I migrated to the ultra-convenience of e-books when I received a Kindle for Christmas of ’08 and progressed from carrying around the Kindle to reading solely on my iPhone for over a year. Always having a few books with you without having to actually carry books is really an amazing thing, and the convenience of being able to shop for, purchase and be reading a new book in 2 minutes from bed on a lazy Saturday morning is magical. I didn’t have much of a problem reading for hours on the iPhone’s 2″x4″ screen; it’s not ideal but it’s a reasonable trade-off for the benefits of always having your personal library with you. After getting an iPad last Christmas and downloading the Kindle app, my Kindle experience was just about perfect (ironically without an actual Kindle). My remaining problem though is that I read a lot of fiction and I don’t see any reason to own most fiction books after I read them once. My pre-Kindle routine was to head to the library, check over the new books, usually winding up with a couple, and then browse the shelves and pull a few more books. I usually wouldn’t read every book I borrowed, but I’d use the library’s web site to renew a few times and generally get through 2-3 books every month. Now that I was buying every book through Amazon I became much more targeted with my reading, and since I no longer had the stack of books with the ticking clock of the library loan sitting on my nightstand, my tongue-in-cheek summary of my Kindle experience is that now I read less and spend more money on books.
I recently discovered that my local library system was now lending ebooks using Adobe’s Digital Right’s Management platform, and after a few Google searches I learned that Bluefire made an iPhone and iPad ebook reader that was compatible with Adobe DRM. I set about downloading it and going through the steps of getting it to work and quickly discovered again why the Kindle and the accompanying amazon Kindle store have been so successful: it’s a lot of work to get a book onto your iPhone when compared to the Kindle. With Bluefire first you have to get the app, then you have to open an Adobe account, then download the book to a computer running both Adobe Digital Editions and iTunes, move the file into ITunes and then sync it to your iPhone or iPad to get the file transferred. The quality of the reader itself is great, but since it sits locally on the reader, besides the complications in getting your ebook onto the reader, there is no syncing between devices so when you switch between your iPhone and iPad you have manually catch up to your latest page. It is a way to accomplish reading library books on your iPad, but the complicated process made it only complementary to my Kindle app and not a replacement. Also there is much larger problem with transitioning to primarily reading library books on your iPad that I will discuss later in this post.
In February I learned that Overdrive, the company whose software powers my library’s ebooks system had released a reader for the iPhone and iPad that could natively handle the browsing and checkout process from the library’s site, and download the book directly to my device. Their first iteration of the software simply stretched the iPhone reader display to the size of the iPad at the same resolution, making it very hard on the eyes, but in March they released an update that has native iPad support that solved that problem. So now I have the convenience of getting library books directly to my device on a lazy Saturday morning, and the only thing technically that I’m giving up is automatic syncing between devices and all should be well… but it’s not.
The biggest problem now is that finding available books at the library is an absolute bear. In my library system as of today there are approximately 2100 EPUB books in inventory, but only about half of them are available for checkout. Finding available titles for popular authors is nearly impossible. For example there are 5 Michael Connelly books in inventory, but all are checked out. There are 10 Lee Child titles but none are available. You can place a hold on an unavailable book and the system will notify you when it available and hold it for a period of time for you to check it out, but that process runs counter to the ultra-convenience I want from eBooks.
My overall conclusion is that Amazon has done a phenomenal job with their Kindle system, the Overdrive Media Console app almost replicates the Kindle experience, but the scarcity of eBook content from the public library is a big enough hurdle to keep me using my Kindle app on my iPad. Except for the occasions I feel up to battling it out with my fellow digital library patrons for the right to read about Jack Reacher’s oh-so-satisfying vigilante justice for free.