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24 February 2011

A guide to ebooks in Australia


Note: You can use this appended URL to share this guide http://tinyurl.com/OzEbookGuide

I bought my first ereader in November and have been trying to find my way around in the world of ebooks ever since. If you don’t live in America most resources are closed to you and as a lot of bloggers and tech blogs are based in America, these challenges are not addressed in such a way to be helpful to non-Americans. There are a number of ebook resources online but I was unable to find a comprehensive starter’s guide for Australian readers. For this reason I am writing my own guide, and I hope my research can help others who are new to the world of the ereader. First, before I even touch on topics like where to obtain ebooks, there are two major hurdles you will need to be aware of. The first is Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the second is geographical restrictions.

Terminology

The terminology used in this field of publishing changes depending on which publisher, electronic company, blogger, author or reader you talk to. As Kat from BookThingo pointed out to me some companies have terms under copyright, and so we should be careful which spelling we use regarding these. Nyssa from Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association has been talking to friends in publishing and said that after a recent discussion they are happy to refer to “ebooks” and “ereader” for the spelling. Some people and organisations in the industry use “e-book”, “eBook” or “digital/electronic book” and “e-reader”, “eReader” or “digital/electronic reader”, etc. However as the digital option becomes more and more entrenched in our reading culture, the spelling is becoming generalised to the simplistic spelling without capital letters or hyphens. Other friends on twitter and blogs have suggested the opposite, but I am most comfortable using “ebook” and “ereader” as my standard terms. The Oxford English Dictionary recognises “ebook” but currently still has ereader listed under “e-reader”. I suspect this will change as the dictionary catches up with the rest of society. It usually takes a while for colloquialisms and common spelling to work their way into institutions like the OED.

Digital Rights Management

Digital rights management is the term for copyright holders and publishing interests which lock down access and distribution capabilities of ebooks. This limits copying, printing and sharing of ebooks, and usually limits a file to a certain number of reading devices and computers. Different ereader manufacturers use different file types, and this limits where you can buy ebooks from. Most ereader companies now provide access to .epub and .pdf file extensions, but manufacturers still have special file extensions dedicated to their devices. Amazon still has cornered the market, limiting access to their ebooks to their Kindle device, but most stores sell multiple ebook extensions, and include .epub and .pdf options. If you do use ebooks, you should take the time to get an Adobe ID because you will sometimes be asked to verify your identity to access certain ebook files. I borrow temporary ebooks from a local library, and they have quite stringent DRM.

Geographical Restrictions

Geographical restrictions are restrictions to sell ebooks in only select regions of the world. It is easier to buy ebook titles if you live in America, Canada and the UK than it is for the rest of the world. Before you purchase a book from a website, always check their FAQs to see that they are available in your region. These restrictions evolved because authors traditionally had their publishing rights sold to different publishers in different parts of the world. Unfortunately this has not been resolved, and while you can order a paper book from overseas, you can not buy a geographically restricted ebook from overseas. There are some work around methods of procurement if you are knowledgeable (proxy servers, American address with a working credit card, etc.) but they almost seem too complicated to bother. This is something that only the more influential authors can have any control over. Most authors are not able to alter the clauses of their contracts. Please, if this frustrates you, please don’t harass the author in question, but contact their publishers. This is a matter of too much red tape, and hopefully one day the idiocy of geographical restrictions for internet ebook sales will disappear. Until then, read the FAQ and T&C of your chosen ebook store, and perhaps try downloading a free or inexpensive book from them first.

Formats

One of the biggest difficulties that ereaders have is the variety of file extensions used. Companies producing ereaders have cornered their markets (Amazon is the big bad at this) and not only block other readers from using their formats, but are not able to use the other ones available on the market. The only format that all/most ereaders use is .pdf, however this may be difficult for the reader, especially if they are formatted for an A4 page. You will need to zoom in and play with the font size, and this can be quite problematic. The format that is becoming universal is .epub. I currently buy all my books in .epub and it is so much more versatile than .pdf. I cannot comment on other formats, so you will need to research your ereader and its formats to see what is your best choice for downloading. Most stores will sell you .epub and .pdf and a number of other options, depending which market they cater for.

Buying an ereader

Really, I will leave this one up to you. I can’t make your mind up for you. Pay attention to extension file types. The most common ebooks are .epub and .pdf. .pdfs will display broken lines of text on your ereader if you zoom in. This can’t be helped, as they are meant to be displayed as a document, not text. .epub and other specialist ebook formats tend to be free flowing text, so you will not have this problem. Check to see what ebook stores that sell to Australians have the file type available of your prospective ereader. Don’t be fooled if they say they have their own dedicated ebook store, as that store may be an American only offering. Read the fine print! Nearly all ebook stores (except Amazon, because they like to play king of the castle) sell ebooks in either .epub or .pdf. What are your reading habits? Do you read outside? Read in the dark? Does it use eInk? Do you need a light weighing device or can it be heavier (I can’t hold the iPad for long – I need to set it on a desk or my lap)? What is the battery life of your reader? Do you have a computer with internet access or do you need a wifi enabled ereader? Can you use memory cards? What dictionary capabilities do you have? Is it a touch screen, and if so, how responsive is it? I suggest doing a lot of research before buying your ereader. Ask friends, ask followers on twitter, look at book blogs, tech blogs, read articles in tech zines and go into the store and test drive it before you buy. Research the hell out of it, unless you want it to go dusty on a back shelf from lack of use. I did my research, and I am extremely happy with my purchase.

Free Books

Before you go to pay for any classic literature, you should know that once it is out of copyright, websites like Project Gutenberg can distribute it for free. If a book is older than 50 or so years, I suggest checking the free sites to see if you can obtain it there. I downloaded a lot of classics from Project Gutenberg and then found out ebook stores were selling them for $7+, so it is worth checking first. Project Gutenberg does not have DRM or Geographical Restrictions, so Australians CAN access these books! They have a variety of formats and have even made their own java apps so you can download books to your smart phone! Also check out the regional Gutenberg sites.

Baen Library is a resource that the Baen publishing house has set up. It provides readers with a few free books for a large variety of authors. It doesn’t list their entire back catalogue of course, but it is a good selection for people who read fantasy and science fiction. I found some books on there that I loved as a teenager and others I had always wanted to try, so I am quite happy with their service. They also have a paid service on their website (link below).

Tor.com is a website affiliated with Tor Books (and Macmillan by default). It offers free short stories, novellas, and if you are really lucky, you may find an entire novel. Some authors are unknown, but some are big names you will definitely recognise. You may need to sign up to download these, although you can read them online (update: I think these are now a nominal $0.99 per story. I skimmed the email, so I need to check their website again).


Check your local and state libraries to see if they lend ebooks. A good tool to look for libraries that lend ebooks is Overdrive.

Follow all your favourite authors on twitter, facebook and blogs and you may be lucky! Sometimes they offer free short stories or novellas associated with their established series. It is also worth visiting author’s websites to see what free content they have available to their fans. You won’t be able to download all their books for free (understandably) but they may have Easter Eggs hidden for their fans! :D Oh, “Easter Eggs” is a gaming term – they may have bonus content tucked away on their websites or blogs. It really is worth checking!

Enter competitions! Lots and lots of competitions! You can enter for paper books and ebooks depending on the competition. You discover these by following blogs and people (authors, bloggers, publishers, etc.) on twitter. Good luck!

Join review sites such as NetGalley. You will need to follow their terms and review their books on your blog, as it is part of their PR campaign for new releases.


Purchasing Books

Note: You will need a credit or debit card. Some ebook stores seem to offer PayPal transactions, but not all. Most banks, credit unions and building societies will be able to provide you with a debit card if you don’t want to get into debt for the sake of buying (more) books. Some stores, despite offering the PayPal option, still require a credit card purchase if it is a secured format.

I will list some stores that I have found in my wanderings or my bookish twitter friends have recommended. I will try buying from all these stores eventually, and will put an asterisk beside them when I am successful. If you are an Aussie or a Kiwi and buy ebooks from a different store, can you please leave a comment below and I will update the list. My first recommendation, when you think you have found a site that you think will sell you an ebook is to find check the FAQ’s and help section to see if they say anything about geographical restrictions. If you think you are able to buy there, search for a free book or a very cheap book, sign up and see if you can download it. It really is a process of trial and error and if you have problems buying, downloading, syncing ebooks with your ereader it is best not to have spent a fortune on the ebook in question. Check to see if your ereader software links to a store (my Sony Reader has links to Borders and Angus and Robertson) and see if you can buy there.

Ebook Resources

The sites below with an asterisk are ones I have successfully used to obtain at least one book from using an Australian credit card (or PayPal) and an Australian address. I cannot guarantee they will work for you, but I can tell you that I have downloaded books from there successfully. I will be systematically going through these sites and purchasing books for my Sony Reader (.epub and .pdf files) and will update the list as needed. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know, either in the comments section or on twitter. Please use direct links, as I only access shortened links (tinyurl, etc.) if I know and trust a person.

This list will be constantly updated as I come across new resources (and check the bookmarks on my home computer) so it may be an idea to bookmark this page and refer back periodically. I’ll post a note on twitter when there have been updates to this list.


Free

Project Gutenberg* {link}
Project Gutenberg Affiliates and Resources* {link}
Project Gutenberg Australia* {link}
ManyBooks.net* {link}
Tor.com* {link}
Baen Library* {link}
Everyone's Reading* {link}
Bookyards {link}
Open Library {link}
Feed Books {link}
Complete published works of HP Lovecraft {link}

Borrow

Overdrive Library Search* {link}
Open Library {link}

Review

Net Galley {link}
Angry Robots {link}

Paid

Dymocks* {link}
Angus & Robertson {link}
Borders* {link}
Booku (Australian based store) {link}
Book Depository {link}
Books On Board* {link}
Diesel eBooks {link}
OmniLit * {link}
All Romance* {link}
Decadent Publishing* {link}
Ebooks.com {link}
Smash Words {link}
Read Without Paper {link}
WebSubscription Ebooks (Baen)* {link}
Twelfth Planet Press {link}
Amber Quill {link}
Total-e-bound {link}
Carina Press {link}
Amazon {link}
Samhain Publishing {link}
Bookstrand.com {link}
eReader.com {link}
Noble Romance Publishing {link}
New Concepts Publishing {link}

Please comment if you know of others!

Please note that this article is my current understanding of the ebook industry in Australia. I bought my ereader in November 2010 and started buying ebooks in December of the same year. I am by no means an expert, but on discovering the lack of information for new Australian ereader owners, I felt it was my duty to compile my research for others. I have not included hacks – you can search for them if you want. I wanted a place that shared with other Australians which stores they can access and to explain some of the lingo that is important to us. Most ereader blogs (bookbee.net, etc.) will be able to explain how to get around these limitations of not being American or British and I don’t feel qualified explaining them. They are out there if you do get fed up with the limitations of buying ebooks from Australian soil.

[Note: Updated 27/04/2011. This is a working article. I will be updating it as I come across new aspects of the epublishing world. Please let me know if you think there are other aspects I should cover in this article.]




9 comments:

staticsan said...

DRM is a big problem for Linux users, which is a little ironic given that the format of ePub is open

The DRM involved is usually Adobe's Digital Editions, which is only officially supported on Windows or MacOSX. There are reports of getting it running successfully under Wine, but I haven't tried that and it's probably not for the more casual user.

Marg said...

One thing it might be interesting to note is that even if your local library service doesn't offer ebook lending, other libraries in your state may allow you to join to just borrow ebooks without being a resident in the area. For example, I have joined both the Melbourne Library and the Yarra library service even though I don't live in either area.

Bernadette said...

What a great post. Wish I'd found it a while back but I have muddled way through most of the eReader in Oz problems myself by now.

The one thing I wish I had understood earlier is why PDF is such a crappy (lazy) format for eBooks and one I refuse to buy now. Given that most books seem to be formatted for my Sony's smallest font size most books are virtually unreadable in this format when re-sized to legible due to the line breaks etc. I stick to ePub now.

Vickij said...

I've successfully puchased ebooks from Diesel eBooks and Smashwords. Others that I've bought from with an Oz credit card and address are:

My Bookstore and More
Bookstrand.com
eReader.com
Noble Romance Publishing
New Concepts Publishing

I've had trouble buying ebooks at different times because of the geographical restrictions, but it was because of the particular author's books not being available here the digital rights not having been sorted, rather than the ebookstore not selling to Oz at all.

The thing about PDF is that it wasn't designed for small ereading devices. I bought quite a number of ebooks in PDF to read on my computer before getting an ereader. I agree, it sure is a crappy format for ereaders!!

Sapphired Dragon said...

Thanks for this post. I have the kindle for iPad and iBooks on my iPad but have really only used amazon for my ebook buying and have already come across geographical restrictions when trying to buy a couple of books. So it's great to know of other resources that I can use to fuel my ebook addiction. Thanks again.

Vanyel Kane said...

I've just bought and can say that these work fine:

Carina Press
Jasmine Jade Enterprise (otherwise known as Ellora's Cave)
JCPbooks.com (not a huge variey here)
Dreamspinner

abott paul said...

This is very nice information you share here in this article. There are so many of website available online which provide many of Ebooks and allow to free download. You can easily download any kind of ebooks according to your need and in any format which support your device.

ebooks

Gwendolyn Ray said...

I really want all my free ebooks in libraries. I wouldn't put a limit on how many lends.

sabina moon said...

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