Thoughts on eBooks

In recent months, I have been doing a clear out of paper books in case the recent European Union referendum result in the U.K. affects my ability to stay there since I am an Irish citizen. In my two decades here, I have not felt as much uncertainty and lack of belonging as I do now. It is as if life wants to become difficult for a while.

What made the clearance easier was that there was of making sure that the books were re-used and eBooks replaced anything that I would wanted to keep. However, what I had not realised is that demand for eBooks has flatlined, something that only became apparent in recent article in PC Pro article penned by Stuart Turton. He had all sorts of suggestions about how to liven up the medium but I have some of my own.

Niall Benvie also broached the subject from the point of view of photographic display in an article for Outdoor Photography because most are looking at photos on their smartphones and that often reduces the quality of what they see. Having a partiality to photo books, it remains the one class of books that I am more likely to have in paper form, even I have an Apple iPad Pro (the original 12.9 inch version) and am using it to write these very words. There also is the six year old 24 inch Iiyama screen that I use with my home PC.

The two apps with which I have had experience are Google Play Books and Amazon Kindle, both of which I have used on both iOS and Android while I use the Windows app for the latter too. Both apps are simple and work effectively until you end up with something of a collection. Then, shortcomings become apparent.

Search functionality is something that can be hidden away on menus and that is why I missed it for so long. For example, Amazon’s Kindle supports puts the search box in a prominent place on iOS but hides the same function in menus on its Android or Windows incarnations. Google Play Books consistently does the latter from what I have seen and it would do no harm to have a search box on the library screen since menus and touchscreen devices do not mix as well. The ability to search within a book is similarly afflicted so this also needs moving to a more prominent place and is really handy for guidebooks or other more technical textbooks.

The ability to organise a collection appears to be another missed opportunity. The closest that I have seen so far are the Cloud and Device screens on Amazon’s Kindle app but even this is not ideal. Having the ability to select some books as favourites would help as would hiding others from the library screen would be an improvement. Having the ability to re-sell unwanted eBooks would be another worthwhile addition because you do just that with paper books.

When I started on this piece, I reached the conclusion the eBooks too closely mimicked libraries of paper books. Now, I am not so sure. It appears to me that the format is failing to take full advantage of its digital form and that might have been what Turton was trying to evoke but the examples that he used did not appeal to me. Also, we could do with more organisation functionality in apps and the ability to resell could be another opportunity. Instead, we appear to be getting digital libraries and there are times when a personal collection is best.

All the while, paper books are being packaged in ever more attractive ways and there always will be some that look better in paper form than in digital formats and that still applies to those with glossy appealing photos. Paper books almost feel like gift items these days and you cannot fault the ability to browse them by flicking through the pages with your hands.

Deauthorising Adobe Digital Editions software

My being partial to the occasional eBook has meant my encountering Adobe’s Digital Editions. While I wonder why the functionality cannot be be included in the already quite bulky Adobe Reader, it does exist and some publishers used it to ensure that their books are not as easily pirated. In my case, it is a certain publisher of walking guidebooks that uses it and I must admit to being a sometime fan of their wares. At first, I was left wondering how they thought that Digital Editions was the delivery means that would ensure that they do not lose out from sharing of copies of eBooks but a recent episode has me seeing what they see.

One of the nice things that it allows is the sharing of eBooks between different computers using your Adobe account. Due to my own disorganisation, I admit to having more than one though I am not entirely sure why I ended up doing that. The result was that I ended entering the wrong credentials intro the Digital Editions instance on my Toshiba laptop and I needed to get rid of them in order to enter the correct ones. It is when you try doing things like this that you come to realise how basic and slimmed down this software is. After a Google search, I encountered the very keyboard shortcut about which even the help didn’t seem to want to tell me: Control+Shift+D. That did the required deauthorisation for me to be able to read eBooks bought and downloaded onto another computer. Maybe Digital Editions does its job to lessen the chances after all. Of course, I cannot see the system being perfect or unbreakable but a lot of our security is there to deter the opportunists rather than the more determined.

O’Reilly does eBooks…

I have been a Safari subscriber for a while now and access to O’Reilly titles has been the main reason behind it. However, I recently discovered that O’Reilly is offering full eBooks of some of its titles. Why the offering is far from complete, this is progress and the prospect of donloading complete books with proper page numbering and an index is an appealing. Previously, I was downloading the individual chapters from Safari and compiling the books in that way, a less than user friendly approach. So, do I continue the Safari subscription or not?

The joys of eBooks

One of the nice things about eBooks is the saving that you can make on buying one instead of the dead tree edition. And if you get one from Apress, it is the full article that you get and they keep it available so that you can download another version if you need it. You can also print the thing off if you want too but a laser printer producing double-sided prints is an asset if you don’t want your space invaded by a hoard of lever arch binders. Having a copious supply of inexpensive toner helps too as does cheap paper. Otherwise, you could spend your savings on printing the thing yourself.

The ever pervasive Safari does things a little differently from the likes of Apress. Mind you, the emphasis there is on the library aspect of the operation and not eBook selling. The result is that you can only ever download chapters, so no index or overall table of contents. You still can buy all of the chapters for a particular book, though some publishers don’t seem to allow this for some reason, but finding anything in there after you have had a read becomes an issue, especially when it’s the hard copy that you are using. Take yesterday, for instance, when trying to relocate the formatting parameters for the UNIX date function. I eventually found them in the chapters of UNIX in a Nutshell that I have downloaded and printed off but I spent rather longer looking in Learning the Korn Shell than I should have done. I know that you can search in the PDF’s themselves but that is more laborious when there is a number of files to search rather than just the one. I suppose that the likes of O’Reilly prefers you to buy paper copies of its books for more extensive use, and they have a point, but having the electronic version all in one file does make life so much easier.