A few days ago a friend dropped by with an errand list. On the list was a stop at a local bookstore to pick up a copy of a Mark Twain classic that was required reading for her grandson. Now this particular student owns and iPod touch. I asked her if she realized that most classic literature could be be downloaded to the Touch (and most mobile devices) without charge? She shook her head in almost disbelief. The average consumer is often unaware of the capabilities of some of these modern gadgets. The iPod plays music, right? I powered up my Touch, went to the Stanza app and in a few seconds the required reading was in my device.
This is neither new technology nor a new idea. A few years ago Palm was the leader in PDA devices. People all over the world were downloading books that could be read on the Palm device. Classic literature was usually free, as copyrights have long expired, and recent releases were available for a fee. This is still true today. About a year ago Amazon released the Kindle ebook reader and it has sold very well. Sony released a similar device and it too, is selling well. These devices can be purchased for around $350 to $450. I question the value of this. For the same money a netbook or some other mobile device can be purchased that does a whole lot more than just read ebooks!
So just how do you get your get your device reading ebooks and where do you find them? First, realize that any book you download will be a file. The vendors trying to profit on the idea will provide a file in a proprietary or encrypted format that only their device can read. For example, a Microsoft “.lit” file can be read with a Microsoft Zune player but not with any non-Microsoft product. This might be profitable to Microsoft but is very unfriendly. Returning to the original example, the Stanza app reads books in the “ePub” format. This is an “open source” format and is an international standard. Most ebooks are available either in this format or in the slightly older Palm format.
FBReader is a free application for reading ebooks in the ePub format, the Palm format, and a few others. It is available for both Windows and Linux. Go to the FBReader site, download and install the appropriate software for your platform and you are off and running. The site will also point you to some ebook sources including memoware.com. That’s good but not good enough.Another you will want to visit is feedbooks.com. There you will find an enormous selection of books including most of the classics mentioned earlier. Fictionwise.com will provide you with recent publications at a price. EReader.com provides a similar service.
As a test case I installed “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ on both my Touch and my Desktop computer. On the Touch I used Classics2Go and on the desktop I used FBReader. Both performed without a hitch. For reading, I would choose the mobile device as my preferred platform as I can carry the book to bed or read while I am in a doctor’s waiting room.
Addendum: A download of an ebook is a lost sale for the hard copy edition. Some newspapers and magazines have ceased print editions in favor of “online” editions. Is this bad? It is bad only in the sense that technology obsoletes some jobs. We don’t have town crier’s any more that walk around shouting the news. We don’t have cobbler’s on every corner fitting shoes to horses. Some pundits say that ebooks are obsolete. I say “Grab a classic today and enjoy some good reading.” You might even learn something.