Stallman vs Amazon Kindle: Are eBooks Bad?

The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle.  In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen.  The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously.  The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth.  There are always problems with innovations.  For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.

That is, at least, the impression I was under.  A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal.  His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books.  Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing.  He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.

From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy.  I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth.  I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life.  His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions.  This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.

A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling.  Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies.  Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company.  A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books.  Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them.  Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor?  I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.

Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will.  Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive?  Yes.  No Question.  Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them?  I sincerely hope not.  It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.

Some Thoughts on Free E-books

KindleHow often do you read free e-books on your Kindle? Always? Most of the time? Sometimes? Rarely? Does the fact that the book is free, make your reading process more enjoyable? Yes? No? Maybe?

As I’m looking for different sources for free e-books libraries, I come to conclusion that every single source for free e-books has some disadvantages. Aside from Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks.net (most of its books originate from Gutenberg), all of the free e-book libraries are highly commercialized. It really depends, which way a website owner decides to go – either infest a book catalogue’s pages with ads; create membership fees to highly disadvantage free membership’s choices; or even insert advertisement pages in the “free” e-books.

Of course, it’s understandable. There is absolutely no profit for these websites’ owners to invest their time in producing high quality free e-books. So, the free e-books theme is just a way for many to bring users to the website. And advertisements are their actual products. I see so many fake free e-book sites without real content – it’s starting to get on my nerves. It appears that all the domain names with “free e-books” are taken for these exact purposes. To find one site, be it with ads, but containing actual e-books, I go through ten fake ones.

I mean, really, ginormous kudos to Gutenberg for doing what they are doing. And if you are feeling generous, I do encourage you to make a donation to Gutenberg Project to keep them alive. It is tax-deductable.

Another issue with free e-books is that, of course, they are poorly edited. Even Amazon freebies’ content suffers in the quality: as some people noticed that most of Amazon Free Kindle books have editing errors (such as missing passages). Also, my beloved Gutenberg’s e-books are not all perfectly formatted.

Do you notice when a book is poorly edited? Does it bother you much?

Free E-books on Malay Archipelago in Sejarah Melayu Library

This source for free e-books, articles and academic papers will probably be appreciated by very particular type of readers. Sejarah Melayu Library’s resources focus on Malay Archipelago (also called Indonesian Archipelago) and surrounding areas. All e-books, articles and academic papers are available for your Kindle for free and in .PDF format.

WallaceBasically the library has seven sections:
General section contains miscellaneous materials on Malay Archipelago that (I am guessing) do not really fit into other categories.
Histories and Other References focuses on history and geography.
Travelogue is self-explanatory: travelers’ notes about Malay Archipelago.
Language section contains dictionaries & free grammar e-books.
Fiction consists of novels, fables, poetry and other literary materials that have connections to Malay Archipelago.
Papers and Articles section has journal articles and academic papers available for downloading.
News and Dispatches has historical newspapers, gazettes, chronicles, and reports.

The layout and navigation for Sejarah Melayu Library is straightforward. Notice that you need to press the tiny plus signs in the menu, instead of the titles. There is no registration required to use these materials. All documents I checked out were in good quality PDF.

I think, this is a precious source for the scholars doing a research on Malay Archipelago; intrigued travelers planning to visit the area; and those hungry for information polymaths.

In addition to Sejarah Melayu Library’s resources, Amazon offers somewhat outdated, but free Kindle Books on this topic:
The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-utan and the Bird of Paradise; a Narrative of Travel, With Studies of Man and Nature Volume I by Alfred Russel Wallace (Volume II is also available for free); Through the Malay Archipelago by Emily Richings; and Blown to Bits The Lonely Man of Rakata, the Malay Archipelago by R. M. (Robert Michael) Ballantyne.

Happy researching!

Free E-books for Newbies (Part II)

If you’ve been in relationship with your Kindle for a while now, then there is nothing new for you in this post. If you are new to the whole e-books searching process, then I will be proud to present you the best source for free e-books available on the internet.

Basically, the biggest chunk of free Kindle e-books is resting on the backs of two elephants: the aforementioned Amazon’s free e-book collection and Gutenberg project.

Don QuijoteGutenberg is the most gorgeous e-book project I have seen so far. It is almost twice as large as Amazon Classics. There is no registration needed for downloading e-books. There are no flashing and eye-irritating advertisements (compared to other free e-book libraries). Gutenberg e-books are available in Kindle-friendly .MOBI format; and usually, there is an option, whether you want to download a book with or without images.

Aside from the enormous collection of classics, Gutenberg has an impressive collection of books in foreign languages – Spanish, Greek, Latin, Russian, German, French, Japanese etc. Maybe I will finally fulfill my dream to read Don Quijote in the original.

It has the majority of well-known old texts, so if you are a History student – you will always be able to find some works of such authors like Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch etc.

The universal problem with the quality of free e-books does not escape Gutenberg. Most books are converted in MOBI format automatically, so there is no guarantee that the e-book will look perfectly on your Kindle.

Kindle 3G: The Long Saga How I Bought Kindle 3G and Some First Impressions

Last weekend I spent in Best Buy, waiting for the world’s slowest customer associate to bring me Kindle Wi-Fi.  During the [insert a large number here] minutes of me standing near the Kindle display, and the associate going back and forth: writing down, re-writing and double checking the code in order to check if they have any Kindle Wi-Fi’s in stock, I pondered about the world’s slowest turtles and the meaning of life.  After the eternity, I learned that they do not have any Kindle Wi-Fi’s left in stock.  A logical person would leave the store and perhaps, order the damn thing online.  An irritated person, however, grabs the available box with Kindle 3G with one hand, and holding a sweaty (by this time) Best Buy’s get 10% off coupon (the original reason, why I ended up in Best Buy) with another hand and heads over to the cashier.  Well, the coupon does not apply to Kindle, which says so (the cashier points into the tiny card) in very fine print.  Perhaps, a logical person gets pissed and walks away.  But not me, I like sticking to my plans and that is how I ended up getting Kindle 3G.

So here are my first impressions.

Impression #1: (as I unwrapped my purchase immediately in the car) OMG, it fits in my purse!!!

Impression #2: (as I got extremely hungry, while waiting for the world’s slowest customer associate, I went straight to the restaurant.  I started playing with my new Kindle and accidentally pressed the text to speech button) OMG, how do I turn off this Robocop’s voice reading Jane Austen?

And now, to the serious business.

Pages.  The page-turning buttons are extremely comfortably located.  Flip.  Flip.  Flip.  Ah, it feels nice.

Keyboard.  The arrow keys are hit and miss.  Sometimes, I click and nothing happens.  Sometimes, I do not click and the unwanted things occur.

Also, there is plenty of unused space between the keyboard and the screen: why not have a full keyboard (i.e.  include the number keys)?

Normal headphone jack instead of those annoying custom ones – awesome!

Text to speech feature: nice to have it, but I don’t think I will be using it at all.

Integrated dictionary: priceless!

Some Free E-books from Forgottenbooks.org

Forgotten Books was recommended to me by a reader, Glynn, who, I’m guessing, is affiliated with this company.   Forgotten Books is an independent publishing company focused on reviving old print.

To tell the truth, I do not really like what Forgotten Books is doing with their free e-books feature.  And the reason being – their free e-books are in low quality .PDF format.  To attain a copy of a high-quality .PDF, a person has to pay a membership fee.  I have hard time understanding, why Forgotten Books are trying to charge for better quality .PDFs for the books that are free from copyright and generally available online for no cost.

Fol Tales From the RussianAlthough, they do have this e-book of the day for free feature – if you sign up for their subscription, you can download their book of the day in good quality .PDF for your Kindle for free.  Today’s book of the day is actually the reason, why I changed my mind and decided to write about this source.  Today’s book of the day is Folk Tales From the Russian by Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de Blumenthal (first published in 1903).  The Tsarevna Frog, Father Frost, Baba Yaga and other awesome fellows!  This book is also available on Google Books (in .EPub and .PDF) and on Surlalunefairytales (online only) for free.  Also, it is available on Amazon for $1.75. Russian Folklore tales are wickedly good.   I sincerely encourage you looking into them.

So, I signed up for the subscription and downloaded Folk Tales From the Russian from Forgotten Books.  I have to say that putting a line through the e-book is very uncool of you, Forgotten Books.  Google Books’ version of this book is way better quality.

Perhaps, Forgotten Books’ other books of the day will be as cool as today’s.  And I hope they will improve their not-so-reasonable-for-now free e-book offers.

Free Kindle Books for Newbies

Alice
What is the first thing a new Kindle owner does? Right! The dance of joy. Okay, but the next thing?

Dorian GrayAs for me, it was the diving into the ocean of Amazon’s free classics I always wanted to read, but did not have the patience to. Now – guess what, when I’m stuck on an airplane, frankly, I have no escape. Also, getting free classics from Amazon, with their 1-Click feature, is the most convenient way for me to upload the books on Kindle.

Great Expectations – one day I’ll read it, maybe, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I haven’t read it yet. Click.
Well, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is my sacred text I always have on my bedside. Click.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – to have it in my pocket always available for re-reading.  Upload.
The Sayings Of Confucius – to impress one professor I know.  Click.
The Prince – for the same purposes as the book mentioned above.  Click.
Prince

However, remember that with free cheese there is always a catch. According to Amazon’s reviewers, some of these books are sloppily edited (missing certain passages and such), which completely ruins the experience if you are trying to savor one of your most favorite books. On the other hand, if you want to get familiar with some works for the general education purposes and you are not planning on conducting an in-depth analysis of this or that character, then perhaps the imperfect, but free editions will suffice for you.

Also, Amazon has a page with limited time offers for certain e-books. Some e-books are listed for a nominal price, some are cheaper than usually, and some are free.

Free Kindle Books on Feedbooks

Feedbooks is a book store, selling books and e-books with an unpredictable price deviation in comparison the Kindle Books on Amazon.  Some books are cheaper and some books are more expensive than Amazon’s selection.  So, before buying a book from Amazon, perhaps, you would want to check it out on Feedbooks first.  You might save a dollar, or two.  Or not.

FitzgeraldHowever, e-books are being sold all over the internet.  Finding places where to buy e-books is not that challenging any more.  So, from this point of view, Feedbooks’ selection of priced books is not much of an interest for me.  I’m on the quest of finding free e-book libraries for your Kindle.  And if you click on “Public Domain” section, Feedbooks provides a limited, but still worthy of checking out selection of free e-books.  The registration for downloading the free e-books is optional.

ForsterOnce you found that special book for your solitary enjoyment, do not press “download” immediately.  It will automatically download the e-book in EPuB format.  Click on the book’s title and then you will have a choice of downloading the book in PDF or “Kindle” format, which is actually .MOBI.

As I already said, by all means, it is not a large free e-book library.  However, you can still find Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is not available on Amazon for free (the prices vary from $0.95 to $11.99).  Also, there is Cory Doctorow’s I, Robot available for free (not available in Kindle Books on Amazon).  And those, who complained about free Kindle Edition of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (missing passages and such), give it a try to this version on Feedbooks, maybe it is better.

Happy reading.

Some Free E-books on Free-ebooks.net

I am slightly disappointed with www.free-ebooks.net for trying to rip off fellows Kindle-ers, but it might be useful for someone, so I will hide my judging stare away.

111 Egg RecipesI have many problems with this site.  The first one is the domain name – “free ebooks” is kind of a way overboard name for a site with such limited availability of the actual free e-books.

Another issue with this site is that .MOBI format is available only for an upgraded membership.  They have e-books in .PDF format for no charge, but here is the catch – you can download only 5 books per month for free.

One more minor annoyance: they require users to register for downloading e-books.

Also, the site’s content is poorly edited – some book titles have typos, sometimes authors’ names are missing and so on.

So, yes, the site is limiting from all ends.  However, the selection and variety of the books is quite large.  The library is not restricted by the usual classics, to the availability of which we are so used to.  I enjoyed the quantity of “100 Recipes of Something-Something” type of cook books: 111 Egg Recipes, 300 Chicken Recipes, 300 Recipes for the Grill and so on.  I also liked the selection in the Tutorials section.  There are books like: Build Your Own Home Theatre, An Introduction to Pipe Band Drumming, or even How to Create a Garden Pond.

Hence, if you are looking for a very specific book, this is a good back-up source.

Free E-books from BookRix

Here is another emerging resource with free books – bookrix.com. This is not the largest e-book library in the world; it has a little bit less than 13,000 books available for your pleasure. The site has a good and clean design and it is not overwhelmed by ads.

The downside of this library is that it is less Kindle-friendly as we are used to. BookRix offers books in EPub format and that means conversion for the Kindle crowd. Hello, Calibre.

Edgar PoeThere is an optional registration for the book lovers, which is actually a good thing – BookRix has a pretty solid roster of active users. I like when e-book libraries have user involvement, because that usually means there are book reviews. And book reviews help me in deciding which new and unusual book to pick.Joseph Conrad

So if you were thinking to read good old Edgar Poe’s The Raven for free, then welcome to BookrRix ($0.99 on Amazon). Also, BookRix has Joseph Conrad’s Mirror of the Sea available for free ($0.95 on Amazon).

BookRix is an emerging-author-friendly site. So, if you are hiding your first book creation under the pillow, not sure if the world is ready to buy it, but kind of, hesitantly, but surely, want the world to read it for free, then Bookrix has a good audience for you. Try it out! Maybe your baby will get harrypotter-popular!

And, of course, if you are not a snobby classics-only avid reader, then perhaps you will discover a young author you will fall in love (of literary admiration, that is).
Enjoy.