Buying ebooks

On my list for later this morning is to boot the laptop into
windows and do several things I can’t do on linux:

  • Print the final tax returns from TaxCut.
  • Fix some annoyances with the Universal remote
  • See if it’s really possible to buy DRM’d books from Fictionwise and read them
    on a non-comercial OS.

The others have been discussed at length (taxes
and remote); this is the day for
my rant on the ebook marketplace.

I’m surprised that this topic hasn’t come up before, more than
two months into this daily blog, because a lot of the blogs I
read are devoted to rants about the publishing industry’s
benighted attitude towards ebooks. So I would have expected to
have wanted to rant myself before this, but it wasn’t until last
week that I felt the rant coming on.

What happened last week was the discovery that
The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit
and The Children of Hurin, but apparently not
The Silmarillion) is available in official ebook

I’ve had an illegal download for some time, and that’s the way
I reread it these days, but it certainly isn’t ideal — it
screws up all the letters with accents, for instance. So
although I’ve already bought it in both paperback and hardcover,
I would be willing to buy it again as an ebook, if that meant I
could read it on my device of choice (the Nokia

If you haven’t been following this topic, the major topic of
debate is the fact that many publishers and authors aren’t
comfortable just letting you download a book in a format like html
or text or various open book-specific formats that you
can read on any computer you can put it on. They feel that there
will be too much piracy, and they’re only comfortable letting you
buy their books if they have something called DRM (digital rights
management) attached to them. There are a lot of good arguments
against this point of view. The most concise summary of them is
that if you buy a book with DRM, you don’t own it, you’re only
renting it for an unknown length of time.

The conventional wisdom these days is that if you need to
convert a DRM’d ebook to something readable on an open platform,
the Microsoft .lit form is the format of choice, since it’s
apparently just a wrapper around some html. So once you’ve
unwrapped it, you aren’t any longer bound by the DRM limitations.

So when I found that Fictionwise didn’t have Tolkein’s books in
what they call “multiformat”, which means you can download any
of a number of open formats to any device you like once you’ve
paid for it, I attempted to buy them in .lit format.

The shopping cart was fairly confusing, but I manged to get to
where I could push a button to complete the purchase, but it
warned me that I should download a free one first to verify that
I would be able to read it on my platform of choice.

That sounded like a good idea, so I moved all the Tolkeins to
my wish list, and tried to “buy” the suggested free .lit

They had no problem letting me do a $0.00 purchase without
giving them my credit card number (don’t laugh — lots of
shopping carts won’t), but then when I went to
download it, I couldn’t because I wasn’t on a Windows

So in order to give them lots of money for a book I want to
buy, I have to boot an operating system I don’t want to run.

And then they’re surprised that ebooks aren’t taking off

If you do want to see whether you like ebooks, I recommend
getting started the way I did — either download works that are
out of copyright from gutenberg or manybooks, or buy non-DRM’d
books from Baen or

Maybe it will turn out that there’s a way to get DRM’d books to
work without booting windows, or that booting the windows
occasionally to do the download is worth being able to get the
books. If so, I’ll let you know.

One thought on “Buying ebooks”

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