The crazy world of ebooks, again

Ah, the car crash world that is the ebook industry strikes once more.

Most of the Flashman books showed up as ebooks just recently, and I'm off on vacation on Wednesday, so I figured I'd buy the ones I hadn't read - perfect spot of light holiday reading.

First I look in the native epub stores, as I have an epub reader (a Sony). Kobo has a couple of the books, at least. So I go through the convenient, easy process of buying a <1MB file full of text and transferring it to a USB storage device... which I mean I fire up a Windows VM, open Firefox in the VM, go to Kobo, buy the book, and download it into the Sony Reader software in the VM. Then I open up a console, locate the downloaded, encrypted, epub file, download a Windows scp client, re-configure sshd on my real system to accept password login temporarily as I really can't be arsed figuring out where to put my key files in the Windows VM, and scp the epub file across to the host. Then I shut down password login on sshd again, and run ineptepub on the downloaded epub file to strip the DRM. (This is still legal here in Canada, for now at least.) Then I import it into Calibre, plug in my reader, and finally transfer it across.

...then I open it on my reader and find that, for some inexplicable reason, all the text renders ridiculously large and the font size settings have no effect.

So I say screw it, go to a torrent site, and find an unencrypted copy with zero text size issues in three seconds. Download it straight into Calibre and transfer it onto the reader.

And publishers wonder why people pirate stuff.

For further comedy value, I had to buy the other books in the series from Amazon, as they don't seem to be available through any of the epub-native stores. So for those I had to install Kindle for Windows into the VM, buy all the books and download them, install Calibre into the VM, install the plugin that allows Calibre to strip the DRM from Kindle books (which AFAIK only works in Windows, not Linux), find the raw copies of the book files, import them into Calibre (which strips the DRM using the plugin), convert to ePub format, then scp the ePub files from Calibre's library across to the host for transfer to the Reader. (If you're wondering why I don't just do the transfer-to-reader step inside the VM, qemu/KVM's USB passthrough support isn't good enough for Calibre on the Sony software to pick up the Reader, it seems). Despite the format conversion step in this process, those books display fine on my reader - no text size issues. Only the one which was a native ePub file in the first place, and which I only really 'manipulated' to the extent of shuttling it around a lot and stripping the DRM, doesn't render correctly.

You may be shocked - shocked! - to find that I greatly prefer to buy stuff from Baen, who offer all their eBooks in every format known to man, un-DRMed, and allow you to download them as many times as you damn well please, once you've paid the (usually very small) asking price. No faffing around with VMs or tools to strip the DRM, no ridiculous geographical restrictions. If only they published everything I wanted to read. Everyone should go buy stuff from Baen to support their model, and help them show the rest of the industry how it's done.


emmet.curran wrote on 2011-12-13 13:39:
I'm right with you on that one Adam... I applaud your efforts to obtain your books the legal and proper way, unfortunately I gave up trying a long time ago. My main issue is with the pricing structure - I would gladly pay 3euros for an ebook, but I refuse to pay the ridiculous prices they put on their printing-cost-free digitally distributed ebooks. Thank you for that link to Baen, I've had a quick look and will browse more when I get home from work.... however, the only author I recognised was priced at $15! It wouldn't even be too bad if I didn't know he is probably only getting a few pennies of that price, while the publisher laughs all the way to the giant pile of cash they're hiding. This whole thing is such a great big pity though, ebooks had so much potential until the greed factor kicked in :(
adamw wrote on 2011-12-13 18:33:
Usually the only things priced $15 on Baen's system are ARCs - Advance Reading Copies. These have always existed in the publishing industry; they're copies of the text as delivered by the author, prior to final proofing. In the Olden Days a few copies to a few hundred copies (depending on the prominence of the author) would be printed up for publicity and review purposes, and for the purposes of actually doing the final proofing. They would never be offered for sale officially. You can often buy them second-hand on sites like ABE, where reviewers sell ARCs of particularly prominent authors as a handy second source of income. Baen realized there was a neat gap in the market here for particularly hardcore fans and started, quite recently, putting the ARC text of new books up on webscriptions for their most popular authors, at an increased price. But if you just wait for the official release date, you'll get the final proofed text for $5, which is their standard price for actually-released books. I dunno the terms Baen uses, but as a fairly small publisher, I'd expect they're reasonably good. I've never heard of any authors being particularly displeased with Baen, though often the most successful Baen authors will sign up with bigger publishers in order to increase their mass-market distribution once they've established a reputation through Baen.
nullr0ute wrote on 2011-12-13 23:30:
A very enlightening rant Mr Williamson as usual. Thanks for the Baen reference, exactly what I've been looking for (although clearly not that hard!)