The handy-dandy all-purpose digital reader

Some time back ago, I said I wanted an Asus EeePC to read digital books because it was kind of an all-purpose device. As time went on, I decided maybe I’d rather have an iPhone or a BlackBerry, but then I found out about their mandatory data plans and I’m a cheap bitch, so no thanks. I wanted something reasonably portable that I could 1) read digital books on in any format I wanted; 2) listen to music; 3) keep my personal data on (now that I have this awesome personal information management standalone app); and 4) to basically be able to haul my brain around with me. I don’t like talking on the phone, so I would rather not have one at all, but must. I want to keep the phone separate from my other tasks.

Anyhoo, money’s been a little too tight for frills, but then our old (you don’t want to know HOW old) desktops (all three) started nickel’n’diming us to death, so we bit the bullet. I have been given an assignment to return and report the specs and my digital reading experience.

The assignment:

On the Asus, install:

1) Adobe Reader
2) Adobe AIR
3) Adobe Digital Editions (requires AIR, hence 2)
4) Microsoft Reader
5) MobiPocket Desktop
6) Sony eBook Library
7) FBReader

Then BLOG wtf it’s like to use them on that Atom CPU. (You DO have ATOM, right, not Celeron?)


Here are the specs:

Asus EeePC 901 (black, if you care)
Intel Atom
CPU N270
1.6 GHz
1.99 GB RAM
Windows XP Home
2-1/2 pounds (about the weight of Atlas Shrugged, I believe)
~5 hours battery life (>2 hours better than my Dell laptop)

Here’s a gallery with examples of Adobe Reader, ADE, Microsoft Reader, MobiPocket, and FBReader. I have no reason to care about Sony Reader, but will do later, and I haven’t done a Google Books PDF yet.

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So, for the reading part. Thus far, I’ve just been on MobiPocket, reading Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder, in my recliner. For regular reading, it’s a bit heavy, but if you find your “sweet spot” where you can press the arrow with your thumb and still be comfortable holding it, you get used to it. Naturally, the back light is sweet in the dark.

The only real annoyance I have (besides the weight) so far is how long it takes to turn it on and off. It’s not like my eBookWise, where it’s one button and on, it turns itself off after 15 minutes (or whatever you set). The Asus acts like a computer because, well, it is.

More later after I’ve had a little more time with it.

Eating a little bit of crow…

Yesterday, I got a little mouthy (see this post), which will surprise no one.

I was sent an EPUB file that had embedded fonts that rendered perfectly in ADE. I cracked the file open and what did I see? Perfection. The file wasn’t bloated, it was neatly organized, the CSS sheet was reasonably tidy for its detail, and the detail was compact. It worked and it worked beautifully. I can see how it’s done.

In Sony Reader, it MOSTLY rendered the way it was coded (still no full justification).

In FBReader, it did NOT render the way it was coded AT ALL.

I then cracked open The Proviso file that BookGlutton made. It was a lot leaner; granted, I didn’t have embedded fonts, but it still rendered nicely.

Then I cracked open the file of Stay I had made as an experiment using Atlantis, and it was lean, albeit not as lean as The Proviso because Atlantis broke out each chapter as its own file.

Both The Proviso and Stay look “nice” in ADE, Sony, and FBReader (insofar as anything looks nice in FBReader). That’s right. They look nice. Not spectacular. They do not have Teh Pretteh.

And you know what? That’s okay. I can see that Teh Pretteh EPUB file would take a whole lot more work than I’m willing to invest in either time to hand code or money in software that will do it automatically. I simply see no return on the investment of the extra time for Teh Pretteh with the tools that are available now. I have no doubt that those tools will become available in time.

I’m selling a $40 736-print-page book in 8 ebook formats for $6. The print version is Verra Pretteh, as is the PDF file that comes in the e-book file your $6 buys you. But let’s be real. People who seek out and read e-books—especially on an iPhone, SmartPhone, Kindle, or dedicated reader—are doing it for the content.

After basics: full justification, paragraph indents, line spacing, chapter breaks, a hyperlinked table of contents (and other hyperlinks, if necessary), and those conventions of book reading that move the reader seamlessly through the text, anything else is a waste of time.

Why? Because at the price point that is acceptable to an e-book reader who believes that e-books are cheap to produce and should, then, cost a whole lot less than print books, either A) hand-coding Teh Pretteh or B) purchasing the software that will run Teh Pretteh yields little to no return on investment.

So mea culpa for saying it can’t be done.

No mea culpa for saying it’s a waste of time to do it.

For now.

Yo, EPUB evangelists!

June 26, 2009

For those of you EPUB designer/evangelists who talk about the way EPUB allows you to embed fonts, listen up: It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

The only thing that makes a difference is what the EPUB reader has available to it, to wit: Adobe Digital Editions will display one font and one font ONLY.  ITS OWN.

So will Sony reader.

So will FBReader.

You can mark up the text like crazy, but I’m here to tell you, your CSS theatrics is a big fat waste of time. Ask me how I know.

Now, I didn’t set out to become in anywise an expert at this and I’m not and I’m not saying I am. But until such a time as you can make ADE, Sony Reader, and FBReader  display your brilliant design, the EPUB “embed font” “feature” is a non-starter.

Remember: People who seek out and read e-books DON’T CARE about fancy design. They care about content and the ease of its readability.

The legend of Atlantis

Backstory for those non-e-book types out there (hey, the non-Mormons get backstory when I post on Mormon stuff, so deal):

1. Last fall, when I was formatting The Proviso for e-book consumption, I made a decision to include the EPUB format, which is the heir apparent of the title “The MP3 of EBooks. ” I’ll spare you the geek politics of this.

2. I formatted it in HTML, went to BookGlutton to use their HTML-to-EPUB API. I plugged it in and voilà! a nice EPUB version of The Proviso. No muss, no fuss, and at no cost to me. Beautiful. Perfect.

3. Fast forward to March and I’m trying to format The Fob Bible.

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Guest blogging and Tools of Change

I’m over at Publishing Renaissance today, blogging part 3 about how The Bewbies came into existence; in case you missed them, see part 1 and part 2, too!


April Hamilton, independent publishing crusader extraordinary, built a new site called Publetariat, which will serve as kind of a clearinghouse/gathering space for independent-like authors. As soon as I figure out the Nixonian Drupal (you know, tricky dicky), I’ll be adding my voice over there. At least, uh, that’s what I’ve been s’posin’ to do for a while now and haven’t gotten to it. I’m sure April will find a suitable punishment for me.

The O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference went on earlier this week and I followed the comments on Twitter. Fascinating! although I’m not sure any conclusions can be drawn in any direction. Frankly, it seems to me nobody really knows what the hell’s going on in publishing right now. I will just keep on keepin’ on. By the way, a free e-book rundown of the conference is available for anyone who wants one.

A lot of what I saw related to the creative monetization of fiction, which ties in perfectly with The Urban Elitist‘s and my cross-blog series on the same.

The EPUB format drum continues to be beaten and pleasepleaseplease, PTB, do IT! All for one and one for all! The mp3 format of e-books. I cannot tell you how I salivate at the thought.

DRM was preached against as the Great Satan (which it is).

The guy behind the Espresso Book machine spoke. I don’t know what he said, but check out this video.

Some of my independent publishing cohorts and pals had a session. I wish I’d been there!

I’m coming to the conclusion that it will be another few years before e-books are widely read and that at that point, the value of the print book will be in POD pretty, well-made editions, hardback with gorgeous jackets and/or the ability to offer leather-bound and tooled editions or other specialty editions, where the object of the book is the art as well as the content. Until then, the market’s going to be in flux with regard to price, from free to outrageously overpriced. (I’ll blog this later; I have lots to say about this.)

In other news, the XY Tax Deduction went rooting in the cabinet and brought me a can of corn to make for him. So I did. He said, “I not hun’ry.”