DRM strikes again
Unlike the music industry, which is ruled by the MP3 format, eBooks have no universal standard. Instead, they live in a chaotic world of vendor-specific formats, which aren't always interoperable. Amazon's Kindle, for instance, is the only eBook reader than can read books formatted in Amazon's AZW format, which has Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection. Even your PC can't view these files. Likewise, Sony's eBook readers rely on Sony's proprietary BBeB format, which protects books in the Sony eBook Store. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Other digital formats include PDF, ePub, Microsoft's LIT, TXT, HTML, and many more. So what's a digital bookworm to do?
What to look for
First, decide on what hardware you want. Do you want a dedicated reader or do you want to use a device you already own, such as a laptop or iPod/iPhone? Although pricier, dedicated readers support more titles, are more portable than a laptop, and have a bigger screen than your iPhone.
Next, browse the eBooks you plan to buy and find a device that supports those formats. This past summer, Sony updated its reader software to support PDF and ePub formats. The more formats your reader supports, the more books you'll be able to read.
If money is an issue, you're better off using a multifunctional device such as an iPhone or laptop as your eBook reader. Since you probably already own one (or both), it's also a good way to test how badly you want to read eBooks. Stanza is a free app that turns your iPhone or iPod touch into an eBook reader. It supports a respectable amount of eBook formats including PDF, ePub, Microsoft LIT, and unprotected AZW files. However, it can only display books within the public domain (such as those offered by sites like Project Gutenberg), not eBooks with DRM.
As a result, serious bookworms who want to read current titles should look for a dedicated device that supports the formats important to them. The casual reader, who doesn't mind sticking with books in the public domain, will be well-served by a laptop or iPhone/iPod with free reader software. As for the rest of us, fortunately the paperback is still alive and well.
Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features Editor.