At the start of February 2013, my sister got me a Nook Simple Touch while returning to India from the US. I’d specifically asked for the same and not the Kindle due to the fact that it supports the .EPUB format eBooks and didn’t carry the unnecessary advertisements which some of the Kindle devices do. It also gave me the option of plugging in my microSD card and basically loading more books than I could ever read.
While there are many upsides to owning a Nook eBook reader over the competition, the biggest downside is the fact that you cannot buy any books whatsoever through the device, unless you have a valid US credit card and an address. While in today’s times, that might not be too difficult to arrange, it is still a downside one must consider. Kindle has access to the Kindle Store India and one can easily purchase books and load them onto the device.
Now that I owned an eBook reader, the main task at hand was to load it with books even though I had no access to the Barnes and Noble online store. I picked up hard bound copies of the books I already owned. A quick search on some of the torrent websites and I was able to locate their eBooks. While I cannot comment on the legality of my actions, I simply know that I already own the content and wanted it in a different format for my personal consumption.
Downloading the .EPUB files and putting them on the device memory or the memory card is called side-loading. Once I had side-loaded the books I owned, I went back to the torrent search engines to randomly look for stuff that would be interesting. Just as is the case with music and movies, tens and thousands of eBooks are pirated over the Bit Torrent protocol. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to download. Just google the relevant stuff and you shall be set. You could download entire collections, uploaded by dedicated pirates or search for specific titles.
I did manage to download some books illegally but never got down to putting them on the device. I wanted to see what legal options I had as a resident of India.
First up is Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/). This is a vast collection (more than 42000 books) of classics, old books whose copyright has expired and are now free for distribution.
A good example is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/98). You are free to read the book online or download the same in a variety of formats for consumption through various devices. eBooks are available in .HTML, .EPUB, .MOBI etc. formats for reading on various devices, phones and tablets. Once you get your hands dirty and start exploring various other options, you will realize that many other vendors offer these books for free through their respective channels.
I realized then that the availability of internationally acclaimed titles and foreign authors is easy. What if I wanted to read a novel by a Desi Indian author? Looking around, I got the news that the Google Play Store (https://play.google.com/books) had recently started offering purchase of eBooks through its Play Store online or through any Android device. I was keen to test out this source and immediately whipped out my Android phone and fired up the Play Store. The news was correct and the Play Store showed a large number of books by Indian and Foreign authors available for download through the application. A book once purchased can be read through an app on Android, iOS and through the browser or a dedicated application (Adobe Digital Editions) on a desktop.
I decided to purchase the newly published The Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish Tripathi (https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Amish_Tripathi_The_Oath_of_the_Vayuputras?id=HYnyxy2dFAkC). While I purchased the book through my smartphone (₹ 189), I later realized it’s best to purchase the book via a PC. As you would see if you opened the link for the book, not only are you shown the details and price of the book as on the phone app, you are also shown the format in which the eBook is available. Scanned Pages is your regular .PDF file while Flowing Text is the .EPUB version.
Purchased books are instantly available for reading on your phones and tablets configured with the Google Account you used to purchase the eBook. Opening the Play Store on your PC allows you to download the eBook for offline viewing and loading on other devices as well. Google provides simple and clear instructions on how to go about doing the same in its FAQs.
Google has a vast collection of Indian and Foreign titles available for download in either PDF or EPUB format.
Next stop was the Amazon Kindle Store India (http://amazon.com/kindlestoreindia). Amazon allows customers to directly purchase books for their Kindle readers in Indian Rupee. You can purchase and push books wirelessly to your Kindle devices or smartphone apps available for iOS, Android etc. Offline downloads are also available through the Kindle application for Windows. Amazon uses a variety of formats for its eBooks (.MOBI, .AZW3). For testing purposes, I purchased Ignited Minds by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (http://www.amazon.com/Ignited-Minds-ebook/dp/B008X3PAX8). The book cost me ₹ 75.70 and was instantly available on all devices where I had the Kindle reader configured. I could choose the device where I wanted to push the book to and I selected my Desktop client. The file was available in the .AZW3 format.
Landmark Limited which runs physical book stores in the country also has an online website for purchasing eBooks (http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/ebooks/). The website offered downloads of the latest published books in the EPUB and PDF formats, with each book clearly specifying the format of the purchase. What is surprising here is that Landmark is selling eBooks by foreign authors, out of copyright to its visitors as well for a steep price. The example here is The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. While Landmark sells the eBook here (http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/the-importance-of-being-earnest-by-oscar-wilde-ebooks-23523347/) for ₹ 400, the eBook can be downloaded for free through the Project Gutenberg website (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/844). Landmark offers a reading application for Android devices. The service is essentially like the one offered through the Google Play Store, although it has limited official options for reading (only an Android app) but it allows for downloads to be consumed through the PC or standalone eBook readers using the Adobe Digital Editions software.
My final stop was the website of the eCommerce venture Infibeam (http://www.infibeam.com/eBooks/). Infibeam’s offering is similar to the one described for Landmark. Infibeam offers no application for any platform. It relies on software by Adobe or Microsoft for consumption of the books on computers and their onward transmission (if possible) to standalone readers.
Something very vital worth mentioning here is that all these eBooks have some form of DRM implemented on them that allows the publisher/vendor to control how the eBook is read. The intended objective of these vendors is not just to supply you with the content but also a device that enables the consumption of that content. While Google sells the Nexus 7 officially in India through the Play Store, Amazon sells its Kindle range of eBook readers and Infibeam has its own Pi/Pi2 eBook reader. What device you end up using for reading purposes is entirely upto you. I, as mentioned at the start of this article, use a Nook to read all the eBooks that I download. The official B&N Nook store does not allow me to buy eBooks since I reside outside the US. The only legal options I have are the ones listed above. But with the DRM in place on all purchases, it becomes a challenge transferring your eBook to a third-party reader such as the Nook.
While this may be illegal, there are definite ways to strip this DRM off the purchased eBooks and convert them to various formats for reading on different devices. I and many others rely on a desktop software called Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/). Calibre not only allows you to maintain a systematic digital library on your computer, it can communicate with a vast number of e-reading devices. With use of some plugins (google Apprentice Alf, visit the blog, download the plugin set and carefully go through the FAQs), the software is able to strip DRM off most of the purchases. It then enables conversion of your eBooks to different formats which you may transfer to as many devices you have without the need to purchase a separate copy for every device through its respective eBook store. I would again not like to comment on the legality of this practice. You may follow the same at your own risk. I feel comfortable knowing that the the eBook I purchased is there for my reading anywhere, anytime just like a normal hard bound would be.
I’d like to give a special mention to the Android only app RockStand. RockStand not only allows for purchase of English language eBooks through its mobile application, it has a surprisingly loaded collection of magazines and regional language books on offer. Although I have not purchased any book through this service, I believe the download is a scanned PDF. I came to this conclusion after downloading the full March 2013 issue of FHM through the app for free. The final download was a scanned PDF, that I was able to copy to my PC and view through the Adobe Reader as well. RockStand seems to be an excellent resource for downloading free and paid magazines (local languages as well as English).
A high profile domestic eBook vendor that I have not mentioned in the above list is Flipkart. While Flipkart offers a vast collection of eBooks, it offers them in its own proprietary DRM-ed format (.FKB). I believe that stands for fucking bullshit. That’s because I see no reason for Flipkart to ape Amazon and go for its own format for publishing. The books purchased from Flipkart are readable only through an Android application. Since the format is proprietary, there are no known methods to remove the DRM or convert the file purchased to a regular .EPUB. Thus, at the moment I cannot recommend Flipkart to anyone. Even the free eBooks on offer were protected and wrapped in their own file format.
Although there may be many other options, ways and methods to purchase and read eBooks in India, the above currently seem the safest and easiest to me. As a tip, I would recommend searching for a title on all the four eBook stores I’ve mentioned. For every book I compared, the price varied across all the stores. Just purchase from the store where it is the cheapest. Using some of the tools mentioned in the article, you can easily convert the purchased books to different formats. In my case, even though my Nook doesn’t officially support any of these online book stores, I’m able to legally purchase, download and using some controversial tools and methods, can load the books onto the Nook for reading.
Still, before you start purchasing, it’s just safer to do your own research for the device of your choice. Happy reading!