Welcome to Monday Ebooks, in which the Editrix has a most harmless delight.
We wrote a couple of weeks ago about the ebook reader price wars going on between Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Farhad Manjoo predicted in Slate that Amazon will lower the price of the wifi Kindle to $99 for the holiday season, even if they have to take a small loss on the device, citing surveys that the ebook adoption tipping point will occur with the first $99 reader. This article has several problems, one of which being that Manjoo completely ignores the presence of any reader other than the Kindle and the iPad. That assumption is common; many commentators–many of which have never really tried an ebook reader for longer than five minutes, tossing it aside when they realize they can’t use Twitter or get e-mail or play WOW on it–think Amazon will outlast all its competitors. We find this argument lacking, as we wrote in our last Monday Ebooks post, not to mention way too North America-centric. Kindle is in Europe, it is true, but not in the huge Russian and Chinese ebook markets; and many of the books Amazon can sell in America cannot be purchased by readers in other countries, in particular Australia, a large English-speaking market which has great difficulty purchasing ebooks from Amazon. It’s way too early to predict a winner now; and we would be very upset were either Amazon or Apple (or the two together) to control the ebook market. Competition, in this market, is a GOOD THING for everyone, readers and authors and publishers; well, maybe not so much for retailers.
All that being said, we would like to take the opportunity to remind our Gentle Readers that you don’t really need to buy a special device to read your ebooks. If you have a smartphone such as a BlackBerry, an iPhone, an Android phone, or a Palm WebOS phone (holla!), you already have a portable device that can be used to read ebooks. And you don’t even need to pay for books, if you’re happy reading public domain books.
For the iPhone, Stanza is a free app that can be used to read books in the ePub format, which is the format used by just about everyone besides Amazon (and of course it works on the iPod Touch and iPad as well). For Palm WebOS devices such as the Editrix’s Palm Pre, pReader is a free app that can handle non-DRMed ebooks in a variety of formats, including PalmDoc/eReader, Mobipocket, ePub, FB2, Kindle AZW, plaintext and HTML, and has great customization. Aldiko seems to be the go-to app for Android devices. For BlackBerry, it’s a little more complex; there are free Mobi and eReader apps for BlackBerry, but they are no longer being updated, and it’s hit or miss whether they will work on your CrackBerry. (Mobipocket was purchased by Amazon, and eReader by Barnes & Noble, and it has become apparent that branded apps will replace their predecessors–more on these below.)
Now, where to get the free books? Regular readers of AustenBlog know that we love Girlebooks, which has a lovely curated selection of books by women: both the usual suspects among the classics, all free to download, as well as a small but growing selection of contemporary authors; these books are attractively priced, and some are free to download, and all are DRM-free and offered in a variety of formats, which means you can read them on any device or computer. The site offers a great browsing experience to discover new books or rediscover old favorites, if you don’t know what to read next.
Project Gutenberg is another of our favorite places to get ebooks. The books are all public domain in the U.S., DRM-free, and available in a variety of formats that will work on any device or computer. However, it’s not set up for browsing; you have to know the book you are looking for.
Another site that is really gaining ground on our favorites list is the ebooks and text archive at the Internet Archive, which includes Project Gutenberg books, Google Books, and digital texts from other libraries and archives. Again, texts are DRM-free and available in a variety of formats, but not all are available for full browsing. However, if you can’t find books anywhere else, it’s a great place to check.
Manybooks also offers free public domain texts in a variety of formats, and has collections, features, and reader recommendations to help you find something good to read.
Feedbooks has many public domain books, and is probably the best source for books in languages other than English. Several of the free apps, such as Aldiko and Stanza, can download books directly from Feedbooks.
Munsey’s has a really eclectic collection of free books, DRM-free in all formats. Abandon hope all ye who enter here (but you might find that rare digital text you are looking for, so have courage).
We also recently stumbled upon a cool site, The Neglected Books Page. It’s not an archive, but a blog bringing long-forgotten books to the attention of its readers. Links are given for books that are available for download.
There are, of course, free apps from various ebook retailers to download to your device: Barnes & Noble, Kindle, and Kobo have apps for Android, BlackBerry, and iThings, and Kobo has an app for WebOS, and Apple’s own iBooks for its own devices. These apps allow you to download and read DRMed and public domain books, at various prices, including many free, but they are “walled gardens” that do not allow you to read books obtained elsewhere. However, free classics are available via all of these apps.
If you really want to go old-school and you have an old iPaq or Palm PDA lying around, you can download Mobi or eReader and read anything not DRMed. If the book is only available in ePub, convert it to Mobi or .pdb via calibre and read away. Our first ebook device was a Palm Tungsten E2, and we still miss it sometimes.
That’s it for this week’s Monday Ebooks, so until next time, remember: ebooks are nice too!