Tag Archives: ebooks

MOBI and other obsessions

The MobileRead Wiki is a great place to jump into if you’re looking for information on ebook formats. It isn’t uniformly up to date; for instance, it says there is “a new version of [EPUB] called ePub 3 but it is not in wide use.” But it covers lots of formats and has some excellent analysis, especially a look in depth at the Amazon MOBI format.

Archiveteam.org points at that wiki page as its reference on the format, so it seems as close to an “official description” as anyone has offered.

Amazon is the one company that uses MOBI and its bastard children, while everyone else is using EPUB, but obviously Amazon can’t be ignored. It distributes Kindle software so widely that you can read MOBI files on any device.
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Tim Berners-Lee on “trackable” ebooks

Ebooks of the future, says Tim Berners-Lee, should be permanent, seamless, linked, and trackable. That’s three good ideas and one very bad one.

Speaking at BookExpo America, he offered these as the four attributes of the ebooks of the future. They’ll achieve permanence through encoding in HTML5, which is what EPUB basically is. Any ebook that’s available only in a proprietary format with DRM is doomed to extinction. Pinning hopes on Amazon’s eternal existence and support of its present formats is foolish. Seamlessness, the ability to transition through different platforms and content types, follows from using HTML5. This is reasonable and not very controversial.
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Files that Last

Just in case you don’t follow the other channels in which I’ve been talking it up, Files that Last, my new e-book on digital preservation for “everygeek,” is now out. It covers issues of backup, archiving, file formats, and long-term planning. Right now it’s available from Smashwords, Kobo, and the iTunes Store. It hasn’t shown up on Amazon yet, but I expect it will soon.

I’m not exactly impartial on this, but I think you’ll find it a valuable resource for preservation planning on the personal level and for large and small organizations.

Scalzi on DRM

Mostly it’s technogeeks like us who get passionate about file format issues—Word vs. Open Office, Latin-1 vs. Unicode, unrestricted PDF vs. PDF/A. But when issues like digital rights management (DRM) come in, a lot more people will weigh in. This week quite a lot of attention has come to the format in which John Scalzi’s new novel, Redshirts, was issued. Scalzi wrote in his blog:

As noted in the FAQ I just put up, Redshirts is going to be released as an eBook here in the US without digital rights management software (DRM), meaning what when you buy it you can pretty much do what you want with it. Tor, my publisher, announced that all their eBooks would be released DRM-free by the end of July; I support this and asked Redshirts be released DRM-free from release date, so I think it might be the first official DRM-free release from Tor, which is in itself the first major publisher imprint to forgo DRM. In that way, Redshirts is a bit of a canary in a coal mine for major publishers.

However, some things went wrong. Several e-book sale sites issued Redshirts in DRM, against his express wishes. Tor and Macmillan quickly went after those sites, and most or all of them have either dropped the book or switched to offering it DRM-free.

In April Scalzi wrote: “As an author, I haven’t seen any particular advantage to DRM-laden eBooks; DRM hasn’t stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the Internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalized for playing by the rules.”

From the standpoint of preservation, the big problem with DRM e-books is that they will inevitably become unreadable in not too many years. Publishers will switch to new, incompatible DRM schemes or completely drop support for their older e-books. They can’t keep actively supporting old technology forever. I have no objection to it for enforcing limited access such as library loans, but if you buy a product with DRM, you’re really just leasing it for an unknown period of time.

I’ll be ordering the book shortly, and I’m waiting for the day when we can say of DRM in books for sale: “It’s dead, Jim.”