This post is born of frustration: it is the good sort of frustration however. You know – that feeling of being overwhelmed by choice in a sea of options, and all seem like good ways to go.
So it is with ebook readers. There are so many out there, and many of them are good, if not downright fantastic. But, there are variations in how they work, and the features they provide, so I will describe a few of these and some of their pros and cons. No doubt I will miss some good options – so apologies up front for that – but perhaps I will make it up to you with good discussion.
When thinking about ebooks, there are a number of key business drivers to have in mind. Are you concerned with selling collections of ebooks to institutions? Are you looking to provide a mechanism for individual sale of ebooks to your customers directly through an app? Do you have any special needs around your content? For example, here at the American Mathematical Society, authors create in LaTeX. We want ePub3, which means we can use MathML. We would love to deploy MathJax, but we also need to provide high quality MathML, and are in fact close to solving this puzzle. Where are ebook readers on rendering MathML? What about good old PDFs? How do you sell your ebooks? What kind of ecommerce do you need? Are you concerned about applying DRM, or not?
That was a whole paragraph of questions, which does not even begin to address comparing the effectiveness of each platform, along with their associated costs.
So let’s take a look some options:
With Kindle, you are of course a part of the Amazon jungle. You can find Kindle everywhere – a brand known to anyone interested in ebooks. You can access the platform through Amazon’s own Kindle devices, or on any other device through a Kindle App. When you join Kindle you know that you will receive built in emarketing. Sometimes irritating, sometimes plain brilliant, you know that if you buy a book, a plethora of similar books will be suggested to you for possible follow-up purchase from an enormous library of options. Kindle does not really cost to join, but boy do those discounts hurt publishers. Technically speaking, Kindle is somewhat anachronistic. You have to convert to their format, and that process is not always smooth. Just try running PDFs through on the Kindle – an awful result. And forget about math content. Feature-wise, Kindle is superb, with syncing of your place in the book across devices you may be using, and other reader friendly tools that are now perhaps the benchmark for the industry. Kindle is also providing accessibility features to enable use of the reader by visually impaired or blind customers.
Bluefire is an interesting and evolving company. They specialize in providing ebooks for all platforms in both EPB and PDF formats. They also work hand in hand with Adobe Content Server 4 digital rights management (DRM), so if you are interested in DRM protection they are worth a shot. They are technologically forward thinking, though not yet able to render math content. Feature-wise, Bluefire is top-notch. It supports such things as location synchronization, reading brightness, font size management, night mode and so on, all designed for an enhanced reading experience. They are not inexpensive to set up – though this is an area of confusion as there seems to be a lack of consistency on what represents good value for money in this arena.
Ebooks.com is perhaps less visible, but nevertheless as effective as, say, Kindle and Bluefire combined. They have a bookstore, with multiple publishers available, and appear to be active in a range of academic disciplines, though perhaps somewhat more focused than Kindle. The reader is available for the full range of device operating systems as well as online. They are good with PDF and EPUB, and there are plentiful features for the reader. You can do all the things that you can with Kindle or Bluefire that I mentioned above and, like Bluefire, DRM can be applied through Adobe software. You can keep your bookshelf across platforms, which is one of the things that is so good about Kindle – not having to fuss with going through your iTunes Library first.
This is a reader from Impelsys, Inc. iPublish Central is flexible in terms how you can organize content as a publisher, with collections for institutions in one portal with COUNTER 4 compliance and a suite of analytics tools, and sales to individuals via an app across devices. They have proprietary DRM if required, and synchronization across devices available when online. They are forward thinking, and while not yet handling complex math, are investigating possible avenues toward math rendering. For an academic publisher looking to manage both institutional and individual sales from a central approach, iPublishCentral looks like an intriguing option.
Tizra is possibly the most interesting of the options out there. While much of the emphasis on ebooks is in the dedicated ereader app, there is also a case for considering the use of ebooks via a web browser. Tizra is web based, and allows for a publisher to build its presence across different types of community, like iPublish Central. You get design control, and a significant degree of technological flexibility, for example turning your content into granular chapters or other customs products. The whole approach is to flexible downloading of content with access rules that the publisher applies. As a publisher, I find it appealing to think that by delivering books through a browser, I may avoid the pitfalls of “walled gardens”. It may be easier to have your content discovered, rather than buried in an app store. Of course, as we can see above, every ereader app is different. In principle web based publishing allows readers to look across all their content using a familiar web browser. A solution like Tizra also holds out the possibility of working with complex content such as math, allowing for the use of MathJax for rendering MathML in an online environment. Of course, all of this means you have to be connected, and are we really there yet?
This is a confusing landscape, but if you are like me, and enjoy shopping, then times are good!