Buying ebooks, Part II

I’m sure you’re sitting on the edge of your seat to find out
what happened to my quest to give the publishing industry money
for a book I can read on my Nokia 810 Internet

I told you a couple of days ago about trying
to buy a .lit book from a linux computer running firefox.

Next I tried buying one from a Windows computer running
Internet Explorer. Here’s what I wrote about it to a mailing
list that discusses such things:

I keep hearing (I think on this list as well as other places) that
people buy ebooks at in .lit format, and then use clit
to turn them into html and read them on the platform of their choice.

I have occasionally gotten a .lit format book from somewhere and been
able to use clit to read it, but I’d never seen one I wanted to buy.

Then last week, I found out that The Lord of the Rings is now
available as an official ebook, and decided I would buy it.

This turns out to be too hard for me to do. You would think that if I
wanted to give someone $30 for a book, they would give me the book, but
not if Microsoft is involved.

First they said I should get a free one to make sure I had a process for
making it work. That sounded reasonable, and they actually sold me a
free ebook without asking for my credit card number.

Then I went to download it, and they said I had to be on a Windows
computer (and in Windows Explorer).

So I went away, but after a few days, I realized I had a couple of other
things I needed to boot windows to do, so I booted Windows, and fired up
IE and went to my bookshelf in Fictionwise.

Then they said I needed the latest Microsoft Reader software, so I
downloaded that.

Then they said I needed to activate the Reader on that computer. It
took quite a while to find out how I should do that, and I had to type
illegible characters several times to set up a Passport account.

Then they said I needed to install ActiveX, without telling me how to do
that. I did a search, and found someone who had the same problem and
had been told that it’s a browser option and where to go to change it,
so I did that.

But I’m still getting the error message about needing ActiveX, or to be
logged in as a real user (which I am).

So how do you buy a .lit book from Fictionwise, if you do, or is there
some other way to get commercial DRM books like the Tolkein that will
let me read it on a linux computer?

And how does anyone stay in business if it’s this hard to buy something
from them?

This reminds me of the time when I was in college and the lock to my
dorm room was balky, so I started thinking about getting the kind of
religion where you don’t ever lock your door. I already almost have the
kind of religion where I never buy DRM, and it looks like I’m not
capable of backsliding from it even if I want to.

One of the readers of the list took pity on my and sent me a
500 line python script that converts ereader books to html.

So this morning, I bought The Hobbit from fictionwise in the secure ereader
format. I had to tell the download program my name and credit
card information, but then it just gave me the file, without
complaining about what browser I was using or making me type
illegible characters or anything.

After that, there was only an hour or so of debugging, and now
the book looks pretty good in all of ereader running under Wine, firefox, and FBReader.

Actually, it looks a bit better in firefox than in the other
versions. FBReader is clumsy about placing the .png files for
the runes, and eReader doesn’t indent the verse gracefully.

For those who want the gory details, the two problems I had to
fix before the HTML displayed correctly were:

  • The .html file didn’t specify the character encoding, so all the
    quotation marks and such were displayed as something like 222
    in emacs, and as a ? in a diamond box in firefox. The fix was
    to put:
    <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html;

    at the top of the file.

  • The html file referred to a lot of the graphics as generated
    with mixed case letters, but the script had actually written the
    names with all lower case. I haven’t scripted that fix yet, but
    if I hit the problem again, I probably will.

I haven’t yet read it on the Nokia, but my experience is that
if FBReader on the desktop can read it, so can FBReader on the

So if you want electronic books without being a pirate, you can
have them, even if you want to use non-commercial software to
read them.

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