Ebooks.com Offers Online Book Viewing

I’ve been looking into the ebook industry, and generally I don’t like what I see at present. The essential problem is that the major ebook sellers, notably Amazon and Barnes and Noble, sell ebooks that read only with proprietary readers. This raises two problems. First, I want to be able to integrate all my ebooks into a single library, much as I can integrate all my music into iTunes now (made possible with the standardized mp3 format). Second, I don’t want to invest money in a platform that’s going to end up failing in the market place. I don’t want a library’s worth of the ebook equivalent of Beta or HD DVD.

At the same time, I don’t want to buy ink-and-paper books anymore, because my shelf space is limited and I want the flexibility and portability that comes with ebooks. So, for right now, my solution is to simply stop buying books, except for used copies that save a bit of money, books unavailable in digital format, and books that I absolutely want to read right away. The book industry is a mess. When publishers and retailers decide to straighten it out, I will resume doing business with them.

Previously I’ve made a couple of interrelated suggestions: HTML seems like the natural standard for ebook publishing, and ebook sellers should make the ebooks readable online, via a standard web browser. Now I’ve found a bit more information about this.

As Jedi Saber points out,“The .epub is a standard for eBooks created by the International Digital Publishing Forum. It consists of basic XHTML for the book content, XML for descriptions, and a re-named zip file to hold it all in. Anyone can make these eBooks, and since they’re essentially just XHTML, anyone can read them.” (Adobe says basically the same thing.)

Indeed, Jedi Saber proceeds to explain how to generate the epub format. While Jedi complains about the high cost of Adobe’s InDesign, which apparently can generate the epub format, I am fortunate to be married to a graphic designer, so this may well be a viable option for me. (I am working on an upgraded ebook version of Values of Harry Potter; an earlier version had been straight HTML.)

I noticed another tidbit from Ebooks.com: some of the company’s ebooks “can also read books online, from any computer, anywhere, without downloading or installing anything.” Now THAT is sweet.

For instance, Ebooks.com offers the Twilight books “online in eb20.)” An explanatory note explains:

eBooks.com has just released eb20, a web-based ebook reader application. This means that, in addition to downloading an ebook to your computer or device, you can now read the book online from any computer with a supported web browser that’s connected to the internet. eb20 requires no software installation and enables you to just start reading a work, seconds after buying it.

In the coming months you’ll see more and more of our books available through this simple online reading interface. As books are converted to eb20 format, you’ll see a little Read Online link next to the book in your eBooks.com account. Just click on that link and start reading. When buying a book, if you see Available to read online in eb20, it means that, once you’ve paid for it, you’ll be able to download the ebook and read it online anywhere, anytime.

There’s just one teensie problem with Ebooks.com (aside from its limited selection): many of its ebooks are insanely expensive. Let’s take the example of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, which I recently downloaded as a trial run from Barnes and Noble for $9.99. The Amazon Kindle price is also $9.99. The Amazon hardcover price is $18.45. Random House will sell you the ebook directly for $27.95, the price for which Ebooks.com also sells the book.

Memo to publishers: if you’re going to whine about Amazon’s ebook selling prices, you might think about not trying to jack customers with your own ebook prices. Publishers try to sell overpriced goods that are a hassle to use and then wonder why their industry is flailing.

Perhaps one of these years book publishers will catch up to the 21st Century.