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It’s half-past April. Do you know where your seasons are?

One of ours is missing. My nephew Brian and I woke up this morning to find a blanket of snow on Alles Street, and while Carol out in Crystal Lake reported less, it seems like everybody in greater Chicago got whitened sometime during the night.

So it was a good day to stay inside and continue my ongoing struggle with malformed epubs. I created a number of them a few years back when the epub format was new and the tools barely past primordial, and I’ve been meaning to fix their innards for awhile now. The tools are better these days. One I upgraded just this morning was Sigil, a (mostly) WYSIWYG editor designed specifically for epub-formatted ebooks. Version 0.3.4 (released March 8, 2011) is a huge improvement on 0.2.1, which I’d been using for some time, and if you haven’t upgraded yet, go for it.

Sigil 0.3.4 provided my first look at FlightCrew, an epub format validator created by the Sigil team to do a better job of what the EPubCheck utility does: Test to see if an EPub file is intact, structurally complete, and internally consistent. FlightCrew is installed with Sigil and can be invoked by clicking a button in the Sigil UI. It detects more problems than EPubCheck does, and will tell you things like whether a graphics object shown in the manifest is unreferenced, and whether any essential element of the document is missing. (For some reason, my older epubs had no <language> element, which FlightCrew caught instantly–and then Sigil fixed automatically.) Passing FlightCrew does not mean your epub file is perfect, but it does mean that it will probably render correctly in any epub reader written with half a brain.

Sigil is a good first step toward pure WYSIWYG epub development, and it still has a code view for things not yet doable from the GUI, or imported from an old or incompetent editor. I’m still fooling with my epub edition of Willibald Beyschlag’s The Origin and Development of the Old Catholic Movement 1870-1897, but it now passes FlightCrew and I should post it sometime in the next few days. Better news is that I got my epub of “Whale Meat” clean enough to make available on the B&N Nook store, where you can find it for 99c. The first Copperwood Double went live there today as well, and I’ll have a lot more to say about the project once the book is available on Kindle and in print, which should be within a week or so.

This is my first foray onto the Nook store (with Kindle coming up next) and I will say that the B&N PubIt system was trivial to figure out and use. It does come with some small weirdnesses: The book description and author bio fields for the Nook store give you no way to italicize, so if you mention your other books, you either have to uppercase them or just live with un-italicized titles. There’s also a check box for specifying when an ebook is public domain material, but B&N doesn’t make any distinction between works in the public domain and works derived from public domain sources. Beyschlag’s original article is in the public domain, but I’ve done some edits to make it read more easily, and I would like to retain copyright on the edited text. (This is legal and there’s nothing dicey about it.) I guess it’s not an issue of huge importance, especially if I don’t charge for it.

One thing I looked at today that I don’t recommend is NookStudy. It’s an app for Windows and Mac that establishes a 180-day rental market for ebook textbooks. There is no iPad nor Android version. The app is basically a DRM wrapper for Adobe Digital Editions, and to even install it you have to have an Adobe account. NookStudy ties rented textbooks to specific computers (a maximum of two), not to a user ID, and if you need to change out a computer, you have to do all the legendary begging and pleading that you have to do to move Adobe’s Creative Suite to a new system. Worse, when the 180-day rental period expires, all your marginal notes vanish with the textbook itself. Sniffing around online shows that almost no one is happy with the system, which is a buggy and extremely limited way to use some very expensive ebooks. (The rentals are about the cost of a used copy of the printed book.) It’s not usable outside the US because of longstanding geographic rights issues that plague many areas of book publishing. Publishers are obviously terrified of what ebooks might do to the textbook industry, and in consequence, NookStudy is 40% barbed wire by weight–and made me glad I graduated 37 years ago, when textbooks were printed on rugged stuff and would last forever.


  1. Carrington Dixon says:

    So, these B&N ebooks are DRM free? Once I have a Nook-PC account I can download and copy the epubs to my Sony Reader with no problems? If so, you’ve got a customer. If not …

    (If the B&N site explains any of this, I can’t easily find it. It appears that they’d rather sell Nooks than epubs for some other device.)

    1. Barnes & Noble’s PubIt system has a check box for DRM, which I assiduously left un-checked while posting the two books we have there so far. If the files you buy come down the pipe DRMed, then something’s wrong on their side, and I will make good on it–as well as chew some butt over there. That said, we did download one of the books and it came down unencumbered. So I think I can say with confidence that you won’t be seeing any DRM on any Copperwood book purchased through B&N. We’ll see how it goes with Kindle.

      Thanks, by the way, for the vote of confidence.

      1. Carrington Dixon says:

        I am pleased to report that both epubs loaded to my Sony Reader and display beautifully. More, please.

        Of course, B&N gives no indication of which books are DRM encumbered and which not. That’s not your fault, and I have complained to B&N already.

        1. Being able to discern which books are encumbered and which are not would be wonderful, but don’t wait up for it. As I mentioned back on April 5, Big Print does not want us training the readership to consider DRM anything but the norm; hence, they may be putting back-room pressure on B&N to hide the presence of DRM from purchasers as much as possible. Full disclosure of DRM on online stores would push DRM off the edge of the Earth in three or four years tops.

          More’s coming. My goal for 2011 is to get all my published fiction available on the three big stores, and as many of the smaller ones as makes sense. Stay tuned.

          1. Carrington Dixon says:

            I am not going to hold my breath for even a reply (beyond the automatic “Thanks you for you email” that I already received).

            For what it’s worth, I know of two sites, and, that already do distinguish their DRMed books from the non-DRMed. And, of course, is 100% DRM-free.

          2. Carrington Dixon says:

            I got a reply from B&N, It seems that the party line is that all their books have DRM! We know that is not the case, but it is probably counterproductive to pursue with B&N. 🙁

          3. sgtrock says:

            Let me add my vote for you to consider Baen Publishing for DRM-free ebook releases, although I’m going to suggest a slightly different slant. About 10 years ago, Baen created an ebook marketplace called Webscription. Originally it supported just their own catalog. It has since grown to host books from Ace, Bantam Spectra, Del Rey, E-Reads, Ford Street Publishing Gallery, Night Shade Books, SRM Publisher, Yard Dog Press, and Tor Books. Some of the biggest names in SFF both past and present have books listed there. You’d be in very good company. 🙂

            BTW, at least some of the editing projects seem to be waking up to the need for the EPUB format. My own favorite editor, LyX, has created a Summer of Code project for 2011. Here’s hoping they get a volunteer or two to tackle it!

  2. Rich, N8UX says:

    Curiously, when I try to purchase both titles from my Nook Color, I get as far as entering my account password to confirm the purchase, then it just hangs. May be a B&N Nook store anomaly, so will try later.

    Also pleasantly surprised to see your assembly language book available in the Nook store!

    1. Earlier this morning, I tried to log into B&N’s publisher site and was told it was down for maintenance. I tried again a few minutes ago and got in. Did you get in again? The thing should tell you something useful and not just hang, but I’ve seen worse out of Web sites.

      I’m very interested because I’m new over there, and I don’t want their software annoying my customers.

      1. Rich, N8UX says:

        It was still hanging this morning (Fri). I purchased “Whale Meat” via the website, and the transaction went fine, yet it was still not showing up in my Nook Color’s library as it should. So I decided a lil investigating/troubleshooting was in order.

        I happen to own an older, non-color original Nook as well, linked to the same account. Had not used it in a while, so when I powered it up the book was there.

        So I rebooted the Color Nook and “Whale Meat” magically appeared. And I was then able to purchase “Drumlin” from the device as well. So thank you very much Android OS. Or B&N, or whoever.

        What was interesting about it was that I could order other titles (non-PubiT), but not yours. And a reboot solved this problem.

        This interests me as well. I will be releasing an ebook this summer via the PubiT system, as well as Amazon and iBooks (or whatever Apple calls it).

        Summary: Reboot your Android device occasionally to De-gunk it 🙂

        1. Rich, N8UX says:

          Clarification: I’m really impressed with the fact that any device can operate a couple/few months without rebooting. I remember when a reset button was the most often used electro-mechanical component.

          1. Mmmm. I was hoping for better from Android. I turn my Windows box off every night just to guarantee a fresh instance every morning, but I’ve sometimes left my Linux machine running for weeks at a time with no issues.

            Let me know when your book comes out, and where (online) you’ll be promoting it.

  3. […] pretty sure that Print Replica is Amazon’s version of Nook Study, which I mentioned in my April 18, 2011 entry. Nook Study is also a DRM wrapper around a PDF. The DRM is draconian and mostly hated by everyone […]

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