Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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March 20, 2011 • Editorials

Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

Image taken from the Wayback Machine

In the beginning, there was Peanut Press . . .

Seriously, though; as you’ve probably noticed from Carly’s great postings, the eBook industry is . . . well, the polite way to put it is, “In flux.”  The less-polite way to put it is, “A big friggin’ mess.”  The same book cannot be read on different eReaders; paperbacks are cheaper than eBooks; eBooks are being delayed to give hardcover books a chance to sell more; books can be summarily deleted from your library without notice; and on and on.  It’s enough to drive you nuts.

My personal peeve is both the plethora of eBook readers available, and the fact that none of them (in my opinion) does the job quite right.  Let me tell you what I mean.

Let’s take an app that I thought did the job really well:  Barnes and Noble’s previous eBook reader, based on eReader version, the B&N eReader.

This is a sweet app.  The reading page contains a very subtle bar at the bottom that both shows where you are, and shows the chapter markers.  The Home page is well-designed, giving you alphabetic access based on author, title, and “recent”.  You can shuffle stuff around based on genre.  There are any number of settings you can adjust, including (oh thank you, BookLord!) justification.  The handshaking between the app is clunky, yes, but as Carly has warned us, that’s going to be the case with a lot of eReader apps now that Apple is trying to put the hammer down.  Plus there’s the added benefit that it accepted PDB format files, which meant you could side-load any PDB books you already had, including those from eReader, which B&N had acquired.

Look; in-app Wikipedia access!  (With sharper text than the app itself; don’t ask me why.)

Honestly, I loved it.  I thought it was a great choice, it kept their existing eReader customers from yelping too loudly, and the minor B&N tweaking they did was a good thing.  I can see in the Home screen how far into my book I am?  Cool!  I can see the chapter markers in the reading window?  Nice!  Etc.  I kept thinking that if they just built on that, B&N was going to be kicking ass, at least as far as eReader apps were concerned.  I was a little concerned when the iPhone 4 came out and the app wasn’t updated to take advantage of the new Retina display:

You can see that the letters are, well, kinda thick and fat?  But that was a fairly minor quibble, honestly, one that I was figuring they’d fix shortly.  (See the cool status bar at the bottom?  Schweet!)

You know what the down side to this application is?  They abandoned it to use their new nook app, which (let’s not be too delicate here) kinda stinks.  Why does it kinda stink?  Let’s just say it has less functionality than their earlier app.  “Why?”, I hear you cry.  I don’t know, but my guess is “DRM”.  And this stinks in any number of ways besides the clunky interface, the slow opening speed, the irritating home page design.  No in-app Wikipedia access.  A much more confusing Home screen arrangement.  An even clunkier handshake with the online store.  (I still haven’t figure out what I need to do to get my books to download immediately like they do with the Kindle app–sometimes it takes hours!)  You can’t side-load your existing books because they’re in a different format.  Fewer viewing options.  No reading window progress bar with chapter markers.  Hell, in the previous rev (they just updated it last week) you couldn’t even tell what friggin’ time it was unless you quit the app entirely!

(What’s up with wasting screen real estate on that “i” business?  I don’t info on a book I already bought!  And on an iPhone, where screen space is at a premium, it’s just wasteful.)

Good move, B&N; you jettisoned a really good app and forced us all onto a clunky one with less functionality!  Who makes the decisions at your company, anyway?  Satan?  And who designed your mobile web site?  You know what Amazon does after you’ve purchased a book?  They bring up a button on the “transaction completed” screen that says “Go to Kindle for iPhone”.  What does B&N give you to help you get back to your book?  Nothing!  Tough luck there, chum!

I hate to say this because there are many things about the iBook app I like, but based on the most recent updates, I am preferring the Kindle iPhone app to iBooks and nook. While I love iBooks’ in-app dictionary, it’s method to get to wikipedia–exiting the app entirely, with no way to get back!–is lame, while in Kindle it opens in-app (I wish I could link it to Wikipanion, but that’s life). I also vastly prefer the Kindle app’s home screen–it strikes me as nuts that Apple didn’t provide an alphabetic tab on the right side–they have it for Music, and for Contacts, why not for iBooks?  Once your library gets past a few books in iBooks, finding particular titles or authors is a real pain.  (And while that whole “bookshelf” view is nice eye-candy, it’s really not that usable, especially on an iPhone.)

(See what I mean?  You try finding your book on that “bookshelf.  If you’ve got more than a dozen books or so, good luck!  Oy.)

There’s more eye-candy in iBooks to be sure–turning a page, turning down the corner of a page, etc.–but that’s not enough to overcome a lack of functionality. And that’s too bad, because side-loading books into iBooks is dead easy if you have things in ePub format.  But Kindle has in-app Wikipedia access and a pop-up dictionary, and is just a better app.  Sorry, Steve; the iPad isn’t going to be a great reading experience if you neglect the app like this.

What’s the solution?  Frankly, I want one app that lets me read all my books, no matter what the app.  I am sick to death of trying to guess which app is going to be the best one to stick with, and even sicker of trying to remember which app I have a particular book in.  I mean, I have 15 readers loaded onto my iPhone right now.  15.  That’s ridiculous.  I’ve tried to keep the number I actually use down to 3 or 4, but it’s hard.  And how do you count them?  Does Instapaper count?  How about the New York Times iPhone app?  The Elements app?  Various comic book readers?  Zinio?  The various “Vooks”?  It’s a nightmare.

This is simply absurd.

So I have two cri’es d’ coeur here.  One is for app designers:  Design me an app to save me from this mess!  The other is for eBook publishers everywhere:  your DRM nonsense and inability to agree on a standard makes the eBook world a nightmare; knock it off!

[huff puff puff puff]  Okay, I’m done now.  But tell me what you think about this all below.  What are your favorite eBook readers, and why?  And then call publishers and yell at them, because they sure aren’t listening to me.

45 Responses to " Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts "

  1. doogald says:

    eBook readers don’t bother me much at all. While I do have an iPod Touch, my phone runs Android, so I have absolutely no interest in Apple’s iBook app at all. I tried the nook app on my phone, but it took up 17 MB of space in my /data partition; as Android users know, app space is tighter on Android phones than on iOS, so this is completely unusable for me.

    That leaves the Kindle app and Google Books for me, and I have used the Kindle app almost exclusively (I just bought my first Google book, but I’m not yet ready to start that book.)

    I don’t have most of those issues that you list, honestly. I generally read a book once – sometimes twice – so I have little need for a bookshelf of books. I just keep my current book active and the rest are archived. I find that the price of eBooks is acceptable, as I tend to wait long enough for the paper versions to hit trade paper, and the eBook prices then these days tend to be $7.99. The added functionality compared with paper is worth it to me even if they are a few dollars more, but I never find trade paper any cheaper than that anyway. As for DRM, I really don’t care all that much. Again, I only need it available the one time that I read it, and if I have a choice between a sparse bookstore without DRM (because no popular author is going to give their works away to extremely easy piracy) and a bookstore with reasonable DRM, I’m fine with reasonable DRM. Kindle’s DRM seems reasonable to me.

    As I said, I will try out Google Books, but my expectation is that I will just stay with Kindle books going forward, so multiple books in multiple formats just will not be a huge issue for me. Kindle seems to be aggressive about getting their app on every platform possible; the news last week that Apple approved the Kindle app update suggests that Apple is not stupid enough to try to keep the Kindle app off of iOS, but, if they do, that will be evidence enough to me that staying away from iOS is in my interest. Or, if I must stay with iOS, I’ll just grin and bear it and live with iBooks for future book purchases.

  2. Joe Wikert says:

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  3. Ware-Pak LLC says:

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  7. RT @PublishersWkly: RT @jwikert Loads of terrific thoughts here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://bit.ly/dKKy6B

  8. myownideaho says:

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  9. Mike says:

    RT @PublishersWkly: RT @jwikert Loads of terrific thoughts here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://bit.ly/dKKy6B

  10. Only applies to IPhone RT @MichaelHyatt: RT @jwikert: Loads of limited thought here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://t.co/1pwCKlF

  11. “@PublishersWkly: RT @jwikert Loads of terrific thoughts here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://t.co/47UMMHT”

  12. Kay Pearce says:

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  13. davechua says:

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  14. RT @PublishersWkly: RT @jwikert Loads of terrific thoughts here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://bit.ly/dKKy6B

  15. Dale @2ndChanceBooks says:

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  16. Queena says:

    Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts | Gear Diary: Seriously, though; as you've probably noticed from Carly's great… http://bit.ly/hjF2s4

  17. John P Mayer says:

    Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts http://bit.ly/iaah2d – "I want one app that lets me read all my books, no matter what the app" Amen!

  18. John P Mayer says:

    eBook pubs: your DRM nonsense and inability to agree on a standard makes the eBook world a nightmare; knock it off! http://bit.ly/iaah2d

  19. snail says:

    I wish for one ereader to bind them all http://digs.by/gkOHHW

  20. Zoe XU says:

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  21. des greene says:

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  22. Fliterary says:

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  25. Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts | Gear Diary http://oreil.ly/gkjLbO

  26. W Keith Nix says:

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  27. Kuriak says:

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  28. RT @snailx: I wish for one ereader to bind them all http://digs.by/gkOHHW

  29. BruceKeith says:

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  30. Meta Read says:

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  31. RT @PublishersWkly: RT @jwikert Loads of terrific thoughts here: "Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts" http://bit.ly/dKKy6B

  32. Mon says:

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  35. David McKee says:

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  36. great overview of various usability issues in eBook apps RT @toc: Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts | Gear Diary http://oreil.ly/gkjLbO

  37. SideStax says:

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  38. publishing says:

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  39. Esa Helttula says:

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  40. Anne Hill: What Authors and Readers Need to Know About eBooks | Know All That! says:

    […] a growing problem because the eBooks you buy in one format are usually not readable in any other format or device, due to DRM and the fight for platform dominance. For authors, it means extra time and expense […]

  41. Anne Hill: What Authors and Readers Need to Know About eBooks at NEWS.GeekNerdNetwork.com says:

    […] a growing problem because the eBooks you buy in one format are usually not readable in any other format or device, due to DRM and the fight for platform dominance. For authors, it means extra time and expense […]

  42. Anne Hill: What Authors and Readers Need to Know About eBooks | www.iflickle.com says:

    […] a growing problem because the eBooks you buy in one format are usually not readable in any other format or device, due to DRM and the fight for platform dominance. For authors, it means extra time and expense […]

  43. To Kindle, With Caution | Creative Content Coaching says:

    […] a growing problem because the ebooks you buy in one format are usually not readable in any other format or device, due to DRM and the fight for platform dominance. For authors, it means extra time and expense […]

  44. Publishing News: Week in Review - O'Reilly Radar says:

    […] a recent post for Gear Diary, Douglas Moran bemoaned the direction technological “advancements” are taking ereader […]

  45. […] a huge fan of eBooks.  I’ve been reading them since the Peanut Press days, I have gone on at length about the strengths and weaknesses that I’ve found in the various software e…, and I’ve reviewed a number of “enhanced books” right here for y’all. I […]

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