E-books: A selection of my articles

I've been waiting for e-book technology to hit the bookstores since I spied Star Trek characters reading off hand-held tablets in the 1980s. And when it finally arrived at the dawn of the 21st century, sci-fi style, I was psyched. But Malaysia did not embrace the technology immediately. I had to visit the United States to get my hands on my first e-book reader: A Sony Reader. It cost me about a thousand ringgit (ouch ouch ouch) but it was worth every penny.

Naturally, as a journalist, I wrote extensively about it.

I began with a major feature article about e-books, which I actually won an in-house award for:

Then came my column about e-books, Reading Revolution, which began life as an exclusive publication for the iPad, and then moved to its online home at The Star.

I had a lot of fun meeting international e-book authors such as Ryk Brown, waded into the murky depths of the ebook porngate, and how fanfiction is now made respectable, thanks to Amazon's Kindle Worlds. Ebooks has made the once-stagnant publishing world into an exciting and often volatile field, and readers, writers and publishers are all being tossed around in the constant change.

But for a journalist, it's catnip.

Malaysia's not fully in the game yet, but I see an explosion in the future. And the Malaysian publishing industry better be ready for it.

Hello, Reading Revolution!

I just started writing a new column for The Star's iPad edition - Editor's Choice. It's called Reading Revolution and it's about one of my biggest passions: e-books. I will be writing about how to get started reading e-books, issues concerning the ebook industry and I will also be interviewing e-book authors.

I was really excited to be given the chance to write this column. I mean, a reason to go on and on about the thing I love? What joy!

Anyway, you can download the Sept 26, 2012 Reading Revolution (in PDF format) column, but it reads so much better on the iPad or tablet, so download The Editor's Choice by visiting http://thestar.com.my/ipad. It's free!

Things you may not know about eBooks

So, you're thinking about getting an eBook reader, or you've just gotten one and you're all ready to plug into the amazing world of eBooks. But there are some things that you may not know about digital books. Things that could frustrate you greatly if you're not prepared:

There be geographical restrictions If you don't live in the United States, be prepared for frustration because you probably won't be able to buy a whole lot of ebooks from eBookstores like Books on Board and Fictionwise.

This is due to some legal mumbo jumbo about publishing rights, so publishers actually barr people from other regions from buying their products.

The mind boggles: you have a bunch of very eager people trying to throw money at you for your products and you tell them: "Go away, I don't want your money!" Readers have found ways to get around this, but are protective of the techniques as they don't want the guard dogs of publishing law to wise up. Go to forums like Mobileread and ask around for tips. (Of course there's also the less (cough) official way of getting eBooks ...)

Dear publishers, don't you realise that you're pissing your customers off, and worse, indirectly encouraging piracy?

Calibre is better than most "official" eBook software Amazon's Kindle makes eBook buying easy. All users have to do is select the book, and download. Wala. But us folks not fortunate enough to own a Kindle have to contend with plugging our eBook readers to the computer and using the device's software to transfer books.

The Sony Reader's software for uploading and buying books just sucks. Fortunately, there's an excellent alternative: a freeware called Calibre. Not only can Calibre transfer eBooks to your device, it also converts your text files or ebooks into other formats such as LRF, and ePUB, and in your preferred font size too. You can also easily download news from sites such as New York Times and even your blog feeds in Google Reader into an eBook format - as a news junkie, I'm delirious with happiness over this function.

ePub is the standard eBook format So it's best to ensure that your eBook reader reads ePub as it's the "standard" format in the eBook industry now. You have more choices of eBooks in eBookstores too. Here's a guide to the formats used by popular eBook readers:

• Hanlin (which Malaysians can buy from Mph): MOBI, PDF, LIT, EPUB, HTML, TXT, PRC, FB2, JPG • Amazon Kindle: Kindle (AZW, TPZ), TXT, MOBI, PRC and PDF natively; HTML and DOC through conversion • Apple iPad: EPUB, PDF, HTML, DOC • Barnes & Noble Nook: EPUB, PDB, PDF • Sony Reader: EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF; DOC through conversion

DRM eBooks are a pain in the ass So, I bought an eBook - Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow. Then I broke my beloved PRS505 Sony Reader and decided to start anew with a new laptop.

I had to a) re-install my Sony Library software in order to enable b) Adobe Digital Editions (which I also reinstalled) c) and reregister with Digital Editions to authorise my device. Then I had to redownload my library (most eBookstores allow you to keep your eBooks in an online library) only to find out that I can only download Scarecrow three times. After that, the friggin' license "expires". Welcome to the wonderful world of DRM, where publishers make it as difficult as it can to pirate their books, only to drive users to pirate sites out of sheer frustration.

eBooks can be cheaper So, there's a price war right now, what with Apple's iPad mixing things up with the publishers. However, for Malaysians, buying an eBook can be a cheaper alternative. Because there are no hefty shipping costs to pay, eBooks can often be RM10 or more cheaper than the ones in brick and mortar bookstores.

Watch out for discounts which eBookstores often give. Most have a rewards system which credits "money points" into your account for each book you buy. When you get enough of reward points, you can use it to slash the price of the next eBook you buy.