Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Time Enough at Last

While not exactly like Burgess Meredith in the iconic Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last, stacking books all around him to read at his leisure, we do have the ability to read pretty much anything we want when we want especially when using our phones, tablets and eReaders.

Even our libraries have gotten into the act, by allying with services such as Overdrive, Freading and others to make ebooks and audiobooks available to their members for free, so now has never been a better time to become a member of your local public library. I’ve been on a graphic novel kick lately and found that there is no better way to read them than on an iPad. However, I discovered that these services aren’t always so friendly towards sharing with portable devices. That’s a darned shame.

But after some searching, I was able to find a way to accomplish it. Now I can read Hellboy in peace. Pretty much all of these services offer ebooks using some kind of digital rights management (DRM) that allow you to read something on your computer or mobile device for a limited time, much akin to borrowing a book from the library. The advantage is that you never have to go to the library to take the book out or return it, it simply expires and you have to take it out again. On Overdrive, some ebooks are always available, others have limited copies and you need to reserve them. On Freading, you’re allocated a certain number of tokens a month, and you can spend them how you like. I’ve come across ebooks for 1 or 2 tokens typically, but some are more. Both require an account, either a library account or an Adobe ID, both of which are free, which allows the DRM to work.

So here was my dilemma. I was able to access Hellboy on my desktop. Freading said this was the only way they allow access to this specific item. Why? Who knows. But I wasn’t going to settle for that. Reading graphic novels on the computer was b-a-d bad. Especially on a laptop, where the orientation was all wrong. Plus the Adobe Digital Editions software required to read them was awful. Slow as anything. So like I said, I did my research, and found BlueFire Reader. It’s available on iOS and Android. It allows you to use your Adobe ID to manage the content you access from Freading and allows access to ebooks from Overdrive.

The problem? Getting digital books into BlueFire. Solution? DropBox. If you don’t already use DropBox, get it. It’s a great way to sync information between devices (mobile and desktop) and many applications already offer it as a default location to save your files. It’s also is a great way to store and share your photos. So create a folder on DropBox and copy your DRM protected files from Adobe Digital Editions or from Overdrive into this location. Then open DropBox on your mobile device. Select the title you wish to read and say “Open in...” Then simply choose BlueFire. It copies it into the Library and then you can open them and enjoy. Make sure to store your Adobe ID in BlueFire, otherwise it won’t let you read the imported file. Once the books are copied into BlueFire, you can delete the files from DropBox, since it’s just a copy you made from it’s original location on your computer.

Another method you could use is email, attaching the file and opening it the same way as mentioned above, but if you’re planning to view graphic novels, the files will be way too big to send that way, hence my suggestion to use DropBox.

If you’re a comic book fan, there are many sources of comics both free and available for purchase. Take a swing by the Digital Comic Museum and read some of the public domain and copyright-free classics, lovingly scanned and posted by it’s members. Free to use with a cap on the speed, or uncapped with any donation. Also try DriveThru Comics, who claim to be the first digital download store. Their products are all PDFs you can download to any device. Or if you’re inclined towards a more professional take, check out Darkhorse Comics and Comixology, both of whom offer their own readers and give you access to many current and popular brands. Comixology also offers an Unlimited subscription service, giving you access to thousands of issues for a $5.99/month fee.

Get with the Program

In case there is some confusion here, these digital comics come in different formats and may require different applications to read them. The traditional format is .CBR or .CBZ which is simply a series of sequentially numbered JPG files stored in a single compressed ZIP file. Then there are PDFs and ePub versions for eReaders. As mentioned above, some services have their own readers and document managers, but for the ones that don’t, I recommend the Bluefire Reader for PDFs/ePubs and ComicFlow for .CBR/.CBZ formats.

What do you like to read on your portable device? Which device and application do you prefer to use? I'm sure other readers would like to know. Add your comments below.