In preparation for getting my Kindle, and because I hate delaying gratification, I spent a few hours downloading ebooks yesterday. It is, I have to say, a hugely time-consuming process. However, as I have no shortage of time, that’s not a problem.
First step was installing Amazon’s Kindle for PC software, to stash downloads from the Amazon Kindle Store (as it turned out, I didn’t have to – Amazon would have archived them – oh well).
So, over the course of the late afternoon-early evening, I downloaded 51 books from Amazon (one volume contains 32 books), ranging from Ambrose Bierce to Mark Twain, via John Muir, HP Lovecraft, and the last Terry Pratchett book, for a total outlay of under a tenner (the Pratchett was £3.40, another about £2.20, and the four other chargeables 74p, the rest freebies).
I’d also bookmarked a bunch of sites promising free ebooks. Most were worthless – but there are plenty more to check out – but this one worked out well, and I got another 20 books from there.
It’s all good stuff too – books I read when I was younger, and no longer have, and those I should have read but didn’t**, plus a decent leavening of books which are new to me.
**That is to say should have because the subject matter appeals to me, not because they are among the books that one is expected to read pretty much because everyone else does, or because they win a prize, because that way lies disappointment. I read books for entertainment, to take me to another place for a few hours, not because they might be good for me or because they are – by some mysterious alchemy – “worthy”. There’s a widespread feeling, too, that novels are a superior art form to genre books like, for example, s-f, which is the most pretentious bilge imaginable. There is only ever one reason for reading a book (unless you’re still in education, where you get books foisted upon you), and that’s for the pleasure they bring you.
Let me tell you a story. My ex taught English to A level and, when we met she was 32 and had never, in her life, read a book just for the simple pleasure of it. Not one – and that’s pretty bloody sad. I wound up teaching her to read for pleasure, putting together reading lists from my own books.
Then we split up and didn’t meet again for 18 years, and guess what – she didn’t own a single book. Not one. I just don’t understand that, but I do understand the cause – being compelled to read books that are “worthy” or “improving” and, later, reading to be pushed into a career she hated, and which removed every atom of pleasure from the act of reading. No wonder she had no inbuilt desire to read just for the hell of it.
Anyway, I digress, and I’m sure you’ve figured out that I have 71 books and, hey, here’s the kicker – they take up not a single cubic millimetre of space. And that’s why I ordered a Kindle.
71 books is 2, maybe 3, bookcase shelves, which I just don’t have (the problem is compounded by the fact that I can’t use the bottom shelves of the bookcases I have – can’t bend down).
There is another advantage to ebooks. How often have you been struck by a title, only to find the book within rubbish, or vice-versa? With free ebooks, you can take a chance, and it doesn’t matter if you wind up with a gem or a table-leg leveller, it will have cost you nothing, nor will it clutter up the place, having no physical existence.
A caveat – on the Kindle Store, there is, among the hundreds of freebies, a huge amount of dross, so just searching free books will not impress you, unless you have amazingly low standards. The way to get the quality freebies is to search by author, or by subject, then filter the listings by price, low to high, which will, of course, put the freebies first.
Be aware, though, that the Kindle Store is something of a shambles, and no matter what your search criteria, it will present you with page after page of irrelevant crap, especially if your sort by Price: low to high. Doing that for, say, Stephen King. will get you 9 pages of irrelevance before the first King book appears, and I don’t know how many more – I gave up – that have pages of dross with maybe one King book among it, before you actually get to the King section proper. It’s the same throughout.
The same quality caveat applies to pretty much any website offering free ebooks, as there is a huge body of out-of-copyright work that people have busily been converting to ebooks and, very often, you do find yourself wondering why they bothered.
Then you’ll find a whole bunch of get-rich-quick schemes, based on downloading free ebooks and selling them on. But here’s the thing – anything that looks to good to be true usually is, and if the books are actually any good, why are they giving them away?
The non-Amazon books I’ve downloaded are mostly in PDF format, which the Kindle accepts. Others are in RTF, which I can convert to PDF using PDF Creator.
I also have a piece of software called Calibre, which claims to be able to convert an assortment of formats into the Kindle’s native formats, though I haven’t tried it yet.
From what I’ve seen on Amazon, book prices are reasonable, but I want to buy a few cheap books from other sources, in varying formats, to see how well Calibre works and just what the Kindle can be persuaded to accept.
Amazon says that the formats are:-
Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion (via Amazon).
No idea why it won’t accept DOC (Word) files natively, that makes no sense, not least because I have a small collection of books I’ve downloaded into Word files. However, it’s very easy to convert them into PDF files. As I said previously, converting books to PDF rather than, say, TXT, is preferable, because it preserves the formatting.
So far, then, I’m impressed with the availability of free ebooks, and the prices of those I’ve paid for (though if there’s a swing to ebooks, it’s going to damage the second-hand book market). I’ve bought a lot of them from Green Metropolis where 5p from every sale goes to the Woodland Trust, and it’ll really put a dent in my purchases from them; I doubt I’ll stop buying real books entirely, but I’ll certainly buy a lot fewer.
I reckon, too, that it’s only a matter of time before the file-sharing police try to clamp down on people sharing or giving away ebooks they’ve finished with. However, as people have always lent and given away books, I don’t see why ebooks should be treated any differently. Somebody will try though…
NB – ebooks are subject to VAT, paper books are not, so there clearly is an intention that ebooks will be treated differently to paper. We’ll just have to wait and see how far that extends.