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ATPM 18.01
January 2012





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by Christopher Turner,

On Being Locked In, and Getting What I Want Out

Though I own a Kindle e-reader, I find I still do most of my electronic reading on my iPhone. Whether it’s in the Kindle app, or Barnes & Noble’s Nook app, or Apple’s own iBooks app, I always have my iPhone with me. Thus, I can always read an e-book, even if I left a dead-tree version, or my Kindle, at home. At any rate, I’ve noticed something about these three reading apps.

Before we get to my observation, a quick word on these apps’ respective libraries and purchasing systems: yes, you are locked in. A Kindle book cannot be read in the Nook app, nor can the Nook book be read in iBooks. And while iBooks books are based on EPUB, Nook books are based on eReader, and Kindle books are a derivative of the Mobipocket format. All of these are wrapped in digital rights management (DRM) software, which is unique to that particular app/vendor. In other words, when you buy a Kindle book, any reading of that book has to be on a Kindle device or app. Forever.

For many folks, this isn’t a problem. They have a long history ordering paper books from Amazon, or buying them at a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble, and they’re comfortable continuing to give that company their business. I am one of those people, and I’ve given both of those companies part of my book-buying business over the years.

My problem with the whole e-book thing is that, unlike the dead-tree edition of a book, I can’t—with limited exceptions—loan it to a friend, or donate it to a library or other organization when I’m done with it. The other problem is, what if this vendor goes out of business? Or shuts down this component of their business? Sure, that doesn’t sound remotely possible with the three companies in question, but who among us would have thought, 15 years ago, that Leahman Brothers wouldn’t exist today? Yes, they can take up a lot of physical space, and are susceptible to the elements, but a well cared-for paper-based book may just have a better of chance of making it to the second half of the century.

This is a continuing problem that authors, publishers, and readers have to dance around. To not have DRM means books are more easily pirated, and authors lose out on royalties, while publishers’ costs increase. As a content creator myself, I’m fully aware of the need to protect one’s work. Yet at the same time, I’m a content consumer, and I find myself at war within, given that I’d rather have the same easy choice with e-books that I have with paper-based books.

So, to my observation: while reading a book in iBooks, I came across an interesting passage, and I have long been a note-taker. In iBooks, it was no big deal to highlight the passage, copy the text, then paste it into a plain text file on Dropbox with Notesy for future reference. Yet this simple process is not at all possible with the Kindle or Nook apps, should I find an interesting passage while reading within either of them. Oddly enough, to take notes from something I’m reading in the Kindle or Nook apps, I have to revert to the same process I would use if the book in question were paper-based: I’d touch-type the note into a relevant file while reading from the device propped up next to my iMac.

This, on the face, seems like a simple fix: the Kindle and Nook app developers need to include a Copy Text function. However, knowing several programmers, I know that things are often not nearly as simple as they seem. These developers may also be restricted in some way by Apple’s rules for iOS apps—who can say? Still, I’d love to see them implement this in their respective apps.

But why not just highlight the passage that’s caught your attention, you might ask. Because, so far as the Nook is concerned, this means you’re still stuck always having to flip through the e-book to find what you’ve highlighted. Amazon gets around this somewhat with the Kindle, however, by collecting your annotations. Whether you highlight, or make a note, it’s kept for you at From there, you can copy and paste directly from a Web page, which is a reasonable alternative to doing it bit-by-bit on your iPhone.

The only issue with that solution on the Kindle, however, is what if you have a book you didn’t buy from Amazon? In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I downloaded a novella from an author’s blog. He had put it out as both a .mobi file for reading on a Kindle and an EPUB for apps and devices capable of that format. I can put this .mobi file on my Kindle and highlight all I want, but those won’t be available to me at the above Web site. Built-into-the-app copy abilities would help solve that. Because you never know when an interesting passage is going to come along.

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