Goodbye Overdrive, Hello Libby

By Gene Wilburn

For some years now I’ve been using Overdrive Media Player as my ebook reader and audiobook player for books and audiobooks borrowed from the public library. Overdrive is on my iPad, my MacBook, and my wife’s iPad. Between us we must have listened to or read several hundred borrowed library books. We like and enjoy Overdrive and, for our purposes, it’s an ideal library companion.

Recently, though, we learned that Overdrive (the company, based in Cleveland, Ohio) is replacing Overdrive Media Player with a different client app called Libby. In fact, they’re set to pull the plug on Overdrive Media Player by February, 2023. It’s no longer available in the various App Stores. Given that we’re now living on borrowed time, we added Libby to our tablets and laptops to get used to it, preparing ourselves to leave the Overdrive app forever.

It’s a truism in the software world that users don’t generally like changes to their interfaces, or having to switch to a different product. Word users balked at the “ribbon menus” of later versions of Word, and few Word users have switched to Google Docs or LibreOffice Writer. When you’re comfortable with an app, changes are painful. And so it was as we moved to using Libby.

The Overdrive interface is clean, neat, and tidy.

Overdrive Bookshelf Interface

Whereas Libby is expansive, not as neat, and very chatty.

Libby Bookshelf Interface

Of course beauty, being in the eye of the beholder, means that what one user likes, another wouldn’t. You can never please everyone, but on the whole I can move into Libby without overt trauma. Almost.

However, I’ve found two flaws in Libby.

Libby Doesn’t Allow You to Copy Text

I must say I was shocked when I discovered that you can’t copy and paste text from ebooks in Libby. This is something I do a lot in Overdrive, copying passages to my Notes app for research purposes, or quoting an opening line or paragraph when talking about an interesting book on Facebook. This, for me, is a serious deficiency.

Libby Doesn’t Support More Than One User Per Library Account

The reason why this might be a problem is simply this: Sometimes family members share the same Library card. For example, my wife and I live in the city of Mississauga, Ontario, adjacent to the city of Toronto. We each have a Mississauga Public Library borrowing card, but having previously lived in Toronto, we missed the larger selection of resources from the Toronto Public Library system. This we solved by purchasing a single extramural reader’s card for TPL. At a cost of over $100 per year, we didn’t feel we could each could afford one, so we share a single library account.

When we use Overdrive, we can each download books and ebooks from the library and our borrowings don’t get confused. If we’re reading the same book or listening to the same audiobook, our individual Overdrive apps keep our position locations discrete, which is great because we obviously don’t read or listen to the same book at the same pace.

Libby synchronizes its bookshelf automatically across devices, meaning that our separate reading locations get updated to whoever is farther along in the reading or listening. Then if one of us returns to a previous location, it resets it for the other one. Relocating your place, especially in an audiobook, is a painful experience.

Unfortunately, there is no setup mode in Libby that allows you to turn off synchronization, making it work more like Overdrive.

Better Font Sizing in Libby

Aside from those two problems, Libby is pleasant to use and, like Overdrive, allows you to choose your reading font, size it for your eyes, and choose between white, sepia, or black backgrounds. Black is especially good for reading at night. Both offer a timer to switch off your audiobook after a certain number of minutes, say 60 minutes, which is a godsend if you fall asleep while listening. You don’t have as far to backtrack.

One thing that has bugged me for years about Overdrive is its too-coarse adjustments of font size. I frequently hit that condition where the font is ether too small, or too large, with no steps in between. Libby has much finer font size adjustments. I can always seem to find that just-right “Goldilocks” font size when I’m reading on Libby, which gives Libby the edge for me on ebooks.

Looking Ahead

For the most part, I don’t anticipate great difficulty adjusting from Overdrive to Libby. I still prefer the clean, terse Overdrive user interface, but Libby is easy to use and is probably a better interface for new library users.

Overdrive (the company) only needs to fix two deficiencies: The ability to copy text from ebooks, and the option to turn off synchronization. If they can do that, I’ll give Libby full marks. Until then, it’s an app that just misses being great.

Gene Wilburn is a Canadian writer, photographer, and retired IT specialist..

Create Beautiful Self-Published Books With Free Software Tools

By Gene Wilburn

There are many tools that can be used to write a book and prepare it for self publication. Microsoft Word, of course, is commonly used for this purpose, and LibreOffice Writer, a free, open-source alternative to Word, is rock solid.

Word processors, however, are not true typesetting systems, though they do a decent job if “good enough” is your aim. If your aim is a little higher, you need to move up a level.

The next level up from word processors is the tier of publishing systems that do a more nuanced, attractive, and professional-looking job of kerning and leading, especially for print books and PDFs with fully justified lines. Adobe InDesign, Adobe Framemaker, QuarkXPress, and Affinity Publisher are commercial products that offer this kind of quality. The open source world offers Scribus, as well as traditional text-based typesetting systems such as troff and LaTeX, two systems frequently lauded for their ability to produce beautiful typesetting. It’s your choice which typesetting program or system to use, but they all have a non-trivial learning curve.

As a self-published independent author myself, as well as being a retiree on a tight budget for software, I’m going to outline a way to produce great looking books and ebooks using a combination of free tools that work in Windows, MacOS, or Linux. These products and systems are not as widely used as Microsoft Word, and they have a reputation for being “techie,” but I think they’re accessible to anyone who is willing to take on a modest amount of learning.

The tools covered in this article are:

  • Markdown text markup notation
  • Google Docs
  • Pandoc
  • LyX and LaTeX typesetting systems
  • Sigil ebook editor
  • Zotero bibliographic manager

These are the tools I used to produce Shift Happens: Essays on Technology, co-authored with my wife, Marion Turner Wilburn, in 2020, during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shift Happens is an overview of many of the technologies of the past century that have shifted our lives, environment, and perceptions. We made it available in ebook, PDF, and printed book formats. Given the subject matter, we wanted to include a “Further Reading” bibliography. We wanted the references in the ebook format to provide hotlinks to the cited sources so that readers could simply tap or click on a link to jump to it. The tools we used made achieving this an easy task.

Markdown Notation

One input, multiple outputs

Markdown is an example of what are called text markup schemes — methods that allow you to add attributes and structure to plain text files, then run them through a document converter that translates the Markdown files into another format, such as HTML. The goal of Markdown is to create one set of master input files, such as chapters of your book, and from those create multiple outputs, whether ebooks, PDF documents, HTML pages, or printed books or reports.

Markdown is simple and easy to learn. For example, surrounding a word or phrase with asterisks, e.g., *italic* produces italic text. Double asterisks around **boldface** produce boldface. Other features follow similar patterns.

Furthermore, there are text editors that are designed specifically to help you with Markdown. Four of the best known are iA Writer, Byword, Ghostwriter, and Typora. They make italicizing a word or phrase as simple as pressing Ctrl-I, as in a word processor. All four have preview modes.

Although Markdown files are usually created in a text editor, you can use Markdown notation in a word processor such as Google Docs, then export your work as a plain-text Markdown file. We used Markdown this way when we wrote our book.

Google Docs

Work from anywhere

Google Docs is a brilliant collaboration tool. As we were writing the content of our book, we had many writing sessions where we both sat in the same room, each with a laptop on our laps, working back and forth through rough passages. We could see in real time the changes the other was making to the text and we would then decide whether to keep it or modify it further.

What made this possible is that Google Docs is a Cloud-based product that you can access from any browser or Google Docs app. The writing and editing of our book was done from a mix of Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, and iPad computers. Having the content in the Cloud also protects it from computer hard disk failure or any other local calamity. There is comfort in knowing that content remains safe on the Web.

Another thing Google Docs is brilliant at is versioning, which it does automatically. We sometimes decided that we preferred an earlier version of what we had written, and we could go into a file’s document history and recover previous passages easily and painlessly.

We used Markdown inside Google Docs as our master documents for the project and any changes to our chapters were done there and nowhere else. Google Docs can export its files as plain text, and we exported them back as plain-text Markdown files once the chapters were finished.


From anywhere to anywhere

Pandoc is an open-source, command-line utility that is an impressive document converter — a Swiss-army knife that can convert a large number of document formats into other formats. We used it to convert plain-text Markdown files to LaTeX files and HTML files in preparation for final book production. It can even be used to convert Markdown files into other formats, such as Microsoft Word. Pandoc is available for Linux, MacOS, and Windows.

In use, Pandoc invoked from the command line, such as

$ pandoc -o chapter1.html

as an example of converting a Markdown file to an HTML file, or

$ pandoc -f markdown -t latex

to convert a Markdown file to a LaTeX file with the same base filename, e.g. chapter1.tex.

Lyx and LaTeX

Pretty printing

LaTeX (pronounced LAY-tek) is a rich typesetting system available for all major operating systems. There are distributions of LaTeX available for easy installation in Windows (MikTeX), MacOS (MacTeX), and Linux (TeX Live). Often used for formal academic books, reports, conference proceedings, and theses, it has hooks for creating footnotes, end notes, bibliographical entries, and mathematical equations. Its output is gorgeous.

To be honest, though, LaTeX can be bewildering to a newcomer, and for this reason I highly recommend using LyX, a front-end word-processing-like editor that uses LaTeX as the back end for final output. LyX is easier to use than straight LaTeX — if you can use Word, you can use LyX, which comes with excellent help file documents. LyX, too, is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. LyX and LaTeX were used to typeset the PDF and on-demand print versions of Shift Happens, and using them proved no more difficult than using a graphical DTP package.

In practice I used Pandoc to convert our Markdown text files to plain .tex files, and imported those into LyX. From inside LyX I adjusted margins, spacing, justification, chapter and section numbering, page size, gutter margin, kerning level, bibliography, and table of contents to create a 6×9″ format trade book. I exported the result as a PDF file, ready to read, and also ready to upload to our on-demand book publisher Blurb. You may choose a different publisher such as Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).


Getting it right

An Epub file can best be described as a zip file containing a miniature website. The contents of the zip container are HTML files, maybe some CSS files and some images in its /img directory, plus a manifest that lists all the files and graphics in the publication, as well as containing Epub metadata. If you want to create an Epub, or modify an existing one, you could scarcely do better than turn to Sigil, a terrific, free Epub editor.

One part of Sigil is an HTML editor displaying HTML code on the left, and live rendered output on the right, for comparison and direct editing. High-level menu options can be used to adjust heading levels, and attributes such as bold and italic. It is easy to create and test Internet links, and to include graphics. Sigil also makes it easy to split or combine chapters and sections. For Shift Happens we simply imported our individual chapter files in the HTML format created from our Markdown files by Pandoc, made a few adjustments where needed, and saved the results to Epub format. For the Amazon Kindle store, we used KDP to upload the finished Epub to convert to Amazon’s proprietary ebook format. The conversion was perfect.


By the way …

If you plan to publish a non-fiction book and intend to include a bibliography or “Further Reading” appendix, it’s useful to use some kind of bibliographic software that will store your references and format them according to one of the bibliographic style sheets that are used in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Zotero to the rescue.

Zotero describes itself as a “personal research assistant — a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research.” It does a great job at this, allowing you to grow your references as you research topics. It has data entry screens, but best of all it can automatically create entries from a website and format them correctly. It is used directly on a computer and the results are syncronized with the Web version. It is also available as an add-on to most major browsers, and it can be integrated with Word, Google Docs and LibreOffice.

Zotero is a professional-grade package, up to the task of organizing and exporting references in accepted academic bibliographic citation styles. If all you need to do is create a simple bibliography and don’t need all of Zotero’s bells and whistles, you can use its simplified Web-based sister product, ZoteroBib.

Your Turn

The devil is in the details

Assembling these tools in Windows, MacOS, and Linux —- downloading them for use on your book project —- is as straightforward as any software installation. Although it may sound complicated to use several packages instead of just one or two, like Word and InDesign, the workflow smooths out as your familiarity with the software grows. Nonetheless, there is a learning curve involved and all the packages require attention to detail. The shift, for many users, is see your book as a logical structure, rather than a visual one. The software is guaranteed to produce visually beautiful output once you get the structure of your book down. The beauty of these products is that they work with anything from a simply structured novel to a complex academic book. Best of all, the products are free.

Gene Wilburn is the author of Northern Journey: A Guide to Canadian Folk Music, Recreational Writing, Markdown for Writers, as well as co-author of Shift Happens. He has also written dozens of articles, essays, and reviews, primarily on computer technology.

Improving My (lost) Concentration with a Kobo Glo HD

Kobo Glo HD

In my retirement I do a lot of reading: books, magazines, news articles, essays, just about anything I can view on my iPad Mini. Unlike most of my friends, I actually prefer digital to hard copy. I can control the brightness, font size, and line spacing so that my eyes don’t have to strain while reading. The iPad screen is crisp and bright and the size of the Mini is nearly perfect for hand holding. I can also carry around 200 or more books with me.

So, if the iPad is so great, why then did I just purchase an e-ink ereader: a Kobo Glo HD? Because there’s a serpent in the garden. While reading on the iPad I developed a nervous habit of interrupting my reading frequently to check email, Facebook, and Flipboard for new email, postings by friends, and postings I might want to relay into Facebook. Compared to pre-Internet days, my concentration had gone to hell.

The Internet appears to be taking a toll on many of us. Our attention spans have shortened, our concentration has become relaxed, and perhaps we’ve even lost the thread of our own narrative. Well, not quite that drastic, surely, but a rereading of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows on the subject is sobering.

I knew from previous experience with a Kindle ereader that when I read on a dedicated reader, it strips away the ease of popping over to do something else. It’s just a reader, the way a book is just a book. I’d been thinking about the Kobo Glo HD for awhile, but when my friend Jarrett Hather showed me the one he’d bought, I was immediately taken with the hi-res screen, the good contrast with or without lighting, with  the light, easy-to-hold casing, and with the quasi bonus that Kobo is/was a kind of/sort of Canadian product. At least it began life here before being bought out by the Japanese company Rakuten.

I bought a Kobo, charged it up, cabled its USB port to my Macbook Air, and transferred over my library of over 200 ePub-format ebooks from the Mac to the Kobo. I was ready to begin. My first test: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. There’s nothing like a fine 19th-Century novel to test your concentration.

It worked. Although I was twitchy at times, I calmed down about checking email and social media, and just read. In three days of intermittent reading I’d finished the novel which I’d been reading at a leisurely pace simply to enjoy the rich period language.

Now I’m finishing Sophie’s World, a delightful novelized Philosophy 101 course. Spinning off from Sophie’s World, last night I downloaded Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and started reading. Elevated intellectual writing with no training wheels. But, I’m keeping my concentration, even though I don’t expect to read the entire work.

Kobo Glo HD, I’m hooked.



Kobo Glo: An Ereader for the Easily Distracted

Kobo Glo

Over the past few years I’ve become an ebook devotee. I started acquiring ebooks as a solution to my bulging bookshelves that had no room to expand, but after adjusting to reading books on an ereader or tablet I quickly came to prefer them to hard-copy books. With ebooks I can adjust the font size to suit my eyesight and I can look up words in situ while I’m reading. Not to mention that I can mark passages and find them easily after reading. Plus I can store an entire library in a handheld device.

My first exposure to ebooks came when I bought a 2nd-generation Kindle and began buying books through Buying a book and having it delivered to my device seconds thereafter still amazes me. And what I found is that I was reading more than ever, partly because it was so convenient.

Later I got a Kindle Paperwhite, an ereader with a lamp that can be switched on at night. I got in the habit at bedtime of reading in the dark until I fell asleep. The reader switches itself off after 15 minutes of inactivity to preserve the battery. Not that that is a major issue; the E-Ink technology ereaders get tremendous battery life.

The next phase of ereading brought me to the iPad Mini with Retina display. The crisp, evenly-lighted text is a pleasure to read, and with an app called Overdrive I can also check out ebooks from my public library. I thought I’d reached the ultimate in ereading.

There was, however, a serpent in the garden. With the iPad I found that I was reading for short bursts at a time, then checking my email, Flickr, Flipboard, and Facebook accounts to see what was new. My concentration was slipping. The addictive nature of the Internet was making me easily distracted. I wasn’t reading with a good attention span.

At the same time, I’d begun to have some reservations about Amazon and its relationship with publishers. Amazon, an overwhelming force in the ebook industry, appeared to me to be trying to bully publishers into accepting its terms. Further, I had seen a well-documented instance where Amazon cut off access to a Norwegian lady who had a large library of purchased ebooks over a mistake Amazon made about her account that she was hard pressed to get reversed.

Also, as a computer jockey, I’ve never been pleased with Amazon’s proprietary .azw ebook format when the industry standard is .epub. I like standards. They help advance the industry.

So, long story short, I purchased a Kobo Glo ereader from my local Indigo bookstore. It reads ePub format, is lighter to hold than either my iPad or my Kindle Paperwhite, and the screen has pleasing resolution. Even better, its night lamp shines more evenly over the page than the Kindle Paperwhite.

Next, to protect my fairly significant investment in ebooks, I converted all my Amazon AZW formatted books to ePubs, using the excellent Calibre conversion software.

I wouldn’t say I’m through with because I like its selection and services, but I’ll take measures to protect my library collection of ebooks from some arbitrary change of policy.

Meanwhile, I’d give the Kobo Glo an A in terms of usage. Not quite an A+ but it gets most things right, and I’m very taken with its compact size and light weight. More to the point, I’m finding my concentration returning because I don’t use the device to check Internet sites while I’m reading. I’m becoming less distracted.

Call me a happy camper with a, well, Glo.


Solar Flares and Twitter Follies

Solar Flare

So, it was an odd week. During an intense solar flare there were widespread reports of huge aurora borealis displays, often seen much farther south than usual. We might have been able to catch a glimpse of these but for one thing. We had a week of socked-in, cloud cover with intermittent rain and snow. No hope of seeing the sky.

I started physiotherapy for a neck problem seemingly caused by normal aging and arthritis — an impinged nerve that sends pain into my shoulder, down into my arm, and tingles all the way to my fingers. The exercises my therapist has given me are straight out of Treat Your Own Neck, by Robin McKenzie — a book he recommends highly.

A news item from this week is a head scratcher: British Tourists Arrested in American Terror Charges. In their Twitter comments the couple joked that they were going to “destroy America” (British slang meaning party hard), and “dig up Marilyn Monroe” (a quote from the comedy Family Guy which is an American show).

For his Twitter jokes, Leigh Van Bryan, 26, was handcuffed and kept under armed guard in a cell with Mexican drug dealers for 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles with pal Emily Bunting. Both had their luggage searched for spades and shovels.

Lessons learned? Big Brother is watching and BB has absolutely no sense of humour (even American-grown humour). The couple were barred from entering the U.S.

On a positive note, I just received an Amazon delivery: Garner’s Modern American Usage. I’ve already enjoyed spending over an hour opening the book at random and reading the passages. For anyone who loves the English language and enjoys usage and grammar discussions, this book is highly recommended.

Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: Book Review

Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective, by Toby E. Huff. Cambridge University Press, 2010. 368p.

This work, by Toby E. Huff, is a perspective on the explosion of scientific knowledge in 17th Century Europe and England, and a probing look at why this happened in the West and not in China, India, or the Islamic states.

Using one invention in particular — the telescope — Huff documents how this instrument revolutionized the study of the heavens and how Galileo and others used it to explore the skies and make detailed observations that led to a confirmation of a heliocentric system posited by Copernicus. The paradigm shift away from a spherical, geocentric system electrified the science of the day.

Huff then traces the migration of the telescope into China, India and Islamic countries. In China Jesuit missionaries not only introduced the telescope, they also translated into Chinese the findings of Galileo and others. A few court astrologers (astronomers) were interested, but mainly to help refine the prediction of heavenly events. At the time, China held a flat-earth view of the cosmos and hadn’t even moved to a spherical, geocentric view. The new knowledge was not incorporated into Chinese study. Huff then traces parallel stories from India and the world of Islam.

And it wasn’t just in astronomy. Huff also traces the development and knowledge of forces and dynamics, and medical anatomy in the 17th Century and how in Europe scientists, from the 12th C onward, had been dissecting animals and human corpses, thereby learning about the interior anatomy of the body. Islamic faith considered dissection a form of desecration and it wasn’t allowed. Similar obstacles were in place in India and China.

Huff then postulates on the differences in culture between the West and the rest of the world. Europe and England had more or less autonomous universities and, due to the rise of Protestantism and its goal of having each person read the Bible personally, a steady rise in literacy. Literacy in the rest of the world was circumscribed and schools in China, India, and Islamic countries were mainly set up to teach traditional wisdom and religious law.

The West was living in a time of great intellectual curiosity and had had a tradition, based on Aristotle, of hands-on experimenting to discover the truths of things. Again, there was no corresponding climate in the rest of the world.

Huff’s work is academic, with copious footnotes and an extensive bibliography. He has, in no way, suggested the West was superior to the other cultures of the day, but that it was culturally different. China, India, and the Islamic states had access to the instruments developed in the West, and to the knowledge that was being discovered and disseminated, but their societies didn’t have the requisite intellectual curiosity to pursue the new knowledge.

Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution is one of the best science books I’ve read in awhile. I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of science and especially the emergence of science in the 17th Century and the culmination of many threads of knowledge in the publications of Newton.

Taking Stock: Facing 2012

iPhone Selfie

I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year season!

Traditionally New Years Day is a time for resolutions that will largely be unkept in the months that follow, so I’ll refrain from making any. Besides some of them are ongoing no matter what time of year: lose weight, exercise more, write more.

Looking back to 2011, I’ve had a Macbook Air (11″) for a year now and it’s so slick and useful it still feels new. As such it’s an incentive to get down to the task of writing just so I can use it. I enjoy my technologies, but it’s been a long time since one has stayed so fresh. Kudos to Apple for another brilliant design and execution.

There are rumours of a new iPad in the works some time 2012. If it turns out to be true I might be ready to pick one up. I gave my previous one to Marion after getting the more writer-friendly Macbook Air, but I confess I miss the iPad experience. I get a miniature version of it with my iPhone 4 but it’s not the same without the large viewing screen.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a fan of podcasts and I’d like to pay tribute to my two favourites: I Should Be Writing, by Mur Lafferty, and Brain Science Podcast, by Dr. Ginger Campbell. You ladies have allowed me to listen in on hours of intelligent conversation. Thank you.

I have a couple of directions I may take my writing in 2012. One idea I’ve been kicking around is putting together a series of personal essays into a Kindle book. The other is to write on a couple of subjects that interest me, but as extended feature articles that could be published as Kindle Shorts.

I don’t have any special photo projects in mind for the year. I’m content to carry a camera around with me and take shots of this and that as I see things. I plan to post a new photo on my Flickr photostream every day, if possible. The camera in my iPhone 4 increases my odds of meeting this goal.

One of the things I may do more of in 2012 is post short reviews of books I’ve read. My current reading is Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by Toby E. Huff. I’m about 25% into it and already it’s shaping up as the best science book I’ve read in the past year.

Currently listening to The Harrow & The Harvest, by Gillian Welch. Indispensable if you like a traditional folk sound.

My other two goals for the New Year are to study more philosophy and mathematics. I’m nearly ready to tackle my Algebra II course and I have a good Teaching Company Great Lectures course Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida that I’ve started. Staying intellectually active is less a goal than a deep-seated need. I suspect it’s the same for you.

I look forward to seeing and hearing from friends in 2012. May your 2012 be a wonderful year.

The Turbulence of eBook Pricing

Mill Stream

I’ve owned a Kindle for a good while now and it’s become my preferred way to read most books. I’m reading more than at any time of my life, and buying more. Note to publishers: “buying more.”

What I don’t get are the crazy prices some publishers charge for e-books. Admittedly I got used to the introductory Kindle $9.95 price which many publishers claim make them sell books at a loss. I must admit I’m among those who are skeptical about this. It really takes very little work to prep a novel or nonfiction book that is mainly text for e-book publication. I’ve done it myself with Recreational Writing.

Nonetheless I’m willing to bend a little on this and will pay up to $11.99 for an e-book if I think it’s warranted. Bear in mind that I’m on a retirement budget and I’m not willing to pay more for an e-book than for a paperback version of a book. So I looked at the possible purchase of some books that interested me recently and what I found was some outlandish grasping by certain publishers.


A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates: Hardcover, $11.06, Ebook, $16.96. HarperCollins.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: Hardcover, $19.25, Ebook, $26.48. Simon & Schuster.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King: Hardcover, $22.39, Paperback, $11.43, Ebook, $16.12. Simon & Schuster.

Admittedly these are star authors and the publishers like to make their maximum profit from them, but this kind of pricing is short-sighted. Many of us who buy the e-book edition don’t buy it instead of the hardcover edition. In truth we wouldn’t buy the book at all in hardcover edition.

Publishers are having a hard time of it, and I have some compassion for them. But I think their approach to e-book pricing nothing short of hostile toward the format that may save them from extinction.

Flip this around and look at what else is happening.

The Forever War
, by Joe Haldeman: Paperback, $10.17, Ebook, $4.95. Ridan Publishing.

Playing for Keeps, by Mur Lafferty: Paperback (Swarm Press), $14.95, Ebook: $4.99.

These two titles are published by an Indie press in the case of Haldeman, and by the author (for the e-book) in the case of Lafferty. The Forever War is a Sci-Fi classic, and Playing for Keeps is a good SF novel by a popular up-and-coming author.

Then there are the authors who publish their works for free, for $0.99, or for $1.99-$2.99. Yes, some of them are first authors and not all these works are good, but publishers don’t kid yourselves. There’s some real talent coming through who are picking up a serious following among readers.

The issues may be complicated, but what I’m basically saying to the big publishing houses is this: “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.” Bring down those inflated prices of e-books. Because if you don’t, readers will take other options and they won’t be contributing to your bottom line at all.

Note: The prices quoted above are subject to change at any time.

Fall Update


I love the fall. The weather cools down, the trees turn colour, and the pace of life picks up.

Marion and I had a delightful day trip and picnic lunch with our friend Suzanne. We drove up to Forks of the Credit and enjoyed the autumn countryside. It takes a long time to get out of the city now with the GTA expanding northward. One day I expect it to be solidly urban from Mississauga to Orangeville.

This fall I’m taking an online course “Writing the Personal Essay,” from Creative Nonfiction. We have weekly readings and tutorials, occasional online chats, written assignments, and peer review. It’s stretching me as a writer, for which I’m thankful.

I’ve been reading so much my Kindle is smoking. I’m on an SF&F spree that I hope never ends. I’m also reading some mystery fiction. I don’t read much mainstream literature — I find it boring. Contemporary literary fiction, most of it anyway, leaves me cold. But science fiction challenges me and the inventiveness and creativity of the authors delight me. My Kindle is currently subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Clarkesworld. And for more serious reading, Philosophy Now.

The delightful thing is that as soon as the issues are released by the publisher, they download into my Kindle.

The fall marks the new TV season as well, and this season I’m watching Dexter, CSI, Silk, Inspector Lewis, and Ringer. Plus documentaries and specials.

Not to mention listening to podcasts galore, including the bracing TED Talk videos.

And I was delighted to hear that my friend Earl has picked up a Macbook Air.

Finally, for anyone interested, I’ve started a Internet newspaper called Gene’s Sci-Tech Daily.