And, most importantly: not every reader, can read every format.

Yes, my friends, it's true. We're back to the format wars, only now it's the realm of digital books.

Right now ebooks can be found across the web in the following file formats: HTML, PDF, DOC, TXT, RTF, LIT, PDB, PRC, MOB, EPUB, PPT, DJVU, CHM, WOLF, LRF, and AZW.

Holy ridiculous variety, Batman!

Knowing what formats are available on what reader you choose is very, very important; you don't want to find yourself stuck with a reader that is only good for reading PDF documents, and then you're unable to find a library/bookstore where you can get books you want in that format.

Of course, ve haff vays uff circumventing that...but I'll talk about that later.

Here's a list of the largest repositories of ebooks; there are a lot more than these out there, and you can feel free to Google your little hearts out. These are simply the bigguns, the Borders/Waterstones/Barnes & Nobles of the ebook world, and in some cases - the only place you can go. Read on, McDuff.

1. Amazon
Gee, what a surprise to find them here, right? Amazon is probably the biggest online retailer for books, and you shouldn't be surprised that they also have the largest ebook library at over 245,000 titles for sale. Unfortunately there is a catch: Amazon's ebooks only come in Amazon's proprietary .azw format. Annnnnnnnnd now, for the grand prize...can you guess which device is the only device able to read this format? Yes, you guessed it: the Kindle. It's the Apple iTunes model - build the largest library, build the only device that supports it, lock people into a sales loop. And good luck circumventing their format, because the Kindle ebookstore doesn't download to your desktop - it wirelessly syncs to your Amazon/Kindle account, and sends your books directly to your registered device.

2. Mobipocket
Mobi has been selling ebooks since 2000, well before there were dedicated reader to use them on. They were originally designed for PDAs, the predecessor to today's Smartphones - so were well ahead of the curve when the digital reader revolution began. Their library has over 120,000 titles in the .mob and .prc format...and were bought by Amazon in 2005. Which goes at least half the distance to explaining why Amazon has such a large ebook library, compared to others in the market.

3. Sony Ebook Store
Poor Sony. They were the first big name on the ebook reader scene with their device, and now it's like being Stephen King's cousin, Sammy King - write all the books you want, you'll still just be in someone else's shadow. They've worked out an association with Borders Bookstores, which I'm hoping will see their library exponentially increase over the coming year; Sony's ebook store has close to 100,000 titles, which download in their .lrf format. To their credit, however, Sony has given up the ghost of proprietary formats fairly quickly (given their history), and made their reader much more multi-format compatible. They've also come out in support of the .epub format, which is slowly - sloooowwwwwwlyyyy - inching its way to becoming the industry standard; their device also supports the Adobe Digital Editions/PDF formats. You do, however, need to install Sony's Ebook software to download books.

4. Fictionwise
Fictionwise is the dark horse in this race; opened in 2000, they don't have the largest library of ebooks at around 59,000 titles. What they do have is the largest format support of any other ebook retailer. They sell ebooks in both device-specific encrypted form and unencrypted forms, and in a choice (depending on a title's format availability) of: .lrf, .mobi, .prc, .lit, .pdf, and a few others (.kml, .rb) I haven't seen. Also, and perhaps most importantly: on March 5th of this year, Fictionwise was acquired by Barnes & Noble. I particularly find this somewhat amusing; in 2003, B&N pulled out of the ebook market, complaining that "manufacturers have not yet made a device that consumers embrace on a wide scale."

5. Ebooks
Launched in 2000 (do you see a trend here?), Ebooks is another Little Engine That Could. They claim to have a library of - depending on what part of their website you read, either 30,000 titles, 100,000 titles, or 160,000 titles. Hmm. I'm inclined to believe the former, and the latter figure includes "documents", which may be research papers in electronic format. They do offer multiple formats: .mob/prc, .lit, and .pdf.

6. Ereader.com
You have to give Ereader some credit, they just keep managing to survive. This is probably the OLDEST online electronic book retailer, once upon a time (mid 1990's) existing as Peanut Press and selling ebooks exclusively for the Palm OS devices. Since then they've been sold to Palm (became Palm Digital Media), then to Motoricity (where they became Ereader.com)...and in 2008 they were bought by Fictionwise. Which is now owned by Barnes & Noble. Which gives B&N a double-foothold into the ebook online retail market. Look out, Amazon! Right now, you need the Ereader software to read their books; they were primarily designed for PDA devices. I'm expecting this model to change dramatically as B&N.com changes their online model to once again include ebooks.

7. Gutenberg Project
Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today. PG is about digital books in all their forms - the list I've seen includes ASCII, .html, .pdf, .prc, .pdb, .rtf, .txt...as well as .mp3, .midi...you get the idea. PG is about non-DRM formats, and free books to all. Books on PG are also public domain - you won't find any Ann Rice novels here, but you will find various works by Plato, Shakespeare, Bram Stoker, Byron...at last count they had 27,000 free titles available.

I decided to include one more - not that I've had any experience with them at all, but I stumbled across them looking for something else and felt they warranted mention, if not further exploration:

8. eBookMall
From their own website:
eBookMall is a leading e-publisher and Internet retailer of eBooks. The eBookMall e-commerce website at www.ebookmall.com was launched on July 4, 2000. The site has grown from 2,000 eBooks to over 210,000 eBooks and continues to grow rapidly.

eBookMall now offers over 150,000 eBooks in a variety of popular formats. Our ordering system is simple and secure. We've provided an ample amount of instructions on how to order, because we understand that eBooks are a new technology and not much of the population has had experience with ordering them yet. We think the amount of eBook readers will increase as everyone realizes how simple eBooks are to use, and how many benefits they have.
From my own quick research, they support ebooks in the following formats: .prc, .pdb, .mob, .lit, .pdf, .doc, .txt, and .html.

So, there you have it; an exhaustive list of places you can go to get your book-read on, once you've bought your digital reading device. But what happens if the books you want, aren't available in a format your device supports?

See you next time :)

1 comment:

Ariq the Moor said...

I found another location; they do however charge an annual membership fee ($9 annual for individuals, $2 for students):

World Public Library Association

"Housed in World Public Library Multi-Terabyte server network is the world's largest digital archive of PDF eBooks and eDocuments. Our collection hosts more than 500,000+ PDF eBooks and eDocuments. As a member you will have complete access to the entire collection. Our collection is constantly growing. "