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An open letter to Kobo

Kobo is an interesting website that sells ePub e-books, compatible with Adobe Digital Editions (so, DRM’d), of which I wrote already before — unfortunately a couple of interactions with the website and its features lately have been slightly upsetting. So I’d like to simply express my opinion about it…

Dear Kobo,

Looking for a website that would sell me ePub books I could read on my Sony Reader device, I have to say that yours is the one that is the most appealing; the other decent option for novels and non-fiction (non-technical) books is the British WHSmith, but their website is a bit difficult to grok and feels a bit.. old style.

It also helps the fact that the Dollar is still lower than the Euro, while the Pound is higher again, which means that in general – minus strange cases like the sixth Hitchhiker’s book “And Another Thing” that seems to cost more on your website than from other stores – the price is quite good for me. I’m also pretty happy that I can get books released in America but not yet in Europe, like it happened with Cyber War which I positively enjoyed.

Unfortunately, things started to get strange when I bought “The Salmon of Doubt”… and had been unable to read it on my Reader; it turned out that I had to work around the DRM to be able to find the cause of the problem: the internal format of all the other books I bought is XHTML, while that one uses DTBook. Somehow, both the Sony software and your website allow it to work, but it fails badly both on the Reader and on your own Android application. Which probably means, you also didn’t plan about it. I wonder if your eReader device actually reads those.

The other problem I noticed, was that beside a number of books not available from you, but available on, again, WHSmith, for which I obviously can’t say much (either you have them or you don’t, like any other book store), there is an annoying trouble in getting chapters of book series. For instance I could get Jim Butcher’s Grave Peril from you, but then I had to turn to WHSmith for Summer Knight, Death Masks and Blood Rites, since you don’t have them. Similarly yesterday I noted that while I got Robin Hobb’s “Assassin’s Apprentice”, the second volume (Royal Assassin) is also not available, but the third (Assassin’s Quest) is.

It is an annoyance – especially since I prefer getting books on your site also because they are available on the web to read with my Linux laptop, and on my Android phone, while WHSmith’s books I can only load on the Reader or read with the official applications, minus breaking the DRM again – but a minor one at that.

It goes a bit worse when I received last week a promotional email with a $2 discount, not a lot but since I’m actually quite through The Dragon Reborn (for the second try, the first one I abandoned two years ago in the hospital), I thought it would have been a good chance to find something new to read after that. I tried it a couple of nights ago with a few of the books I bookmarked, but.. for all of them it reported expired or not applicable.

Tonight, you reply me on twitter saying that only a subset of books are available and provide me a list … but once again, trying to apply the code to two books in that list, reports that it is expired or not available. For sure, it wasn’t expired, since the mail said it would expire at “29 June 2010 11:59pm EST” – and at the time it was something like 17 EDT – but at the same time, the mail has no reference to the list I was given nor either any reference to the discount applying to a subset of the books (well, it was understandable anyway).

At the end, I bought the one book, that I didn’t know already, from that list that looked interesting and relevant to my areas of interest; for the curious it was Free by Chris Anderson, without the discount it was still at a decent price. But all of this feels like quite the kerfuffle.

I think that it would be good for both you and your customers if you can actually get these things sorted out properly; as I said I’m very happy to continue being your customer, I don’t even care about promotional codes (after all, $2 is almost nothing), but it doesn’t feel right

Oh and if you happen to be able to… could you please make a Linux application to download Adobe Digital Edition files? Thank-you!

Comments 3
  1. bq. Oh and if you happen to be able to… could you please make a Linux application to download Adobe Digital Edition files? Thank-you!They already did for the hardware reader, there is an ebuild for it in my git overlay. Unfortunately I doubt it will work with hardware other than their reader, and they are not the best upstream (replacing the source file, which is a .deb, in place with no renaming). It’s also “unofficial”, and it does odd things like download the Windows installer when it’s auto-update feature detects a new version available.

  2. Heh, for us who don’t have access to the hardware Reader (it’s still available in Canada only, I guess?), it’s still not available, glad to hear they have at least something boiling down. Even if it doesn’t sync with my device, it would be nice enough to download the titles, then I can use Calibre to sync them down.

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