Adding Free Ebooks to the Kobo Reader (or a look at Ebook piracy)
The ebook scene is a different animal then the music scene. Name an album and I can almost guarantee that you we'll be able to find an illicit copy of it somewhere. Conversely name a book. Let's say a current book on the Globe and Mail best seller list. Now, I can almost guarantee you that you'll be hard pressed to find an illicit copy of that book somewhere. The genie is out of the bottle on the MP3 scene but content providers aren't letting the same thing happen with the EPUB scene. Why? DRM mostly but I'm also guessing other facts play a part: market fragmentation, pirates don't read, lack of a clear winner in the ebook file format wars... but I digress.
Free ebooks are out there
First and foremost you don't need to resort to piracy to get ebooks. Plenty of legit, public domain books can be downloaded and added to your Kobo without the pang of guilt. Here is a short top list:
Project Gutenberg - This site provides an extensive collection of digitized classics available in a variety of formats. Currently the site has about 33,000 titles and chances are, if it's a classic, you'll be able to find it here in a variety of different formats.
Internet Archive - The IA has a huge collection of digitized materials that come from a large number of different sources. Once again this is a collection of public domain works, so you might only be able to find older material. If you look though it shouldn't take long to find something interesting.
Epubbooks - This site is also a collection of mostly public domain books but it benefits from having nice cover images and pleasing smooth fonts.
Adding Gutenberg Books to your Kobo
You'll find the procedure for adding these ebooks to your Kobo really straight forward:
1. Download your ePub File
Mmm... Math based Sci Fi Romance
Not Every Book has an ePub Version
2. Plug in your Kobo
Yup, it'll work in Linux
3. Drag and Drop the File
It doesn't matter what folder but root is good enough
4. Eject & Read
Wow, those Gutenberg books have great cover art..
Back to eBook Piracy
I can see how content providers want to protect their investments. I can also see how an author wants to be compensated for their effort, but ebooks might not take off because of crippling DRM, lack of a standard open format, and no real price incentives. Leaving piracy as an only alternative...
Take for instance DRM... you buy an ebook, unlock it, and you only have limited access to what you can do with the digital version. I mean you bought it, not leased it, why can't you do what you want with it? Even iTunes sells music without pesky DRM. Why can't you get an ebook without it?
How about ebook formats? At last check there were 26 different ebook formats listed on Wikipedia. That makes for a particularly difficult choice of ebook platforms and software for the average reader. I'm casting my vote for ePub with my purchase of the Kobo but who's to say that MobiPocket won't be the winner in the end. (As long as the PDF doesn't win I'll be happy)
How about price incentives? Here's the paper version of the popular The Girl Who Played With Fire. The ebook version is actually 50 cents more... Granted there is a bit of a markdown on the list price for both versions but would you pay 50 cents more for a version of the book that isn't restricted in any way? I would. To me, this means that the cost of producing a paper book is negligible and a non factor. Which seems counter intuitive. I don't get a specific break on the price because I'm getting an electronic version instead of paper. I'm at a loss to explain how this happens. In amongst all this discussion of piracy and compensation I'm reminded of Lawrence Lessig. He's posted every book he's ever written free and online through his site. He's mentioned that it has actually driven up sales of his works.
Here's the most pragmatic calculation I could devise:
If you tie down an ebook with loads of DRM and sell it for 10 bucks a piece you'll be lucky to sell let's say 100 copies creating a revenue of $1000. Say that book is pirated and distributed to 100,000 people, if only 1% of those people end up buying the book at some point you're still generating the same revenue and a lot more people have read the book (or skimmed it at least) getting the author more exposure, increasing the chances that the book will be turned into a movie... etc.
I guess what I'm saying is that MP3 piracy kicked off a lot of things; digital music sales, new distribution methods for music, and (finally) competitive prices for music. Ebooks needs a similar kick start, not to say piracy is the answer but maybe the removal of DRM is a good first step and an act of good faith. CNN has said that the age of Ebook piracy is now upon us, however there also is evidence to show that removing DRM increases book sales. I'm not sure exactly how the future will go with ebooks and print books but it would be easier to call if DRM wasn't in the picture.