A few years ago, after hearing about Amazon's questionable business practices, I decided to close my account and boycott their shop. That decision meant I had to either find some alternatives to their systems and services, or build my own. There were some alternatives, but owning your own process is usually better.
Finding books without Amazon
I'd always been aware of the issues with DRM and digital goods, such as books, music and computer games. (What's DRM?) After closing my Amazon account I began looking for providers that sold DRM-free products. I found quite a few, and this led me to compile a list of DRM-free bookshops I found along the way.
I actively maintain the list, and it now features both book and comic shops. It provides information about the types of titles they sell, the genres they cover and which formats their books are available in. It's seen quite a bit of traffic over the last 3 years and I'll continue to update it as I find more DRM-free bookshops to add.
Along with the list of bookshops, I also write articles on certain books I've really enjoyed. Called DRM-free Finds, the series details what drew me to those particular books and why I really liked them. Ensuring I only buy DRM-free titles helps me find some hidden gems that may not be as obvious in the major bookshops.
There are some great books out there that deserve more attention. This list is an attempt at a remedy.
Recording my reading activity
Shelfari was the first site I registered with to record my reading activity. Remember them? When they sold themselves to Amazon in 2008, I jumped ship to Goodreads. Guess what happened next... Yes, Amazon bought Goodreads too. Earlier this year, Amazon closed down Shelfari to concentrate their efforts.
Fewer book-related sites is not a good thing. Especially if the remaining sites are owned by a large (if not the largest) book seller on the planet. Variety and different ways of doing things ensure a rich and vibrant industry. Without that vibrancy, you end up with monopolies that dictate direction and, eventually, what you can read.
Sometimes you just have to do things yourself. That's why Libreture was born.
To quote Libreture's About page:
"While the increased freedom of choice in purchasing e-books is a wonderful thing, it can cause some issues when managing your collection. Firstly, trying to remember where you bought the latest reads and where you need to go to re-download them is a problem. Secondly, sharing favourite bookshops with others - demonstrating that there is more to e-books than Amazon - can be difficult without the sharing tools prevalent in large online shops."
Libreture is where I record my reading activity. Each book I've read, plan to read, am currently reading and have given up on is listed there. Well, the ones can I remember, anyway.
Each book has it's own page, detailing where you can buy it in a DRM-free format. (The bookshops that populate this list come directly from my DRM-free bookshops list.) It records if I own the book and which reading list it's in.
All Libreture's data, except ownership, is available to the public. I've even linked reviews from across the web with the books they cover, including my DRM-free Finds posts.
Need to know where a book is available to buy in a DRM-free format? Want to browse books by a particular author? Or just being nosy about what I'm reading? Try Libreture.
Storing my books
If you only buy your e-books from a single online shop, there's a good chance that all your purchases are stored in a kind of online library. Somewhere that lists all the books you've bought from that particular shop, perhaps with some tools to manage them or to download them to your reading device.
Buying my books from a variety of shops and not storing them with a particular e-reader company meant I needed a new solution. Somewhere to hold my ePub files and make them available to download from my e-reader's web browser. This is the part of the puzzle I'm still working on.
I've built a site called ePub Library that displays details from the purchased e-books I've uploaded. It's ugly and only just works, but dammit, I like it.
Once I'm happy with it, I'll add a log-in feature so that I can identify myself to the site and enable a Download button to access my books from my e-reader. Or any web-connected device, for that matter.
You might be wondering what these three systems have in common and what they have to do with Scarlet Ferret. Well, together they represent the roadmap for Scarlet Ferret's Technology Strategy - to improve three key areas:
- Finding e-books
- Buying e-books
- Accessing e-books
People like Emma Barnes are already working on the Publisher end of the book business. Producing tools like Bibliocloud, building the Snowbooks bookshop and promoting a better awareness of technology to publishing companies is already paying off.
At the moment, I'm specifically concerned with the reader experience, author pay and sustainability, and the consumer-rights issues around DRM. I believe each of these, to varying degrees, is dependent on how we discover, buy, manage and access our e-books.
By streamlining the reader experience with an independent bookshop, I hope to demonstrate what's possible outside of a large corporation and provide tools for others to take up and expand the work. In turn, a more robust, anti-monopolistic and sustainable book ecosystem, supported by independent presses, publishers and sellers could empower authors and provide readers with what they want: easy ways to find and read great books.
So, if you don't mind, I'll get back to work.