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My Nightmare With Sony’s eBook Library

eBook Library is not just the clunkiest, ugliest, and worst ereader management software I’ve used, it’s the worst that I can imagine. eBook Library came bundled with my PRS-700; it’s Sony’s standard ereader software, and also the primary link to Sony’s eBook Store, which also sucks.

What follows is not for the weak of heart. It’s a tale of woe, and there is much gnashing of teeth. (And I’m a Reader fan.) But if you’d like to hear about a software catastrophe of historic proportions, come along.

Out of the box: The nightmare begins

From the start, eBook Library is bad. Often, “the user interface appears to freeze,” as an actual email from Sony Support reads. There’s no status bar for working jobs, it often just stops reacting to you while it does whatever it’s doing. Not good.

Granted, I am using Windows 7, and I had to troubleshoot the compatibility to get the program to even run. So maybe that’s one of my problems. However, Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions both work perfectly.

The eBook Store, where you actually buy books from Sony, looks like it was designed by somebody who’s heard descriptions of Apple’s iTunes Store, but never actually used it. Browsing is a chore, and the Categories are annoying to figure out. If you want to cash in on the 100 free classics they advertise, you have to go to a specific section to find the books that qualify. I accidentally got a non-classic copy of some Percy Shelley poems, and they charged me, so clearly their organizing system is beyond the ken of mere mortals.

Plus the whole interface is very, very ugly.

Actually buying books: I still get chills

The real trouble began when I actually bought books from the store. I bought 2, and got another 25 or so free classics. While I was syncing my Reader, trying to get these new books on it, the software froze and refused to cooperate. It wouldn’t talk to the Reader anymore, and wouldn’t even work without the Reader plugged in.

I contacted Sony Support, and they sent me a list of things to do. Eventually I had to wipe my Reader’s hard drive, reinstall its drivers, and uninstall and reinstall the Library software. Then, with another workaround to get the books I’d paid for, I managed to get the DRM content on my Reader.

I sent Sony Support another email, saying the program still wouldn’t work, and thanks, but I wouldn’t be using it anymore. They wrote back saying I should call in. I didn’t; it seemed like an awful lot of trouble just to be allowed to pay them more money for their books.

Essentially, what seems to happen is that Sony’s own DRM bogs down their own software to such an extent that it becomes unusable. Maybe I’m wrong about this, maybe it’s my Windows 7. I doubt it. In any case, there’s good news.

Calibre: Thank the merciful gods

Calibre is a free, open-source ereader manager that works on Linux and OSX, as well as Windows (and Windows 7). It works quickly, and very well. It talks to my Reader, and the SD card in it, and lets me edit the titles and authors of books I get, which I could never do in eBook Library. Sometimes the metadata in files gets confused, such as if you save a .txt file from Project Gutenberg as an .rtf, and your own name becomes the “Author”; it’s nice to be able to fix that (listening Sony? Probably not).

The downside is that Calibre only works, I believe, with non-DRM files, which means you can’t buy ebooks from most stores. I haven’t yet solved the problem of how to buy DRMed ebooks and load them on the Reader, so I’m just not buying DRMed ebooks. I guess it’s kind of a workaround. [UPDATE: You can also buy DRM PDFs from stores such as Fictionwise and A1 Books, and transfer them to your Reader with Adobe Digital Editions. Check this post for more on getting book for your Reader without using Sony eBook Library.]

Adobe Digital Editions: This is how you do DRM

I believe this is Windows-only, but [UPDATE: Adobe DE works with Macs, too, but it has to talk to Sony's eBook Library software before you can transfer DRM PDFs to your Reader, and eBook Library doesn't work on Macs.] Adobe DE handles PDF DRM like a dream, so I at least have the option to buy DRM PDFs. It also lets you check out PDF ebooks from certain public libraries, which is phenomenal. I haven’t had my Reader for long, but I’ve been able to find plenty of reading material at the Seattle Public Library’s online collection.

Or don’t use anything

You can also just drag and drop files onto your Reader or SD card (non-DRM, I believe), and the Reader will find them on its own.

The whole thing mystifies me, honestly. It’s as if Sony set out to make its Library software both useless and redundant, so that the easiest course of action is to simply not use it. The whole project reeks of half-assing, which is not a good smell. It feels overwhelmingly like Sony doesn’t care about their customers after they buy the Reader. Which is fine; all in all, I still think the Reader is worth the money on its own.

Soon, I hope, more publishers will sell more ebooks in more places without DRM. Until that happens, I’m going to the real elibrary, or, failing that, I’ll get the hard copy before I go back to Sony’s eBook Store.

The good news is that the firmware on the Reader works well, and you can cut the software out of the loop with no downside. Even knowing about all the trouble with Sony’s eBook Store, I’d take a Reader over a Kindle without a second thought.

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