Sony Reader 101: Borrowing Public Library eBooks

August 29, 2009

This is a companion post to Sony Reader 101: If You Insist On Buying One…

Most public libraries use a system from OverDrive. This presents a semi-standardized user interface across public libraries offering eBooks, so the steps below detailing borrowing an ePub eBook from the New York Public Library will be similar at other public libraries. Here I am using Firefox 2.x as my browser.

Sign into the system:

eNYPL001
Click = big

As stated above, it requires the library card number and PIN you’ve supplied.

This is the entry screen shown at the NYPL site:

eNYPL002
Click = big

Here I will be going straight to my Wish List. This is a list of books I want to borrow, based on my browsing all 450+ ePubs at the NYPL site. You will love your Wish List because the OverDrive system is frustrating!

eNYPL003
Click = big

Above you can see the status of two eBooks I’ve highlighted. Request Item means that eBook is currently borrowed. Add to eList means that eBook is available for borrowing. I click on Add to eList and see this:

eNYPL005
Click = big

Once an eBook is in the eList, it’s off-limits to others at the NYPL for 30 minutes. If I don’t borrow it within that time period, it’s erased from the eList for others to borrow. I can go back to browsing, but this is a primer, so I click Proceed to Checkout and see this:

eNYPL007
Click = big

The NYPL offers three lending periods: 7, 14, or 21 days.

eNYPL008
Click = big

Once I’ve set it for 21 days, I click Confirm Checkout to get this:

eNYPL009
Click = big

If I’ve decided to borrow more than one eBook, this will be a list. NYPL offers a maximum of 12 eBooks at one time. Note: Each book will have its own Download button. That can mean clicking twelve Download buttons. There is no Download All option (yet?).

eNYPL010
Click = big

The download dialog box will appear. Note the file is URLlink.acsm — every eBook will have that name. This is not the eBook! It’s a link to Adobe’s content server. The eBook resides there, not at the local library. And this is very important: Have your options set to open with Sony’s eBook Library software. If you Save to Disk, you’ll be all bollixed. If that happens, just hit the Download button again and select Open with eBook Library.

eNYPL012
Click = big

The file — a small link — downloads in seconds and launches Sony’s eLibrary software:

eNYPL013
Click = big

Above look at the left panel. Status is highlighted in yellow. As the eBook is being downloaded from Adobe’s server directly to the Sony software, those arrows will spin. Once complete …

eNYPL014
Click = big

It will appear at the top of the list of eBooks. (Strangely, Sony’s software lists borrowed eBooks under a Purchased category, not Borrowed.) Double-clicking on it will open the eBook:

eNYPL015
Click = big

Yes, some eBooks actually lack covers. It’s a scandal!

Once the eBook is in the Sony eLibrary software, sync the Sony Reader to copy it over.


Sony Reader 101: If You Insist On Buying One…

August 29, 2009

Only God knows what changed in the zeitgeist recently. Suddenly the Sony Reader is Flavor of the Moment.

Even though it’s been able to do so for nearly two years, only now have the masses of people awakened to the fact that OMGZ!! You can borrow eBooks for free from a public library to read on the Sony Reader!!!111

I guess Sony is due credit for finally breaking through the wall that’s been holding them back.

Even though I’m no longer cheerleading the Axis of E.

Nevertheless, I guess I should be glad that electronic reading is gaining a foothold and that will pave the way to smart digital books that will be worth the money paid for them.

So, with that in mind, this is a mini-guide for all of you thinking of buying a Sony Reader, to get you all ready for that momentous day.

Here’s what to do:

1) It might be necessary to download and install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). Although in my own case, I’ve found that Sony’s newest eBook Library 3.0 software (below) now seems to take over all prior ADE functionality (including DRM — Digital Rights Management copy protection — and returning eBooks to the public library), that could be due to the fact I already had ADE installed on my PC. If not all Sony eBook Library functions work — like borrowing from a public library — then installing ADE would fix that. ADE will prompt you to register the software and authorize your desktop/notebook machine. Do so! This is required to enable your machine to deal with the necessary Adobe-provided copy-protection (DRM).

1b) Note: In Windows XP, ADE puts eBooks in My Documents->My Digital Editions

2) Download and install Sony eBook Library 3.0 software. There are links for both the Windows and Mac OS X versions. See Windows XP installation process in this prior post. Sony doesn’t bundle a CD-ROM of this software with the Reader, so you’ll have to download it later anyway. Best to get it out of the way ahead of time so you’ll be ready. Sony has a tutorial here. You do not have to set up a Sony eBookstore account to use the software. You can create that account anytime, when you want to actually purchase eBooks at Sony’s Store.

2b) Note: In Windows XP, Sony’s eBook Library puts eBooks in My Documents->My Books

2c) If you’re running Windows 7, you’ll have to employ a hack to get the software to run. I’m sure Sony will update it for Windows 7 at some point.

3) If you live in the United States, visit the Library Finder site. Enter your zip code to see if your nearby public library is offering Adobe DRMed ePub eBooks and Adobe DRMed PDF files. If it does, and you don’t have one already, visit your local library to get a library card — no borrowing eBooks without one. Your library card’s number and a PIN you supply are your login to the library’s site.

3a) Note: There’s been some confusion on this public library issue. You will be able to borrow eBooks only from your local library — not any library in the United States! Up until recently, many libraries offered non-resident cards. That window of opportunity has been closing. Part of this is due to the licensing restrictions for the eBooks available for borrowing.

3b) Note: Although the Sony Reader can do PDF reflow, it’s not a very satisfying experience. It’s a Better Than Nothing proposition and is barely tolerable for PDFs that are only text (such as fiction, or non-fiction that lacks charts and graphs). I expect most people will find PDF displeasing, but sometimes a library has only a PDF file of a book, not ePub.

4) This is a post that illustrates borrowing an ePub eBook from the New York Public Library (NYPL). This procedure will be similar for many public libraries that use the OverDrive system.

5) If you have a library card and have established that your local library has eBooks, then start browsing the library site for eBooks. Don’t be discouraged if most of the books have already been borrowed! First, you’ll most likely be able to place a Request. You’ll get an email when the book is available and will generally have 72 hours to go grab it. Second, your library site might have a Wish List capability. Just add the titles you want to borrow to that list. You’ll love your Wish List because searching — and even browsing — OverDrive is not fun!

6) When you find a book you want to borrow, you’ll be prompted to enter the duration of the lending period: 7, 14, or 21 days. Think carefully! Especially if you’re going overboard and taking out several books at once. If you take everything out for the maximum period, you’re depriving others from borrowing. eBooks are licensed by libraries on a per-copy basis, just like a set number of printed books are bought. It’s entirely possible for your library to have only one copy of each eBook. Most importantly: once you’ve read an eBook, return it! Don’t wait for the lending period to expire. Let others have their turn too.

6a) The one wonderful thing about borrowing public library eBooks: no more overdue fines! When the lending limit is reached, the eBooks “expire” (are locked up) and can be deleted. (Yes, you can go and borrow them again, although some libraries might impose a waiting period between consecutive loans.)

6b) Warning! For this post, I took out about 24 eBooks (NYPL’s 12-eBook limit, twice!) for a seven-day period, but returned them all in less than twenty-four hours (so others wouldn’t have to wait!). That flagged the OverDrive system (scroll down at that link) and a limit was placed on my account for several days. So, don’t cycle through a bunch of eBooks in less than seven days, as I did! If you’re a fast reader and gobble a book a day, let the books all expire on their own at the end of the seven days.

6c) ADE and Sony’s software handle borrowed eBooks differently. When an eBook is returned via Sony’s software, it also deletes the eBook from the hard drive. ADE does not. You must explicitly tell ADE to Delete the book or it will remain on the hard drive, taking up space, uselessly. Most likely, you’ll stick with Sony’s software to keep things simple.

7) Syncing eBooks between a desktop PC and a Reader does not move the eBooks from the desktop. They are copied. It’s still possible to read both on the desktop and the Reader (important if the Reader is lost, broken, or otherwise drops dead).

8) It’s not a particularly good idea to carry your entire eBook library in the Reader. This is because its memory can become corrupted. A sign of this is the Reader not turning off. The only solution is to erase everything and reformat the memory (see the User’s Guide links below). I know Sony brags about the capacity of the Reader, but that claim is to be taken with some salt until the time no one ever again posts about their Reader going FUBAR. Having a ton of eBooks on the Reader will mean a great big Restore syncing later on (remember: the eBooks are still on your desktop/notebook’s hard drive, so they haven’t been lost).

9) Back up your eBooks! Especially if you’ve bought them. It should be the case that every eBookstore should simply allow a purchaser to redownload eBooks, but this isn’t always the case. Back them up and preserve that monetary investment!

10) Sony does not include an AC charger with the Reader. That’s a separate purchase. Charging the battery via USB is a slow process. There’s a rumor of a cheaper Sony charger than the one sold for the Reader, but I hesitate to provide a link to it without yet knowing if it’ll work successfully with the new models, PRS-300 or PRS-600.

11) Which model? That’s up to you. I say go cheap. To help you decide, use these links:

PRS-300 eSupport page — has link for PDF of User’s Guide

PRS-600 eSupport page — has link for PDF of User’s Guide

Recently discontinued in the United States:
PRS-505 eSupport page — has link for PDF of User’s Guide

12) Should you buy used? That depends on the age of the unit. I say stay away from the original model, the PRS-500. Lithium batteries degrade over time, so the older the unit the more likely it is the battery will not hold a full charge.

13) No, you cannot buy eBooks from Amazon to read on the Sony Reader. The Kindle uses its own file format which is incompatible with the Sony Reader (as well as being incompatible with every other eBook reading device!).

14) No, you do not have to buy only from Sony’s eBook Store! Any bookstore that’s selling ePub-formatted eBooks will work on the Sony Reader. In fact, it pays to find and bookmark eBook stores to comparison shop. Some stores offer bargains from time to time. Some stores will also offer free eBooks too.

15) Bookmark Mobileread. That site’s forums are a goldmine of Sony Reader user information and expertise. Register to become a member. They can solve just about any problem you might run into. It’s faster than using Sony’s miserable Support system!

16) There are more free ePub eBooks than there are public library ePub eBooks. Don’t ignore them because they’re old or unknown or free. Why get less than full use out of the Sony Reader? Here are some places for free ePub eBooks:

ePubBooks.com
Feedbooks
Manybooks
Web Books — not all are ePub
Project Gutenberg*
Adobe Sample eBook Library — full eBooks and sample chapters
Baen Free Library — SF & fantasy
Finding Free eBooks — not all are ePub
eBooks Just Published — not all are free or ePub
Smashwords — not all are free or ePub

*Note: Project Gutenberg ePubs too often have a lot of frontmatter to page through before getting to the story!

Note: Some sites will state “Sony Reader format.” That’s very different than ePub. Ideally, look for ePub. But if that’s not available, then take “Sony Reader format.”

Any questions or additional tips? Leave them in the Comments.


Nano-Fondle: Sony Reader PRS-300

August 29, 2009

J&R had in the three colors of the new Sony Reader PRS-300. I did a quick fondle of it.

PRS300

First, let’s get that Rose Red color out of the way: It’s PINK! Some photos showed it approaching actual red, but it’s not. It’s a nauseating, vulgar pink! It’s even lighter than the above image. It’s a shame Sony didn’t reprise the luscious Sangria Red of the 505.

Second, the other two colors: Navy Blue and Silver. The Navy Blue is better than the Dark Blue of the 505. It actually looks Navy Blue, and not black. I like this blue better than the 505’s. The Silver is still silver, although it doesn’t have the gloss of the 505’s Silver. I came away with the impression: Navy Blue = Corporate, Silver = Machine.

This thing is made primarily of plastic. The front is aluminum — but the matte color finish makes it feel like plastic. The back is all plastic. The strip that runs along the side and top/bottom is glaringly plastic. Did it feel cheap? No. But it did feel as if it was really pushing that $199.00 price tag to the limit.

My initial impression was one of weight. It felt dense and heavy. Heavier than I expected to be. It’s also thick. I was very surprised by its thickness. The 505 was thin and sleek. How did Sony manage to pork it up? This might be uncomfortable to carry in a jacket pocket — especially with the added weight and thickness of the slipcover or optional flip-cover. Though YMMV, as they say.

Sony has deleted the wonderful lower left-corner page turning button in favor of the 4-way in the center. I didn’t find it particularly onerous to use the new control. But given my past fondles of the Readers with the corner control, it took some getting used to doing things so differently.

Two things about this new button scheme:

1) You’ll need a second hand to set a Bookmark. No way will your thumb be able to crawl over to hit that Bookmark button without the risk of dropping the Reader.

2) Man, having a fold-over cover on the PRS-300 is going to be Teh Suck! Because your thumb is no longer at the bottom left to keep that cover standing up. With your thumb in the center, that damned cover is going to flap down and be annoying as all hell. So, you can either hold it in one hand to prop up the cover and change pages with the other, or be annoyed over and over again by the flapping cover.

It’s a laggy little beast! To me, it seemed as if Sony took the original slower 500 and repackaged it with more memory in a smaller form factor. The CPU specs seem to bear this out:

Sony PRS-500: FreeScale Dragonball MC9328MXL (ARM920T core, 200MHz)

Sony PRS-300: Freescale i.MXL MC9328MXLVP20 (ARM920T core, 200MHz)

It felt slower than the 505 to me. Books opened slower and the first pages turned noticeably slower than moving several pages in. It seemed as if it was still loading the book or still waking up. This caused the 4-way button to seem unresponsive at times — and when it finally kicked in, I wound up overshooting the page I was aiming for and going two and even three pages past!

The eInk was … eInk. I didn’t see much difference than the 505’s screen. Blacks were dark and grayscale images were OK — in terms of eInk.

Sony used to bundle several free eBook samples on the Reader. All of them would be excerpts from recent books, to entice you to buy them. Sony includes eleven freebies on this — but they are in English, German, and French! I suppose this reflects the new internationality of the Reader and it saves Sony additional effort to cater to each region. Not all of these are recent for-pay books, either. Only one of the English ones was recent (if my memory is correct, it was The Strain by Guillermo del Toro). Two of the French books were freebies from Feedbooks! — one by Dumas, one by Stendahl.

What I found interesting about the samples was the strangeness of the typeface size. Feedbooks looked simply gorgeous at the Small font setting. It looked like a mass-market paperback page, with lots of type on the page. A BBeB eBook at Small setting had type that was twice as large as the Feedbooks text at the same setting. I don’t know what accounted for that.

I didn’t test for things such as glare or viewing angle. I was too busy moving around the wrong way due to the new 4-way navigation system. I also didn’t pop into Settings or anything other than the sample books. This was a nano-fondle — and at that it took a good ten minutes due to having to “unlearn” my prior Reader button use.

If you want to fondle the PRS-300 head to J&R in lower Manhattan. I hear that SonyStyle at 55th Street has both the PRS-300 and PRS-600 out for fondling too.

My verdict is to hold off buying this until Apple’s September 9th announcement. I still expect an iPod Touch with a six-inch screen to be unveiled. At even triple the price of this, it’d be a better buy in so many ways.

UPDATE: It didn’t hit me til later. The PRS-300 lacks Rotation. Every model of the Sony Reader has been able to rotate the screen 90-degrees, which was helpful for wide PDF files. The PRS-300 lacks that feature.

SECOND UPDATE: Yes, there is Rotation. This is from the Owner’s Manual:

PRS-300Rotate

It’s now using a different button and it’s also under Settings, which I already stated I failed to check.