Wednesday, December 1, 2010

iPhone ebook readers

I've been so excited about ebooks since discovering first the Barnes & Noble eReader app for the iPhone, and then the Nook app.  I've been reading more and more books on my iPhone — actually spending money on books now (I used to get my books almost exclusively from the library).  For the most part I get either free or cheap (i.e., under $5), so I still haven't spent much money on books, but it's a fairly new thing for me.

I've also been reading Barnes & Noble's Nook forums.  I don't have a Nook myself (yet?), so I mainly stick to the forums about available ebooks.  Users usually announce free ebooks or decent self-published ebooks they find on the forum, so it's worth my while to check the forum every day or two.

One of the discussions lately has been about how reprints of the classics have been cluttering up people's searches since PubIt launched.  I said I didn't mind them, because paying a buck or so for a classic in a Nook formatted ebook is better than getting the poorly formatted, error-ridden Google Books freebies.  Many of the forum users are really big fans of "sideloading," or downloading ebooks onto their Nooks from sites other than Barnes & Noble, but the Nook app for the iPhone doesn't allow you to sideload.  And, up until yesterday, I hadn't found a comparable reader that does.

There are a number of problems I was running into.  You can't use Adobe Digital Editions with the iPhone, which is one of the biggest problems.  There are a lot of PDF readers available through the App Store, but in order to read on the little screen, they have to wrap the text, which eliminates paragraph breaks.  And of course, any ebooks with Adobe DRM — such as Overdrive ebooks that you can check out through your library — don't work with those readers.

One other problem I was running into is that I have a first generation iPhone, so iOS 3.1.3 is the most updated version I can get.  Unfortunately, this means I can't transfer files to my iPhone via iTunes, and — as I discovered today — most of the ebook readers that allow you to upload your own content rely on this feature.

I spent hours on it yesterday, but I finally did find readers to solve all of my issues except the Overdrive problem (there is a solution for Overdrive, but it requires a newer operating system).  Unfortunately, this means I now have three different free ebook readers on my phone, but what can you do?

For Barnes & Noble ebooks I get to keep using the Nook app.  Yay!  For all of my complaining recently, I still like this one the best, and I will miss having all of my ebooks in just one reader.

For classics and books in the public domain I discovered Stanza.  This iPhone app is very much like the Barnes & Noble eReader (the old app).  The nicest thing is that it has a direct link to the Project Gutenberg library of free classic ebooks.  You don't have to convert or transfer the file — you browse their books from right there in the app, and download what you want.  The app also has direct links to a handful of other sources for free ebooks, as well as a few ebook stores.

For PDF ebooks I already own and want to sideload I have to use a combination of Calibre (a free software that converts ebooks into any file type you need) and the Fictionwise (another ebook store) eReader app, which allows you to upload "personal content" that can be read in their reader.  This is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass, but it's the only solution I can find for a first generation iPhone.  I have to convert the ebook into PDB format using Calibre, then sign into the Fictionwise website and upload the newly converted ebook into my library.  Then I open the Fictionwise eReader app on my iPhone, download the ebook, and it is FINALLY on my iPhone!

By the way, the Fictionwise eReader is also very much like Barnes & Noble's original eReader app.  Makes sense, since their site proclaims they are a Barnes & Noble company.  Why their reader allows you to sideload books, and B&N's reader doesn't, is beyond me.

Note: I also discovered I can sideload books into Stanza using a website called Dropbox.  I still have to convert the file first (to ePub format), and then I have to upload it to my Dropbox account.  I just had to add Dropbox.com as one of the websites that I can download ebooks from (which I didn't know earlier I could do).  Since I like Stanza better than the Fictionwise eReader, I am now down to just two ebook readers, unless of course I decide to start buying ebooks from Fictionwise as well as B&N!

For library ebooks from Overdrive you can apparently use the Bluefire Reader, also a free download.  In the past, library ebooks haven't been compatible with Apple devices (iPhone, iTouch, iPad) because Apple doesn't support Adobe Digital Editions, which is the software Overdrive uses to protect the digital rights of their ebooks.  The latest edition of Bluefire uses your Adobe username and password to authorize library ebooks on your iPhone.  Click here for instructions on how to read library ebooks with Bluefire.  The instructions don't work on first generation iPhones — I'm trying to find an alternate way.

It's not a perfect solution, and like I said, I dislike having my ebooks in so many different formats, and having to use so many different ebook readers.  But I have access to many more free ebooks now, so I can't complain.  Hopefully I'll be able to figure out how to get Bluefire to work on my phone, so that I can check out library ebooks as well!

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