Dip Into eBook Waters

Are you curious about ebooks and ereaders, but haven’t yet tried them out? I only recently started consuming books electronically (I know, hard to believe for such a die-hard tech fan), and I have to report that the experience has been mostly favorable. For me, the best feature of ebooks is portability – if you are traveling with limited space, it is much easier to stow 4 or 5 electronic novels than it is to find precious space for the same number of paperbacks. Synced bookmarking across devices, search, instantaneous dictionary look-up and notation features are also useful and unique to the ebook experience.

But maybe you aren’t sure. There is some cost involved in the purchasing of a Kindle or similar device, as well as in the downloading of electronic copies of your favorite books.

For the uncertain, there is a decent option – scour out free ebooks and readers to see if screen-reading is for you. For the classics, there is no better source for free ebooks than Project Gutenberg (link here). They were the first and still are the best. You can pull Project Gutenberg books directly into your iDevice using the Stanza iphone or ipad app (link here), which, by the way, is also free. Free books. Free app. And, for what it is worth, reading on the iPhone was surprisingly more manageable than I would have guessed. Project Gutenberg’s books are free in the U.S. because the copyright has expired on them (hence their uniformly “classic” nature), but this may not be true outside of the U.S., so search accordingly.

Another option is sign-up site Wowio (link here). Wowio is not limited to classics – you can find modern titles. How do they do it? Wowio uses sponsors who will cover the cost of the ebooks in order to earn your business. Wowio has a special bent towards comics, so check out their selections if like pictures with your words.

Looking for technical ebooks? Check out PDFCHM.net (link here).  Want to step into a virtual public library? Check out World Public Library (link here). With more than 750,000 ebooks in over 100 languages, there should be SOMETHING in there to read. While it is technically not free, the $8.95 annual membership price is paltry compared to what I spend during my average trip to Borders or Barnes & Noble.

Of course, there is always the controversial Google Books database (link here). While paid and free are mixed in this monumental database, the older the volume, the more likely you will find free material. Or check out the offerings at ManyBooks (link here), where you might find more recent free materials.

After pulling your books down from the internet onto your desktop, consider loading the free Calibre app (link here), to organize and sort them. You can even convert their formats to different ereader standards, which can be very helpful. Calibre is not the most intuitive software to use, but if you are persistent, you can manage its tricks. If you are all about organizing, take the time to fill in each book’s metadata, such as author, publisher, etc., so that you can later browse your burgeoning collection more effectively.

One issue you may find frustrating is that there are several different ebook formats (and DRM issues for paid books) that may make using a single reader difficult in the long haul. Calibre does offer book format conversions to a point. The free iPhone / iPad Stanza app works with ePub, eReader, PDF, CBR, and DjVu formats. If you are simply trying out ebooks and have an iDevice, then I recommend downloading Stanza and then browsing free sources like Project Gutenberg from within the Stanza app to download and go from there. If you find yourself loving ebooks, then you may ultimately choose a dedicated reader like the Kindle or Nook, or start using the very slick iBooks (also free) reader and integrated book store on your iDevices. The syncing of books and data across my iPad and iPhone was a pretty cool feature, particularly as my voracious reading wore down the battery of one device.  

All in all, I have been positive on my own ebooks foray. I definitely look forward to the day when I can combine my technical and leisure reading on a single, feature packed device, with search and download rendered so intuitive I barely need to think about issues such as conversion, metadata, organization and multiple formats. But, for now, the experience still works well enough to justify dedicating a measure of your time to trying it out.