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I’ve got a history research project that I’m working on, and I don’t want to rely on Wikipedia and other sometimes iffy sources. So I’m turning to books <gasp>. A few of them I am buying as normal books (some are even out of print). But I decided to save some money on a couple of them and buy them as eBooks. I found one that I wanted on Amazon and another at Barnes and Noble. The iTunes store had some of them as well, but they were all about 50% more expensive. Also, I wanted to be able to read them on my Mac – and for some odd reason, Apple doesn’t think anyone wants to do that, as there’s no app for reading your iTunes book purchases on your computer, just your iOS devices.

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have eReaders for iOS and for the Mac (as well as Windows and I am assuming for Android devices – that’s not really my focus). So with the books cheaper than from Apple and with more reader options, I figured I’d stay away from iBooks.

Well, one out of two isn’t great (at least I got the books cheaper). It appears, despite what they’d have you believe, that Amazon and Barnes and Noble don’t think you should read your eBooks on a Mac either.

The Kindle app from Amazon has been terrible for me. I have a few books in my library, including one I recently bought for this project. They come up fine on my iPad. But the Kindle app on my Mac has decided that I haven’t registered about 2/3rds of the time I start it up. It keeps popping up a dialog to log into the app (which you need to do to read the protected content ). I fill it it, and then it tells me that the content I downloaded can’t be read – I need to delete it and re-download it. So I do – and it works. At least, it does until the next time I open the app – then it’s another crap shoot as to whether it has me registered or not. If not, I get to play the register/delete/download game all over again.

The Nook app from Barnes and Noble for the Mac has a different, but just as annoying, set of problems. First off, when you start it up, 9 times out of 10 it hangs. It’s supposed to come up and show you your library or your last book – but instead, it hangs on an animation of the Nook icon. Fortunately, searching teh interwebs got me past that (although looking at B&N’s so called “support” pages was basically a joke). If you wait for the animation to hang, then right-click in the large grey area around the logo and select “Back,” then right-click again and select “Forward,” often your library will appear (if not, try again; if that still fails, force quit and try again). You’ll then be fine until you want to leave the program. In my case, the only way to exit is to force quit. Trying to quit normally is simply ignored – the program doesn’t hang, but just keeps working, as though the “Quit” code just isn’t there.

At least the experience on my iPad has been normal – open a book, page though, close, etc. Everything just works for both these apps. But as for reading protected books on your Mac – we ain’t got nothin’ yet that’s worth doing it with.


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10 Responses to (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet

  1. Chita says:

    Have you tried the Adobe Digital Editions app? An eBook Reader.
    You can add your iTunes eBooks (epub) to the app and read, bookmark, and search on your Mac.

    • Jack Beckman says:

      Yes. Another frustrating experience. It wouldn’t take my login (sound familiar) and it won’t read DRM books bought from B&N or Amazon in any case, which is why I didn’t mention it. I wouldn’t expect it to be able to read books bought from those places.

  2. If any of the books are public domain, you may be able to do a Google “books” search and download a free pdf (or other format). I have LOTS of books that my genealogy and Ohio history (sorry! – I grew up there) interests led me to.
    Try these sites:
    Library of Congress:
    This one may cost something:

    And a search for your topic “free books” or something like that may produce something.

    • Jack Beckman says:

      Thanks, but I am looking for specific books in a specific series, and they are for the most part still in print and not available for free. So I am stuck with DRM versions.

  3. This one can be rather daunting, but may be worth a try: National Archives site:

  4. Mike Perry says:

    Starting in December with Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments, I’ve begun to layout and sell ebooks via both Amazon and Apple, so I might comment on this debate.

    I prefer iBooks to Kindles. Why? Because with iBooks Apple is supporting a robust version of ePub 3.0, including pop-up notes. Some Kindle titles are in the mobi format, roughly the equivalent of HTML 2.0. Others, if you have the right device, use Amazon’s own proprietary KF8 format. Proprietary is like those dreadful HTML battles in the mid-90s. It’s a current hassle with no real future.

    I suspect Apple will eventually give us a Mac version of iBooks, if for no other reason than to give OS X what it needs very much right now, a powerful ePub reader. I do doubt, however, that books from the iBookstore will ever display on anything that doesn’t say, “Made by Apple.” There is a reason.

    Behind the competition between Amazon and Apple lie two radically different business models. Amazon sells reader hardware at near cost and gives away apps to sell the ebooks on which it makes a profit. At present, Apple is probably making a similar markup on their ebooks. Both give most authors/publishers 70%, although Amazon charges for data while Apple doesn’t.

    But if competition heats up between the two and Amazon (thanks to Obama’s obliging DOJ) returns to selling below cost, Apple will be in a far better position than Amazon. Every ebook it sells will only display on Apple products, so it can quickly shift to a hardware-sells-ebooks policy, perhaps offering bestsellers at half list. Rabid readers will buy iPads rather than a Kindle Fire because ebooks are cheaper on it. A dozen or so books could make up the price difference.

    Amazon can’t play that same subsidy game, at least not for long. It essentially makes nothing on Kindle devices and apps. All its profits must come from ebook sales. When it was selling ebooks below cost to destroy competitors such as B&N or Sony, that scheme made sense. Amazon’s pockets were far deeper than theirs, so it could drive them into the ground. But Apple can easily match Amazon’s ebook subsidies and beat them at their own game. Given that cheaper ebooks will mean more iPad sales, Apple might even come out ahead in a nasty price-cutting war.

    That said, the current ecosystem that surrounds buying an ebook from Amazon is much better than Apple’s. Emailing your own books and documents to a Kindle is easier than side loading it on an iPad via iTunes. Of course, if you’re an Apple publisher, you can get the marvelous Book Proofer app for Macs, which makes moving an ebook to an iPad or iPhone as easy as drag and drop. Apple really should offer it to everyone via the App Store.

    Depending on what you’re researching, you might look for inexpensive used books at the various bookstore aggregator websites. Just a few hours ago, I picked up one I’d wanted–the third volume of C. S. Lewis’s collected letters (the Narnia years), for $20. Unfortunately, it went out of print before the demand was met. It is in such short supply, the next cheapest new copy was $130 and used copies start around $40.

    But buying used requires patience. You have to wait for availability and a good price. You also have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. That said, a print book comes in a format that isn’t going to become obsolete. Your great-great-great grandchildren can read it. The same can’t be said of many ebooks. It’s not even certain at this point that you actually own that digital copy in any real sense.

  5. Mike’s comments interesting. Another thought: If you locate the title of material you’re interested in (book, periodical, journal), try an interlibrary loan through your local library. I think they can access materials from universities, as well as other public libraries.
    Usually the reference librarians work it out. Don’t limit yourself to digital books. It’s all still a work in progress.
    – Also, try the library of a community college in your area. Some internet research services require use in a library that is licensed to them. (Jstor comes to mind). Much as we wish we could do it all online from home or office, the research world just isn’t complete there as yet.

    • Mike Perry says:

      Mary Jo is right. College libraries can be great resources. The librarians spent years of their lives learning to do research, so they like a challenge. The only negative, sigh, is that they too seem to have caught the Google has it bug.

      Most college libraries also give the general public, if they come in to their facilities, access to specialized databases such as JSTOR for free. That can save you a lot of money.

      Particularly if the book is hard to find, interlibrary loan is another option, although there you may need to use a public library that considers you a member. College libraries won’t help there if you’re not student, faculty or staff. And the results can be amazing. Researching a book, the county library system where I lived managed to get Yale to loan out a book so rare, it was the only copy listed in WorldCat, a book that must have been worth thousands. When I returned it, I personally handed it to a librarian and told her to guard it carefully.

      Just keep in mind that interlibrary loan can take weeks and, at least where I live in Seattle, you may have to pay about $20 to cover the shipping costs.

      Finally, for specialized topics, particularly people or communities, there’s often one or two libraries who have a special collection with their letters and papers. The University of Washington, for instance, has many of the state’s small, community papers on microfilm going back into the 19th century.

  6. An aside, re which digital book reader to use: I don’t have any of them (including an iPad), though, based on the publicized specs, I would go the iPad route. In today’s world, it just doesn’t seem wise to be limited to proprietary content. (Proprietary engineering is another matter, though it probably is related to content for readers.) There’s just too much useful information available in free pdf format. I want to be able to load ANYTHING onto a reading device, not just what a retailer “lets” me have access to. If I understand correctly, the iPad has an app (?several apps) that enables reading any pdf, similar to Adobe Reader.

  7. Don’t know if we’re allowed to post particular sites or businesses, but happened on this one today. A global literacy mission along with selling used books. Founded by some Notre Dame/South Bend folks 2002.
    Also, Jack, try a search for used book stores Detroit area.