Stanza

I wrote on wanting the new Kindle 2 before, but in the meantime I have been using the iPod Touch as a book reader. When I first got the iPod Touch is was before they had the 2.0 version of the software that allowed applications.  So previously I had read some books on the iPod by sending them as a PDF to my mail account and then opening it and reading it on the iPod Touch.  Not a very elegant solution, but it worked.  When apps became available for the iPod Touch several book readers became available and from what I had read the free app Stanza was one of the better ones.  Though because I had a stack of books to read on my bookshelf I never got around to putting it through the paces.

About two weeks ago I finished everything that I had to read and so decided to see if Stanza was a usable ebook reader.  There are multiple ways to get content for Stanza.  You can do it directly from the iPod Touch via Wi-Fi by accessing the various ebook services listed in the Stanza’s catalog.  This of course includes access to public domain books via Project Gutenberg.  Though there are also a variety of content that you can buy.  This is what I was most curios about and I found that there was a large amount of ebooks available for download from these stores.  Most newer books seem to be available, but whether you will find specific authors is largely hit or miss.

I did find a large selection of books that were on my wish list and so did buy and download a book to test out.  For my first test I bought one directly via the iPod Touch which was a fairly straightforward process using a credit card and it did not take long before I had downlaoded it to the iPod Touch and I  was reading it.  The second book I bought I accessed the website via my computer.  Whether you buy it online via a computer or the iPod Touch/iPhone they go to the same bookshelf online and are accessed in the same location on the iPod Touch/iPhone. The books are in Secure eReader format and once downloaded and opened you have to enter your name and credit card number since the books use DRM tied directly to the user.  Stanza also has a desktop app available for multiple operating systems that allow you to transfer some ebook formats on your computer to your iPod Touch/iPhone.  You can also convert PDF files, and of course html and text files via the Stanza app to your device.

The reading experience via Stanza is really quite good.  In fact I found it quite a good experience. Once you have your book downloaded and selected it reading it is quite simple.  To turn a page you simply touch the right side of the screen to advance  or left side to go back a page.  Clicking on the bottom shows you where you are in the book or allows you to select a different chapter.  You can also change the display options for the text, but the default settings were fine for me.  As with most iPod Touch/iPhone apps it is easy using the touch screen to increase/decrease font size.  A good book reader does not get in the way, and Stanza is certainly a good book reader. It does not take long before you are just reading and not thinking at all about the mechanics of the reader.  I really enjoyed the experience especialy with the automatic bookmarking so that you always return to where you left off.  It is also great for bedtime reading since you don’t need a book light and can hold the device one handed with no fatigue.  After a while you can even control the device one handed by tapping the screen with your thumb to advance a page.  Whether you would enjoy the experience comes down to personal preference. I found though that I prefer this method for reading a book – especially fiction where you would not be marking it up. It is also nice to be able to always have your book with you so you could just start reading anywhere and anytime you felt like it.

The pricing of these books is not very consistent and is all over the map.  New books are a lower price than their hardcover version, but not significantly lower.  Books that are currently available in paperback are also pretty close to the paperback price for the most part.  There are also some large inconsistencies in pricing. For example the first book I bought was book 2 of the Dresden Files series which cost $7.99.  When I finished this book and wanted the third book in the series the pricing was $15.99 even though other later books in the series were $6.99 and $7.99. This was not just an isolated example, but an example of the inconsistent pricing I found.  I was quite suprised to find the high cost of many ebooks.  Publishers are hurting themselves with their pricing model. An ebook of course requires no paper costs, transportation costs, etc – and so material costs are greatly reduced.  When you finish an ebook you can’t sell, lend it, or take it to a used book store since the DRM prevents this.  So to have an ebook to be very close in pricing to the paper eqivalent makes no sense at all. A 1 – 3 dollar discount for the ebook version is ridiculous considering the cost saving the publisher save by not printing a book.  Though most of the ebook stores do some kind of reward system.  For example when you buy a book depending on how much it cost you get a dollar to a couple of dollars credit that will be taken off automatically when you purchase your next book.

The pricing model for Amazon’s Kindle catalog is much better with brand new books costing usually not more than $9.99. Amazon has done it right with a much better and more realistic pricing model.  I would love the ability to be able to buy Kindle format books to read on the iPod Touch/iPhone. There have been some indication that Amazon is going to make Kindle format books available on other platforms.  Though it might be that they mean that they will allow you to use books you bought via the Kindle device to be shared on other mobile platforms. I do hope that you can buy Kindle format books without even having the Kindle device.  It would seem to me that the good business model is with the books themselves and not whatever money they make on indiviual (and pricey) Kindles.

I am on my 4th book using Stanza and this has certainly become part of my book reading mix.  It is quite convenient to be able to just download a book when you want it. Maybe one day book publishers will learn from the music industry when it comes to Digital Rights Management.  DRM is a block for the user when they can’t access content they buy via the device they want to use.