I don’t think I’ve ever downloaded a free Kindle book from Amazon, but I’ve seen some of my Facebook friends mention that they regularly read free Kindle books. I recently received a tip through my contact form, suggesting a site that lists over 33,000 free Kindle books.
After a long love affair with Bioware games, I’ve found myself smitten with Skryim, by Bethesda. As with the other two games in the Elder Scrolls series that I’ve played, Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim features a huge, do-anything world for you to explore. Unlike those two earlier games, Skryim has me completely addicted. If you’re not playing it, you’re missing out on one of the best games in years. Skyrim’s world is tremendously immersive. The number of books that you’ll find all over Skryim adds to that immersion. The drawback with the number of books that you can find is that reading them takes some time. I have limited time, so I wanted a way to read the books when I wasn’t in front of the computer. Thanks to an enterprising gamer, you can do just that.
Traditional newspapers are struggling. We’ve all heard this, time and again, and know that they are having the same problem that the music and other “olde world” industries have: namely, that the people in charge don’t truly understand the medium of the internet, and are too wrapped up in either complaining about it, trying to figure out how to control it, and suing people to recoup their perceived losses to take advantage of it. Some newspapers have embraced the web, openly or behind paywalls, and some of these websites and mobile apps are actually good, presenting their content well, and occasionally adding a bell or whistle here and there.
What if you have simpler tastes, though? What if, all you want to do is read your favourite newspapers, in their full, original, cover-to-cover glory, from the comfort of your iOS or Android device? How about from your Blackberry? If this is a dream of yours, then Newspaper Direct’s PressReader is your new best friend. Hell, you and your new buddy might even save a tree or 10.
PressReader is fantastic. If I had to use one word to describe it, that would be the one — that or awesome. There are over 1900 newspapers (though the app still says 1700) from around the world available (92 countries, 48 languages) for your reading pleasure, updated daily. These are, as I said, available in full, just the way you would pick them up from the news stands, including all ads, classifieds, the funnies, sections and stories. They are downloaded directly to your device (you can choose download by Wi-Fi only, if you like) so that they are available even when offline.
Newspaper Direct, who are also the purveyors of PressDisplay (the web version and precursor to PressReader), have license agreements in place with all of these newspapers, receiving daily .PDF scans which Newspaper Direct then process to add all sorts of fun interactivity.
An Interactive Newspaper (the Really-Real One)
What sort of interactivity, you say? Well, for starters, all headlines are clickable. You can swipe through the pages as you like, in portrait or landscape mode, and can double-tap, pinch, and zoom to your heart’s content to read the stories — but if you want to see something that’s formatted for easy reading, then tap any headline and you will get a pop up version of only that story. While in the pop-up, you can change the text size and move to the next and previous story, as well, making for a customizable reading experience.
The story pop-up also allows you to print the story in plain text or with full graphics, and has sharing features as well. At the moment, you can share a story via email, Twitter, and Facebook. The Facebook share is a bit ugly with it’s long, title-less hyperlink, but all three methods link you to the full article on PressDisplay.com. In my tests, I was able to access the shared article on the web and mobile safari (the mobile web app is pretty cool, too), without having to log in, or pay for access. That could be the case for all, or just for the papers I was using.
Newspapers That Read to You
The best feature, by far, of PressReader (and PressDisplay) is yet another gem that’s available in the pop-up when you touch a headline. It’s not the ability to search within nearly 2000 papers, and it’s not the Top Stories or Favourites feature (all available from the main menu-bar, not the pop-up) — it’s the cute little headphones icon in the bottom right. Touch this button, and PressReader’s built in text to speech functionality will read the story to you! This is a beautiful thing! If you are on the go, driving, or busily working, your newspaper story can be read to you, keeping your hands and eyes free for more important things — like not killing yourself while driving. I’ve seen more than one moron on the road that was reading a newspaper while in motion — and I’ve called the cops on the idiots, too. I’m no snitch/narc/derogatory tell-tale word of the day, but I’m on the road with my kid and you are not going to cause an accident that hurts her. If you like the paper while driving… get PressReader and save us all the trouble.
Slight digressions about morons aside, I highly recommend PressReader to anyone who enjoys the full newspaper experience (plus more) while on the go, or is interested in saving a few trees (NewsDirect claims to have saved 173,824 trees, and counting). You can get it on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, as well as on Android (Gingerbread and Honeycomb devices), Blackberry (no Playbook yet, but it’s on the way), Windows 7 Slate, and even Windows Mobile 5 (go figure). No mention of Windows Mobile 6 (5 should still work) or 7 yet, but it is likely on the way. You can also download Pressreader for your PC or Mac, iRex Digital, WebOS is on the way, and you can access PressDisplay via the web or even on your Kindle and other eReaders.
What it Costs
The PressReader app itself is free, but newspapers cost $0.99 each, or you can get an unlimited subscription to everything (all 1900 papers) for $29.95 per month. If you want to try before you buy, PressReader comes with seven free newspaper downloads of your choice, and you can give the Top News feature a whirl as well. If you want to try and offset the cost a bit, head over to your account on PressDisplay and check out the referral widget. This is a beta tool that can get you 10% of each subscription that comes through you.
NOTE: My only problem with PressReader, is that the papers you choose to subscribe to don’t sync in your account and therefore have to be re-downloaded for each device. What I am not certain of, as I am using a trial of an unlimited account, is whether or not you would have to pay for that paper on each device. I’ve asked the people at News Direct and expect them to get back to me shortly.
UPDATE: According to my contact at NewsDirect, as well as a comment by Gayle, who also appears to work for them, you can download your newspaper issues on up to six different devices, unless there is something that precludes that in NewsDirect’s licensing deal with a particular publisher.
Also, for those worried about download size and data on your mobile, go into settings to change how long you want PressReader to keep a paper, and to set your PressReader app to download via WiFi only.
Borrowing eBooks is a great way to get your free on in Kindle-land, but if you want to actually own the books — and not be subject to time limits — then check out eReaderIQ. Sure, you probably won’t find the latest best sellers, but you will find a lot more than just public domain. The price drop notifications don’t hurt, either.
eReaderIQ is fairly easy to use, though the interface is a bit busy, and they have recently added a Kindle-friendly version of the site so you can browse right from your device. The database is updated hourly and is region-specific, which helps you to avoid any cross-border licensing disappointments. The 10 regions cover the planet, for the most part, though some are very generalized (like “Asia & Pacific” — does it include Russia? Who knows?) and there is a note at the bottom of the site that states prices and availability are accurate for US customers, regardless of the region you choose. It should also be noted that the book links take you directly to Amazon.com, not the Amazon site that is specific to your country.
You don’t have to register for anything, or provide any personal information at all to eReaderIQ for it to work, but if you do provide your email (upper-right corner of the site) you will be notified up to twice per day of any new free Kindle eBooks outside of the public domain. You can also watch specific books for price drops by adding the ASIN or Item URL, your price-drop Notification Threshold, and your email address.
Another cool feature of the Price Drop Tracker is that you can see a list of books that others are watching (again, with no identifiable information), and can sort by percent of the drop, recent price drops, and most watched. There is also an icon legend to quickly note things like Text-to-Speech, Lending Enabled, etc., which makes it easy for you to find what you are looking for.
eReaderIQ is a great service for Kindle readers looking for free and price-reduced eBooks. Hopefully, they will expand to cover other eBook stores as well, like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks. If you want more details on using the service, check out this review by Guiding Tech.
Calibre is, hands down, the best eBook manager out there. It can help you organize your entire library across devices, convert books from one format to another as needed or desired, and even use the built in server for over-the-air access to your books, from anywhere. In theory, anyway. In practise, there are many things that will get in the way of the “anywhere” part. Software and router firewalls, for example, may prove too complicated to overcome easily, leaving over-the-air book transfer dreams confined within the walls of home networks.
An easy way to mitigate these problems is to set up your Calibre library to be accessible from multiple computers — and the best way to do that is with Dropbox.
At least one Dropbox Account (free should be fine, but you can upgrade to a paid plan if you need more space)
Setting Up Your Library in Dropbox
In order to use Calibre with Dropbox, you first need to either start or move the library folder into your computer’s Dropbox folder. This can be accomplished by clicking on the Library button (it looks like a small shelf of five books) and selecting the new location. If you are starting anew library, select “Create an empty library at the new location.” If you are moving your current library, select “Move current library to new location.” Continue forward and wait for the library to be created/books transferred.
Connecting Your Library to Another Computer
Once your library is set up in Dropbox, install Calibre and Dropbox on a second computer. When Dropbox is installed, login and wait for the library folder you installed to sync fully over to the new computer. Soon there should be green checkmark icons all ’round and indicating readiness. Uthe Library button on this computer’s Calibre installation to once again set the location of your Calibre library in your Dropbox folder. This is the same as before, but this time you will need to select “Use existing library at the new location.” Again, wait until the folder is completely synced, otherwise you may get an error.
That’s it. You’re done! You should now have full access to your eBook library on two computers — more, if you were so inclined as to repeat the last steps a few times. Any changes you make in any of your Calibre installations (or in Dropbox itself) should be reflected in all, and you will be able to use the server for local WiFi transfers to your devices (if supported), without having to worry about complications that may cause you to pull your hair out.
If you happen to have been wondering, the answer is yes: you can also use this method across multiple Dropbox accounts using shared folders. This can be handy when you are using separate accounts among family computers or for work. I’m sure it could be used for other things as well, but we obviously don’t condone that at 40Tech.
Things to Remember
As you are working with the same library across multiple installations, it is a good idea to only work in Calibre on one computer at a time as doing otherwise may cause problems with the database.
It is possible that using this method across different operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux) will cause issues with case-sensitivity in filenames and metadata. As I understand it, this is due to more to how Dropbox must interact with the host OS’s file system. Recent versions of Calibre attempt to mitigate this problem, but according to the creator of the software, it does not solve it. In a thread about this on the mobilereads forum he says: “If you have multiple books by the same author and you change the case of the author name for one of the books on a case insensitive filesystem, then on a case sensitive filesystem, calibre will lose track of the other books.” Bottom line? Be careful changing information when working across OS’s.
So far, this method has proven to be a very effective way to manage and access an eBook library from multiple computers and locations. As an added bonus, you will have access to your eBooks from any computer or device capable of accessing Dropbox, even when Calibre is not present. On the Dropbox iPhone app, for example, you can find the book file you want and open it directly in an eReader application, including iBooks and Stanza, allowing you to bypass Calibre transfers altogether. As long as you have an internet connection, your library is with you — even when space on your device is at a premium.