Sunday, August 21, 2011

OverDrive Media Console & other e-book reader apps

11/1/11 WARNING: The 2.3.3 version of OverDrive Media Console apparently introduced a bug that prevents download of e-books to the iPod under iOS 4.3.5 (possibly under all earlier iOS versions as well). It may even wipe out existing e-books, but I cannot confirm that. Stay with version 2.3.2, or hope for a future fix. I ended up upgrading my iPod to iOS 5, and OverDrive 2.3.3 can again download e-books.

11/11/11 WARNING: Version 3.2 of Stanza, available 11/10/11, doesn't work under iOS 4 (according to multiple App Store reviews), although it is needed under iOS 5, which would not run the previous version, 3.1.

The free Overdrive Media Console app allows wireless downloading of assorted electronic media, e.g., books and audiobooks. You can check out such materials from libraries if you have a valid library card. The materials automatically expire at the end of the check out period, "returning" themselves. Beyond the choice of materials at my library, I imagine I could also check such materials out from other libraries in the network, but have yet to investigate.  As of December 2011, I haven't downloaded any audiobooks, so cannot comment on them.  OverDrive also has personal computer based software as well, which I think you can use to get additional material onto iOS devices, but I have not used it -- the iOS app meets my needs well as is.

In September 2011, OverDrive added Kindle compatibility to libraries in its network, broadening the e-book selection and also increasing the appeal of the Kindle app. I tried it out from my iPad, downloading material both wirelessly and wired, and was interested to see that Amazon later sent me e-mail (first warning that the e-book would expire in 3 days, later to say that the e-book had indeed expired) noting that if I purchase the e-book "from the Kindle Store or borrow it again from [my] local library, all of [my] notes and highlights will be preserved." (see also That seems to be a win for consumers, Amazon, OverDrive, and libraries, and a loss for Amazon competitors and privacy advocates.

12/8/11: After noticing that in Safari, Kindle books were showing on library websites only on an iPad and not on an iPod through this process, I contacted a librarian, who subsequently conveyed to me this information from OverDrive:
Please note that Kindle devices, Smartphones, and other small screen devices that operate a mobile versus a standard browser are not currently supported for direct checkout and download for Kindle Books. At this time, Kindle Books can only be delivered to a Kindle or free Kindle apps from a PC, Mac, or tablet. We hope to expand mobile access in the future.

Please ask your patron to contact Amazon to find out when they will be adding this capability. Amazon can be contacted by clicking on the 'Contact Us' button at the following link:
Mercury Web Browser Lite (version 5.1 and 5.2, but not 5.2.1) and Mercury Web Browser Pro can identify themselves to websites as other browsers. OverDrive starts up Safari, but you can copy the URL, paste it into Mercury, set Mercury to identify itself as Mobile Safari(iPad), refresh the browser if needed, and you will be able to access the Kindle e-books on an iPod (at least I could through my local library).  (6/2012:  For one Adobe EPUB format e-book, I could not download directly through Mercury Web Browser Pro, but could through Safari.  I usually get Kindle format e-books, so maybe this has always been the case but I have only discovered it now.)

Some of the following e-book commentary is directed toward public domain material, which is typically formatted rather roughly. Commercial e-books, such as those for sale on Amazon, are normally formatted nicely, so some of the following comments would not apply to them.

There are also older public domain materials which are freely downloadable and which don't expire; my library helps direct you to those as well. While the selection is of course rather "historical", from a quick look I found two eBooks which are sufficiently "timeless" and can be of use for my efforts at strengthening my Spanish:
  • Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar by C.A. Toledano (1917). Basic grammar rules presumably haven't changed much, if at all. I like to learn/relearn this stuff, although many would find it tedious and boring, e.g., how to conjugate regular verbs or spelling rules like "The diaresis [two dots] is placed over u in 'güe' and 'güi' when the u is to be sounded.", as a friend and I had similarly discussed some months ago, touching on the Spanish word for penguin, pingüino.
  • An Elementary Spanish Reader by Earl Stanley Harrison (1912).
It appears that material that originally used chart-style formatting visibly suffers in these presentations (e.g., the list of vocabulary equivalents in Spanish and English starting at the bottom of page 13 of Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar), but it's still usable.

I also downloaded Chess Fundamentals by J.R. Capablanca, of which I long ago bought a printed copy. However, the chess diagrams are squeezed very thin, so it's necessary to turn the iPod screen to landscape to see them properly. (My blog entry about this e-book under iOS 5)

Probably pure text, with minimal or no diagrams/charts, works best with OverDrive Media Console.

For normal reading, you can choose a sepia background, which I find more pleasant on the eyes, instead of white. OverDrive Media Console also has a Night Mode, to flip text to be white on a black background, plus a brightness control.

9/11/11: Public domain e-books are available through multiple iOS apps, not just OverDrive.  For example, Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar mentioned above is additionally available in all of:
An app's combination of features, including its access to material, may appeal to you enough for you to use it for all of your reading, or you might use different apps in different circumstances. For instance, in my own usage of Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar, I prefer direct access to the Table of Contents, so Kindle would not be my choice for that. iBooks has a brightness control, good for night reading. Kindle requires you to login (register the device) any time you cold-start the app, and while it is registered it will check for a sync when you start it, and maybe at other times (presumably part of how Amazon invokes security, e.g., as in the 2009 remote wiping of George Orwell's 1984 from Kindles). Stanza has a variety of themes (visual appearance of the text and background) for reading both in the day and at night -- first app I've noticed to have had such; vertical direction swipes also alter the brightness (up = brighter, down = dimmer). iBooks, Kindle, and Stanza all hide controls and informational notes (e.g. page x/y, plus the standard iPod top info bar which shows time, etc.) when reading, giving more space (at a premium on an iPod!) to the actual material.  If remaining battery power is ever a concern, any "night mode" which has white text and a black background should make the battery last longer, since less energy should be needed to illuminate the screen.

11/27/11:  Syncing across multiple iOS devices:
Kindle features the best syncing, including for Kindle e-books borrowed from the library.  iBooks cannot be used for borrowing library e-books, but otherwise may be close -- I cannot remember if I synced my small library across iPod and iPad manually, but my iPod has Winnie-the-Pooh, which came free at one point (probably when the iBooks app was released), but is currently not free in the iBooks Store, and was not on my iPad until I copied it there manually from PC iTunes as a result of writing this additional note.  OverDrive and Stanza e-book access is device-based; you must download each e-book from scratch onto each device.
12/10/11: With OverDrive, log in to your library account on each device onto which you want to download the e-book.  For any iOS device after the first, you should be able to (again) download materials that are checked out to your account (I was able to from my local library, anyway).

As a result of this investigation, Stanza is my preferred app for Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar.  Kindle is my favorite for reading library e-books, but sometimes a book I want to read is only available in epub format, for which I would happily use OverDrive.

12/12/11:  Currently Amazon runs a Kindle Daily Deal, where they have a very favorable discount on a different e-book each day.  You may wish to follow that by checking their website each day and/or by signing up for e-mail or Twitter notifications.  I learned about this special pricing the day after having sadly missed the chance to get the wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell e-book for $1.99.
1/3/12: As I write, Amazon is offering the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell e-book for $2.99! It's great to have a digital copy for convenience of reading, but the charming (or perhaps annoying, depending on the reader) print footnotes have been turned into endnotes. The print version generally (maybe always) has the explanation of a footnote (or at least the start of it) on the same page as the footnote appears. This difference in footnote presentation between print and digital copies would likely be more significant the first time you read the book, but this is my second (or third?) time through. Time will tell how often I turn to the now-endnotes.
Ah, I see Barnes and Noble is also selling the Nook Book version for $2.99. Both companies list the digital version's regular price as $3.99 ("suggested retail price set by the publisher" -Amazon), which I think is a significant drop from mid-December 2011. Competition may have truly been responsible for bringing consumers a lower price on digital copies of this book.

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