Friday, June 28, 2013

Our Wish List for E-Books

I was once an anti-ebook person. Yes, I declaimed long screeds about why paper is superior, about the joy of having something tangible, how an ebook can never have the same feel and reality as a paper book. I lamented the decline of paper, I dismissed ereaders as a silly fad of the technologically addicted. I was smug! So very very smug!

And now I’m eating my words of course (hmmm tastes, like Humble Pie). However, despite being a rigorous and passionate convert to the glories of the ebook, there are still some severe problems with epublishing as it stands now that gives me all kinds of grey hairs. So here is my wish list of stuff that would make ebooks even more infinitely superior to paper!

One format

I want to be able to use one tool to read all my books. I want to turn on my tablet, open my reading app and have my whole library laid out before me. Sounds simple? Unfortunately we’re nowhere near that yet. I pick up my tablet now and I’m looking at five different book reading apps


Sometimes it can take me 10 minutes just trying to find where exactly the book IS. This is vexing. very very vexing indeed. I would love just to have one program that lets me read all of my books, regardless of where I bought them or who sent them to me. Alas, no, I get to have a treasure hunt every new book.

Some apps only read certain formats (Aldiko, why do you hate mobi? Did it run over your cat? It’s not like it’s an obscure format), others are lacking most of the features I prefer (Moonreader, that’s a damn thin selection considering you’re a bought app. And why list the page numbers in the chapter but not the book? Seriously who cares how many pages are in a chapter?). And, of course, other retailers insist you use their app and get all awkward if you try to take their books elsewhere - meaning I actually have apps on my reader used entirely for books from one retailer. As a consequences, I try to buy books from these places as little as possible meaning I have the odd one or two books in tiny side apps that I can never ever find. It’s like trying to find a story in a library where the librarians have come up with an interesting new system that sorts books by the colour of their cover.

I’ve bought the book, or I’ve been given a book. I want to read it. Is it so much to ask?

Able to Use Different Devices

But while I want one app on my tablet to read my books - I also don’t want to be stuck with only my tablet. I may be different from most people, partly because I’m a reviewer, partly because I’m me (and therefore very very different indeed), but I don’t use one device to read books.

When writing up a review, having the book on my desktop computer is damn useful - I can copy and paste quotes, I can have the right sections and my notes right in front of me. I can even copy snarky bits of snarkiness directly from where I’ve written them when the line annoyed/amused me. It’s perfect

Most of the time I read on my tablet. Because it’s permanently attached to my hand and removing it will kill me. Yes yes it will. I love my tablet, everything I need in one shiny place - I definitely need my books there

Except when reading in direct sunlight (yes, the silly advert’s right, screen reflection is a pain on a tablet) or, because I have a bigger tablet, sometimes I need something smaller and more compact. So I have my kindle - as a bonus the kindle also has like 8 million years of battery life so, should the worst happen, and my using my tablet for 18 hours solid finally drains all the juice (yes, it happens, I regret nothing) I can still reach for the kindle and not be cut off from my library. Or from my notes - again, from a reviewing standpoint, having notes, highlights et al transfer between is really useful.

And for some of my books, that applies (the All Consuming Amazon). For most, it doesn’t. At least, not without me playing silly beggars with clouds, networks and generally making things far more complicated than my neanderthal grasp of technology can manage. We have technology! I want to be able to pick up any device and instantly go to the last page read, all of my snark intact!

Why make it difficult? This ease of access and transferability is why I am such a convert to ebooks and hardly ever touch paper any more; but when my tablet’s on charge and my library’s out of reach, I find myself looking at my dusty bookshelves with regret.


In allcaps for sheer rage. I hate PDF with a fiery passion. Not only do I hate PDF, but nearly every e-reading app out there hates PDF. It never fits the page, it never scrolls correctly, highlights and notes are normally slow or otherwise difficult; it’s a pain, it’s a nightmare - it’s certainly not a book.

I have a reached a point where I will send back ARCs sent to me in PDF; I am tired of fighting and struggling to read these damn things. The choice between tiny text or not seeing a full page, having to scroll around and odd freezes and not being able to record notes has done me in. Your book is not - cannot - be good enough to justify me putting up with this.

The only thing worse than PDF is PDF with DRM. Adobe editions or whatever the hell it calls it (I know someone’s going to rush in to tell me Aldiko can read this. It’s not true. It’s a lie, a dirty rotten lie told by marauding liars and monsters who kill kittens). You have more chance of reading ancient Etruscan than you have of reading a PDF protected by Adobe’s DRM. Alan Turing and his entire team of cryptologists couldn’t crack this thing. It should be a new event on the Krypton Factor - can you read DRM PDF! Except no-one would succeed.

After receiving one of these and fighting with the damn thing for 4 solid hours I had to send the book back unread; I resisted the urge to start screaming battle cries in the name of Thor and break things - just. Only just.

Page Numbers

I know this sounds like my eternal eccentricity, but I want my ereader to tell me how many pages there are in a book. You can give me “percentage to go” as well, you can tell me how many words are in it, but I understand page numbers, I’m used to page numbers. Page numbers are the difference between reading a 250 page book and a 600 page tome when you absolutely have to get a book finished by tonight.

It also saves me from being ripped off. I hear you gasping now “surely, you are not one of those dreadfully shallow people who judges a book on length!” And the answer is yes, yes I am - even though I can rant at length about how Dickens is an awful author because he was paid by the word. With an ebook I can’t just look and see what I’m getting - and while size is certainly no indication of quality, nor is it acceptable for a 90 page book to be sold as a “novel” or a 20 page pamphlet to be sold as a novella - with prices that suggest a full sized book. This is becoming more of an issue with ebooks simply because we don’t know what we’re buying and authors are seeing that they can sell those little edited out scraps that got cut from the original book.

Which is fine, by all means do so - so long as you also make it clear to those of us reaching for our credit cards exactly what it is we’re buying.
“Knock” by Frederick Brown, is said to be the shortest short story in the world. I have no complaints about that - so long as we’re not expected to shell out £5 for it, told we’re getting an actual book.

Extras Are Nice - Padding is Not

While I’ve seen this with paper books, it’s much more common (and lengthly) to get extras in ebooks; more about the author, short stories, snippets or prequels for the next book, lexicons, appendix, even extracts from other books by the same publisher. And generally I like this - more shinies is good (except the extracts from other books, because they feels like spam). But I also want it to take up less than 20% of the product I bought.

To draw a comparison - the edition of Hunted I have also includes the short story of Two Ravens One Crow. Excellent - it helps explain things in Hunted, it’s a fun read and it’s a nice little bonus addition. It takes up the tale end of my book as a sweet little surprise. Now compare that with Beauty that has a prequel for Kiss of the Dead - that takes up a full third of the book (I’ve been hard on Beauty so I feel a need to be fair - at no point does Beauty pretend to be other than what it is; it’s short and empty, but it’s not deceptive which is my complaint). This is when we step outside optional extras and reach a point of padding - the story isn’t long enough to justify its page count, so it’s time to stuff some extra in there. This amuses me not - it’s like getting a meal covered in a stone of parsley, and by the time you dredge through the garnish you find your actual food wouldn’t feed a dieting stoat.

A Padded E-reader Would be Nice, thought

Or possibly a padded room. One simply cannot throw one’s book across the room in abject disgust when it is contained in a £350 tablet. Well, you can - but you regret it.

What did I miss, folks? What do you want epublishes to change or bring to the table?