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how do I do my own kindle-like thing - without amazon

 
Trailboss
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I have friends that are authors.   I want to offer my own sort of "library and ebook store".  I would like people to be able to buy an ebook and be able to view it in a browser, or offline in a kindle-like app.  But without piracy issues.

My guess is that somewhere there is a service where I can pay something like $400 per year and I upload the ebooks to the service.  Kinda like youtube or vimeo.   And then I can embed the book on my site.   And toggle on the ability for the user to view the book later, off-line, through the special app.  

The important thing is that at no time does the user get a PDF or mobi file.  

Is there such a service?

Might there be another approach?



Another way of looking at this is:  my friend, Tom, has 8 books he would like me to offer in this bookstore.  But he won't do it unless there can be some sort of security.  And I think nearly everybody will be frustrated unless they can view books offline.   He gladly offers his books on kindle and some other web sites that do this.  I am guessing that there is a quick plug and play that will allow me to do it to, but it seems my google-foo is weak on this one.

And ideas?

 
Bartender
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You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. You want offline reading, but not a ".mobi" (obsolete) or PDF file. What difference does it make what the file format is, if it's something that nobody can read without custom software installed on their computer/tablet/phone?

About the only way I can think of to keep content on a server from being pulled down locally is to embed it in a video - which is a pretty awful way to read documents. That's because the video content providers have strong-armed the client (browser) suppliers into making their decoders into integral components of the client apps.

The Kindle and Nook apps have decryption abilities, but they do download. Although in the case of the Nook, even "DRM-free" files are DRM'd by the simple virtue of hiding them in a place where only rooting the OS can make them visible. Which is probably why there's no Nook For Linux.

Then again, that level of greed has made me stop buying books for Nook, DRM or no. If Packt or O'Reilly is willing to sell me a book and advertise it as freely transferable (subject to copyright), then bn.com shouldn't have the right to cancel that right unilaterally.

As I said elsewhere, the more you try to prevent theft, the more you attract thieves and repel honest customers and there's statistical evidence to back that up, but I understand that some people simply can't abide the thought of even a single copy of their product being pirated, so here's the best I can offer:

The DRM process used by Kindle, Nook, Overdrive, Adobe Digital Editions, etc. al. is not a one-time thing. The encryption is done on a per-client basis. And by per-client, I mean that if you have 6 Kindles and download to each, you'll end up with 6 different files. Because the identity of the client device is used as part of the input to the decryption process. Because of this, you can't do simple hosting with DRM, you have to use a host that applies DRM encryption as part of the service.

Basically, that leaves you with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo (or maybe some lesser-known players). All of whom would probably be glad to provide those services - if you contract with them as a publisher.

You could, of course, set up your own encrypting host. But then you've have to supply your own reader app. And having multiple reader apps is about as appealing to me as the current trend of content providers to yank their property off Netflix and nickel-and-dime me with 110 paid service providers. That was a lot of what people hated about cable TV.
 
paul wheaton
Trailboss
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Tim Holloway wrote:You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too.



How do you figure?

I want to find a service.   I am hopeful that the service will give me these tools.  It seems like a reasonable thing.

In fact I have a business transaction with an author and we planned to do the transaction using the amazon tools.  And when the time came to do it, amazon changed things so that that would no longer work.   And yet, all the other people put up their money for it.    What I am asking for would solve the problem.  



 
Tim Holloway
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paul wheaton wrote:
How do you figure?



Because you want offline reading but not a download.
 
paul wheaton
Trailboss
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Tim Holloway wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:
How do you figure?



Because you want offline reading but not a download.



I want the same thing that comes with kindle.  Offline reading plus the ability to download in a format that is not a quick copy thing.  

I have three authors I want to work with and they are willing, but only if I can over this.

 
Tim Holloway
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Well, as I said before, you can't really copy protect, you can only screw with the ability to use the copy. Kindle has a special client application program, It downloads the files in .azw, .azw3, .kfx or non-kindle formats, like PDF according to what they're serving and what options they wish to support for a given client. The actual document format for their native reader applications is, I think, a lot like the .epub format favored by most other providers such as Barnes and Noble, and an .epub is simply a ZIP file with chapters as individual files in HTML form.

The protection comes in 2 parts: 1) the document spec allows adding meta-data that indicates that the content is encrypted, along with actual encryption of the contents and 2) storing the the files in an inaccessible location (for the Nook, at least).

The thing is, I know of no general-purpose document manager/reader/decryption program as such. Calibre serves many of those purposes, but its method of dealing with encrypted publications is to decrypt them as it stores them. As a general rule, when people "buy" books, they want to actually "own" them, so that's been all they worry about. Calibre does not attempt to do like the Kindle and Nook clients and interact directly with the store servers - who don't provide any public APIs for that purpose anyway,

So personally, if people are hung up on piracy, I can only think of 3 options:

1. Forget about encryption and consider watermarking purchases.

2. In the case of PDF's and MS-Word type documents, do your own encryption and deal with the ill-will it engenders, as seen in the other thread on this topic.

3. Contract with Amazon (or bn.com, or kobo) to let them deal with the process.

OK, 4 options. You could create your own client app and server system, try to convince people to buy into it - and remember, offline reader means separate apps for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Windows, MacOS, Linux, etc., etc., etc. all maintained at your expense.

I gather you did attempt to play with Amazon and had problems. Not sure what they were, since if you can deliver a kindle-format file (or maybe a PDF), they should be able to take it from there. We do have at least one insider with Manning Publications here on the Ranch, though, so maybe you could get help from that direction. Although Manning sells their e-books in non-DRM format, if I'm not mistaken.

In the mean time, consider this: Your authors who are so paranoid about zero loss are losing business every minute they withhold their works waiting for "copy" protection. Do they think that losing to the occasional pirate is worth more than making no profit at all? Or is their audience uniquely a pack of thieves unlike the usual crowd who've been known to actually pay when it's optional, like with works from Corey Doctorow?
 
paul wheaton
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In this particular branch of publishing, I recorded a podcast with a self pub author.  He had two books out:  A and B.   A had 20 times the sales of B.   Sales were rock solid steady year round.  And then A was pirated - sales of A dropped to about half that of B, and again, they are both steady at that rate.  

This particular author said, in the podcast, he can't put out another book because all the editors, graphic artists and layout people won't do their jobs unless they are paid in advance.  And he can't afford the risk of paying them and never getting that money back.   So this six new books he was working on have been shelved.  And it is my opinion that his work is genius.  

Maybe in the world of software engineering publishing the sales lost to piracy are negligible.   But the same cannot be said for all books.

So not only do I have a position that is different from yours, but even if I shared your position, I would not get enough air time to say anything.  "If somebody bought by book on your site would they just get the pdf?"  "Yes."  "No thanks."  

The authors are okay with kindle.  The user can view it online, or download the book - but doesn't get a file they can share.  

---

So I am asking here to look for actual software engineering solutions.  

I guess I thought there would be a service called Bindle.  And they would offer apps on a bunch of platforms.  And they would have an API.  I would pay them something like $400 per year and I could say "for this PDF, I want it to only appear on my website.   And allow the user to download, but only in a format readable by the Bindle offline reader."  






 
Tim Holloway
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Actually, the stats I've seen have been from music sites and popular fiction. O'Reilly doesn't really say what their monetary losses are on tech publications, although his opinions on the whole thing are a matter of record (https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/15/does-piracy-cause-economic-harm-how-to-think-about-economic-frontiers/#7f148ba30d5f)

As a final note, since no one's changing opinions anyway, I'd remark that book sales aren't linear, and like smoking and cancer, correlating losses due to theft versus other causes like market saturation over time can only be approximated. Plus quite a few pirates do end up paying later, interestingly enough.

A sample of 2 is hardly good statistics in any event. But no matter.

No, the customers aren't screaming for inconveniences, and it's a lot of work to keep DRM from being (relatively) inconvenient, so only a few players find it profitable. You'll just have to suck it up and deal with Amazon.
 
Master Rancher
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What about the actual idea?  Is there a service out there?

My library has a few different services where I can borrow a book or a magazine (hoopla is one of these, but there are about 7 different kinds).  If I'm on my PC, I can only read it online.  But on my tablet, I can read these online or download them to read later.  

How does a regular human publish their work on this kind of service?  
 
Tim Holloway
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r ranson wrote:What about the actual idea?  Is there a service out there?

My library has a few different services where I can borrow a book or a magazine (hoopla is one of these, but there are about 7 different kinds).  If I'm on my PC, I can only read it online.  But on my tablet, I can read these online or download them to read later.  

How does a regular human publish their work on this kind of service?  



I'm going to say it again. If you make it so that when I die or you go out of business (a very real danger with bn.com, and past history with Borders) that my purchase evaporates into thin air, it's very likely I won't buy your book in the first place, so you will lose money even without piracy. And even Paul's claimed and debatable 50% piracy rate beats 100% sales loss when you're too scared to publish at all without lockdown.

But, having said that, here's what I can tell you about DRM publishing.

Excepting Amazon/Kindle, most DRM is done via Adobe ADEPT, using either encrypted ePub format or PDF. The general-purpose reader for ADEPT is the Adobe Digital Editions application, although presumable it's available as some sort of library for readers such as Overdrive and Nook.

There are 2 parts to ADEPT. One is the encryption side and one is the decryption side. That's because every client that receives a copy of an epub has it individually encrypted for one and only one destination device.

And, incidentally, you can also set a "time bomb" when you do that, which is how Overdrive library books expire in 2 weeks or whatever. I haven't had the "good fortune" to buy from the recent crop of college textbooks that evaporate at the end of the term, And in fact, the very concept makes me livid, since I happily re-read my old texts from decades ago on occasion even on subjects I didn't major in. To pay that much for transient knowledge is more than I want to consider.

The problem with this two-part arrangement is that there isn't any mix-and-match solution I know of. If you provide an encrypted content server (which I imagine costs $$$$$), then you must perforce also provide decrypting readers. Overdrive won't read Nook books even though the same algorithms decrypt both and vice versa. Which means that you also have to spend $$$$$ creating and maintaining multiple versions of your very own proprietary reader. So unless you plan to go into business as a publishing house and can raise significant capital to license the technology and create the apps, you have to go through an existing merchant such as Amazon or bn.com.

I won't swear that somewhere there isn't some altruistic organization that will make yours (and Paul's) dreams come true. But if there is, it's very well hidden. On the whole, people don't demand DRM, it's strong-armed on them. And they can - and will - actually pay extra for DRM-free versions of products (in fact, I've done so myself).

Yes, I'm an obnoxious snot and I won't shop at stores who tread me more like a potential shoplifter than an actual customer. But when there's a Free Market, you can do these things. Publishers like HarperCollins who ram DRM down my throat bet my money, grudgingly, if at all, and the only reason I can even be forced to buy from them is that they have a monopoly on certain popular authors and titles. I'll buy a Baen book first.
 
r ranson
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Tim Holloway wrote:

I'm going to say it again. If you make it so that when I die or you go out of business (a very real danger with bn.com, and past history with Borders) that my purchase evaporates into thin air, it's very likely I won't buy your book in the first place, so you will lose money even without piracy. And even Paul's claimed and debatable 50% piracy rate beats 100% sales loss when you're too scared to publish at all without lockdown.



I totally get what you are saying.  Yes, it is related to the question.  However, it would be more helpful to focus on the question we are asking.

I read a while back that if we have a book published on kindle, we can grant free access to individual readers - either for free or for a fee ($0.99).  Is that still a possibility?  Would that solve the issue, Paul?  

How about a system like these people use?  https://www.iampeth.com/pdf/cb-doner-scrapbook
 
Marshal
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r ranson wrote:I read a while back that if we have a book published on kindle, we can grant free access to individual readers - either for free or for a fee ($0.99).


Is there a page where this is documented or mentioned?

r ranson wrote:How about a system like these people use?  https://www.iampeth.com/pdf/cb-doner-scrapbook


That is a flipbook. It may work fine on a web browser, but it doesn't come with anything that supports offline access to the book.
 
r ranson
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I had some authors mention the kindle thing to me in emails over the years - I never looked up the details.  

The flipbook - that could be hidden behind a login wall?  Like a private forum?

I think that would solve some of the problems. Not for the main book, but for granting access to such and such content.  
 
Tim Holloway
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In my own, not-so-subtle way, I'm trying to point out that when you restrict people's freedom, it costs you. Whether you want to pay that cost is your decision. And maybe your target audience is more larcenous than average as Paul's friend's market seems to be. There's no such thing as a free lunch, either way.

KDP is basically a vanity press for Amazon. They allow you to publish for "free", because it costs them virtually nothing to host the materials. After all free online storage and even VM hosting is pretty common in this era of cheap resources, and the only complaint I can make on that is that people want to treat me as a cheap resource, too. But that's another story.

The publisher's cut from sales of Amazon KDP is pretty hefty, but it's not without its benefits - including the ability to publish "dead tree" format on demand.

Then there are the other costs that people forget. Smashwords has gotten quite a few successful authors started (they don't use DRM, incidentally), but one of the things you lose in the process of self-publishing is a professional editor to ensure that the manuscript is as clean as possible. Then again, BYTE magazine ran such a tight schedule that by the time I got the galleys on my Amiga article, it was too late for them to undo the "corrections" they shouldn't have done!
 
Tim Holloway
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r ranson wrote:I'm thinking Paul's issue where he's granting access to such and such as the extra rewards. It wouldn't work for the main book.


There is nothing new under the sun.

Dead Tree tech books sometimes had this feature. Usually a slip of paper was attached just inside the binding with a unique access code on it. These days a QR Code would be an even better option.

A variation on this was to require purchasers to create a login account on the goodie site.

In either event, you'd often get stuff like source code for the exercises or stuff like that. DIY project sites could use it to serve up detailed plans and build instructions. And so forth.

Incidentally, if you wanted to split the difference, it wouldn't be that hard to create a non-DRM'ed ebook that you could serve yourself behind a paywall where you inserted the access link (URL) into the document prior to downloading. You could thus make it more difficult for pirates to get the extras because if the server logs showed an unusually high number of different clients all pulling under that code, you could simply shut it off. And track back to the original purchaser.
 
Tim Holloway
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And speaking of Amazon KDP:

https://authorlink.com/rants/avoiding-the-pitfalls-of-publishing-with-amazon-kindle-self-publishing-platform/

Thank you Google for snooping on my search history.  
 
Tim Holloway
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I kind of hate to beat a dead horse, and I'm not expecting to persuade anyone whose mind is already made up, but one of my primary concerns about DRM has received a new impetus, and for anyone who's still deciding, this may prove useful decision-making data.

First, about the author of the rant whose link follows:

Cory Doctorow has some skin in this game. He's a fairly well-known science-fiction author noted for futurism and the (possible) post-scarcity future. Among his most famous works are Craphound, Little Brother and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Disclaimer: I've never bought any of his works (although I did read one courtesy of the local public library), and like Philip Jose Farmer, his characters are a little whiney for my taste, but plenty of others like his works.

He's also an outspoken critic of DRM, refuses to allow it to be used on anything he publishes, and, in fact, I think he even subscribes to a payment-optional model. He's not a niche writer, so  losses due to piracy are going to have a lot bigger impact on him in dollar terms. But he remains steadfast. He's also a regular contributer on boingboing.net (a bunch of pinko liberals if ever there was one) and a supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

So he's not an unbiased commentator, but nevertheless, what he's commenting on is a matter that affects a lot of people, regardless of whether they support DRM or not.

https://boingboing.net/2019/06/28/jun-17-2004.html

In short, Microsoft is doing exactly what everyone who ever spent hundreds or thousands of dollars amassing an e-book collection fears. Not that this is new to them. Remember "Plays for Sure"?


Now if you're publishing on Amazon KDP (where you can choose DRM or not), you're probably not going to scare potential customers. Though granted, isn't one reason why Microsoft is so big because "they'll always be there"?

Amazon started with books, and I have little doubt that they will be the last one to fall as well. But please don't go all Libertarian on me if they end up the only provider because no else one has confidence (or resources) enough to create a Free Market for book publishing/purchasing. Or that, becoming a monopoly, they don't dictate whatever terms they like. Why not rent books by the page, after all?
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