Evolving notes, images and sounds by Luis Apiolaza

The weirdness of ebooks

A couple of weeks ago I got a Sony Reader PRS-T1 through the use of Flybuys (a loyalty card scheme available in New Zealand). I had been thinking about buying an Amazon Kindle but then we got the Flybuys catalogue and I could not see the point of shelling out cash for something that I could get much more cheaply.

The device is quite nice and my only hardware quibble is the front frame of the screen, which is too reflective. In contrast, the Sony software to synchronize ebook reader and computer (a mac in my case) is a piece of junk. Therefore, the first thing I did was to install Calibre, which is not pretty but quite effective as a book manager.

By default Sony software pushes the reader to buy books through Whitcoulls, which manages to inspire limitless disappointment: selection is poor and prices high. Why would someone pays $27 for an ebook? The good thing is one can buy books from other sources (e.g. Book Depository or quite a few other book stores), at much lower prices, often below $10. Most books will come with a DRM (usually using Adobe Digital Editions) although there are a few bookshops (e.g. Baen) that ship them DRM-free.

Here is, perhaps, the biggest disappointment with the way many publishers/stores are dealing with their customers; they are treating us like potential criminals. We already went through this with iTunes, which eliminated DRM for music files some years ago. Why choose to unnecessarily constrain the files, particularly when DRM is annoying and can be easily broken? In a similar vein, how come that publishers manage to make pirate copies of books much more easily available than legal ones? If i- I have the money (promise, I do) and ii- I am willing to pay (promise, I do too), why can’t I get legal copies of books by Borges, Cortázar, Bolaño or whoever I want to read? Publishers should compulsorily read this comic by The Oatmeal.

On the plus side, as a quick Google search will show, it is possible to easily break either Amazon’s or Adobe’s DRM using a plugin for Calibre. I am not saying that one should do it, only that is an option. It would always be a pain to end up with unreadable books in the same way that Microsoft MSN customers ended up with unplayable music.

Tuff-luv ebook cover.

After that rant, how does it feel to read in the Sony Reader? It is quite nice and, after a little while, the hardware disappears and the story moves ahead, just like in a normal book. It won’t work for all books—e.g. if you are a fan of Edward Tufte’s books– but it is perfect for most novels or short stories. Rather than buying a typical Sony cover, I ordered this one from Tuff-Luv (a company from the UK) that arrived in less than one week: excellent service and shipped from Germany! The cover is nice looking and, more importantly, covers the shiny sides of the reader, so no more reflection.

In summary, I’m back at reading lots because it is easy to always carry many books in my backpack. This is bliss for an inveterate ‘reading many books in parallel’ aficionado.


  1. Antonio Pedro

    I have a related question: how to you read scientific papers? I am tired of printing papers that I can’t find later- and worse, I lost my annotations; I don’t like to read in the computer screens either; most devices, such as ipads and stuff, look to small for me; my papers typically have lots of figures and graphs and I need to check them very carefully; I also would like to annotate in the pdf’s file; maybe one day … Cheers,

    • Luis

      Personally, I do a lot of paper browsing/scanning in which I get a vague idea of a problem or methodology, which happens in my laptop (15″ screen) or desktop (27″ screen). For that type of superficial reading I’m OK with a computer and I agree: ipads or ebooks are too damn small for anything that requires high resolution.

      However, sometimes I find papers that I consider worthy of deep reading, meaning that I will read the whole thing, follow the equations, etc. I actually print those papers and, often, use a highlighter to mark interesting passages. I would like to be a note taker but I don’t have the discipline and organization to do so and rely on my memory to have a feeling of where I read something. The highlighting or scribbling on a page helps me remember but I don’t keep those annotations, because most of the time I recycle the articles (someone has to keep going the forestry industry).

      The system is not perfect but then I don’t need to worry about losing notes.

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