eBooks and e-Ink

My lovely wife surprised me with a wonderful gift for my birthday (which was a few months ago). She has been pretty eco-friendly for a while and is getting the rest of us on the bandwagon as well. So, while being something that I had wanted for a while, this particular gift also happens to be pretty eco-friendly as well. So what did she get me? Feast your eyes on this!

It’s a Sony PRS-505 eBook reader. The PRS-505 uses LRF as its native format, though it also supports TXT, PDF, and RTF. The latest firmware update also brings the new ePub format to the table as well. It does support secure versions of LRF, PDF, and ePub, though I have not encountered them as of yet.

The screen is about the size of a standard paperback book and uses something called electronic paper for display. E-paper is a pretty cool technology that can be used to display static images with very little power. Due to how e-paper works, it is much easier on the eyes as compared to reading from an LCD.

I’ve been looking at eBook readers for a while and comparing the various differences between them. And while the Sony doesn’t have all of the best features, it does have support for the formats I was interested in. Sure, the Kindle supports other formats like PDF, but you have to send the file to Amazon to have it converted. This is not something you want to do with confidential work documents. And the Kindle has wireless support, but I didn’t think that was a compelling enough feature to lock me in to Amazon’s DRM. So, in the end, I chose the Sony.

And since I’ve had it, I’ve discovered that it has very rich Open Source support! In particular is a project called calibre. Calibre is an open source book management tool written specifically for the Sony PRS family of eBook readers, though support for other readers is starting to be integrated. What makes calibre more useful than Sony’s own eBook management software is the ability to convert a slew of different formats to formats that the PRS supports.

For instance, I can convert a .DOC file to .LRF. Or, even cooler, I can convert a .CBR over to a .LRF. CBR, if you don’t know, is a compressed comic book format. So in addition to reading books, manuals, etc, I can also catch up on comics! Calibre also has a feature that allows you to synchronize various RSS feeds with your reader. Feeds are automatically downloaded, converted to .LRF, and transferred to your reader. Old versions of the feeds can be removed automatically as well.

Calibre does not support secure, or DRM’ed, formats though, so you have to watch what you purchase. Fortunately, there are a few sites out there that provide DRM-free reading material in most of the popular formats. Baen Books is one of the more popular sites for DRM-free reading material. Baen deals in Sci-fi and Fantasy books. Another fine book site is Fictionwise which seems to deal in just about any genre. And finally, there’s MobiPocket, who also deals with all genres.

One problem I’ve noticed with purchasing eBooks, however, is that you generally pay the same, or more, for the eBook version as compared to a printed version. The “accepted” explanation seems to be that if eBooks were cheaper, it would hurt the printed business, so they price them the same. This is unfortunate. I find it hard to pay the same price for an electronic copy when it doesn’t have to go through the same printing process as a paper book. I’d like to believe that the extra money a publisher makes on an eBook goes to the author, but if they’re anything like the music industry, I’m sure the author never sees any of it.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy my new eBook reader. I’ve been spending my time catching up on comics and reading many of the free eBooks available at the Tor.com site. If you’re into Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I definitely recommend checking it out.

If you’re interested in eBook readers in general and what the future may hold, check out this article as ars technica. It’s a pretty good look at the start of eBooks as well as some insight into the future.

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