Friday, 26 September 2008

My new toy, the Sony ebook reader.

I’ve got the Sony PRS 505 and am very happy with it so far. I bought a couple of DRM’d books on day one, Will Self’s latest and the rather spiffy new Neal Stephenson epic.

I’ve also downloaded a ton of OCR’d books via torrent, some sci-fi, but mainly a ton of classics that are out of copyright and are therefore wonderfully legal.

One problem stands out with both bought ebooks and OCR’d editions. Formatting is very hard to do well. The text can be too small to read (The 505 has a zoom function, more on that later) or formatted with unnecessary borders that waste an awful lot of screen (only talking 6″ max here)

Any special formatting, such as equations is handled badly too, especially when zoomed. Equations can muss up whole pages if you ever try to zoom in on paragraphs including them.

The zooming is a nice feature, especially for anyone with bad eyesight or in low light, but it does magnify (fnar fnar) any existing problems in the formatting and causes a few of it’s own.

Bad line breaks, tabbing, equations and pictures are all handled badly and very slowly (tiny underpowered processor in the thing can’t do anything fast), making page turning a labour of love for some books.

This shouldn’t really have been a problem, the ebook library system that sits on your PC should have been used to preformat any books delivered to it. I have the feeling that they left this bit of functionality out on purpose because most DRM’d books can’t be modified as part of their contract. So implementing a PC side formatting system for non DRM’d books might have seemed provocation to bootleg on Sony’s part.

This problem really needs to be fixed, it’s not difficult, there’s already rip-off-soft out there to preformat your bootleg ebooks with the proper line breaks, single lined spacing et al. I’ve been doing it myself longhand, Ctrl-C to OpenOffice (which seems to do a bang up job first time, every time), saved, then into my library (sometimes as .PDF if I’m feeling posh).

DRM’d books are a waste of time for their owners, only a very small number of machine licenses per edition, no printing rights, limited amounts of text available for quotation. People will very quickly go to the intartoobs and download the OCR’d copies of the paper versions.

The only drawback to the OCR’d versions is the fact they’re OCR’d, as bad copying errors are rife in the books I’ve downloaded. Still, that’s only waiting for a few people to take a little time to proofread the copy to fix.

Book publishers are going to miss out very soon if they continue to use DRM. It’s just not worth the bother to buy legit with the DRM intact.

OCR - Optical Character Regognition, a way to scan books so that the computer reads each character and sends it to your word processing software. Meaning no having to copy chunks of text into a compueter, also dodgy if your sample text isn't very well printed.

DRM - Digital Rights Management, a way to commit business suicide by preventing people from using your products properly.