L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

18 February 2008 Blog Home : February 2008 : Permalink

Ever more eBooks

I wrote a post a week or so ago about the ebook vs dead tree thing and then I went to Barcelona and spent some time thinking partly about ebook readers (see the adjacent post). I come back to the news that Tor seems to be finally getting the ebook clue and has given away its first free eBook - Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Congratulations Tor, you've just sucked me into a new series. Unfortunately though I now have to hold myself in suspense because books 2 of the trilogy is only available as dead tree format (and book 3 hasn't been published yet). Hopefully they'll sort that problem out when they launch tor.com properly.

One gripe amongst those of us who got Mistborn is that it is only available in PDF format. Fortunately I'm not totally allergic to PDF and, even better, although it is in PDF format it doesn't have any DRM so converting it to basic HTML was pretty simple (Pdftotext with various options plus a perl script to tidy it up if you must know). However elsewere on the net, it is reported that this lack of options to PDF was more in the line of a technical booboo than a deliberate decision, and we get somne other intriguing news too from Patrick Nielsen-Hayden of Tor, who says:

In fact, the plan for the giveaway was originally to offer the books in both PDF and HTML, and then the HTML version got dropped at the last minute for technical reasons that have now been fixed. As I understand it, starting with book #2, Old Man's War, they'll be available in both PDF and HTML, and we're actively looking into MobiPocket, among other formats.

I do want to emphasize that the program under discussion is a nonce, one-off, quick-and-dirty promotional program designed to do one thing only: encourage people to pre-register for the super-duper-secret Tor site currently being constructed in our secret laboratory high atop Skullcrusher Mountain. About which (the site, not the secret lab), I can simply say that it will combine elements of news, original fiction, lightweight Web 2.0-ness, and Other Stuff, and we'll be rolling it out in late Spring. This new site--not to be confused with our normal company web site, which is at www.tor-forge.com--will not be built around giving away free digital editions of novel-length works, although we may well do some of that when it suits our other purposes. And it's entirely possible that in the fullness of time we'll have something like the Baen Free Library (or, just as likely, simply join forces with the Baen Free Library). But the shapes of the cones in which we're giving away this particular round of free ice cream should not be taken as determinative of any future "e-book" plans.

So all the various mumblings about Tor getting serious about ebooks again - recall that 2 or 3 years ago Tor almost released some books via webscription.net and then the various bean counters and lawyers in its parent company got cold feet - look like finally paying off. Woohoo.

Tor isn't the only publisher starting down the road. Harper Collins are doing almost the same thing - releasing free ebooks to get people to sign up for a newsletter. Unfortunately they obviously haven't read my Harper Collins are clueless morons post from last year because, unlike Tor, they are releasing the books in DRMed formats and are otherwise making it hard to sign up because they appear to require you to use Internet Exploder (and be a US resident).

Still at least they seem to be slighlty better than Random House and Hachette in the UK. According to yesterday's Sunday Wapping Liar, these two publishers are so hyped by the opportunity to sell ebooks for the kindle that they, and allegedly other UK publishers, are planning to sell "the books at just below the price of a hardback". I refer Hachette and Random house to my aforementioned rant. The article also says that:

The first [ebook] device to be launched in Britain will be the Sony Reader, probably in late spring. The manufacturer has been working with the Borders bookshop chain in America so shoppers can both buy the device and download books at branches. In Britain, it is understood to be in discussions with Waterstone’s.

This seems to be true to the very limited extent that no dedicated ebook reader has been for sale on a UK high street. However people with clue have learned about this thing called the Internet, and on the Internet it is possible to find any number of ebook readers available that can be sent to UK buyers. There are kindles on ebay for $425 or Bookeen Cybooks available either from the manufacturer (or NAEB). Then there are devices like the N810, the eee, the iPhone etc. that can perfectly well read non-proprietary ebook formats and which are available in the UK highstreet but not classed as ebook readers because they do other things too. And so on. This article is marginally better than the one that showed up in the business section of the Wapping Liar last week about the death of the book. But only marginally.

However it does seem to me that, one way or another, despite the pricing and DRM errors that some publishers continue to make, the ebook market is becoming rather more mainstream.