Saturday, July 5, 2008

Why I still don’t have an eBook reader

My typical packing list for a beach vacation: bathing suit, t-shirt, shades, and 30 pounds of books, plus geek manuscripts in PDF format. You’d think I’d be the perfect eBook candidate, being an early adopter and all. But they all suck one way or another. Never mind usability; never mind the ~$400 price tag. The dealbreaker is that the content situation is laughable, to wit:

Amazon’s Kindle has a pretty good selection, and they’re at least priced intelligently (~50% of print edition), but you can’t view PDF documents on it. Yes, I know about the “converter”. It doesn’t process tables or figures, making it useless for any technical PDF’s, which for me is most PDF’s. TheCyBook uses the Mobipocket DRM format, which is sold by dozens of half-assed retailers whose selection and reputation aren’t even a fraction of Amazon’s and whose pricing is stupid—the ebook costs the same as the print edition, and I can’t even donate it to my library when I’m done with it. But the CyBook does render PDF, so I could at least use it for geek books, technical articles,Gutenberg downloads, etc.

Some libraries have started ebook lending. But the NY Public Library, whose print collection exceeds 50 million volumes, has exactly 945 Fiction titles available in ebook form, most available as only one or the other of Mobipocket or Adobe eBook. Given that Adobe manages to crap on the user experience of every product they put out, and that Adobe Reader still holds my grand prize for crashing Firefox & Safari, I don’t even want to go near Adobe’s ebook format, which they popularized in part by distributing DRM’d versions of Gutenberg etexts—evil.

The book industry seems to be doing its very best to imitate the visionary RIAA and MPAA. I imagine at some point the book industry’s proctologist will call them to tell them that he’s found their head. Until then I’ll keep lugging dead trees around.

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