Stellar Start-ups: Feed your e-reader

Many of the for-sale books are just a buck, so if you’re willing to part with a few shekels, you can build an impressive library of cookbooks, reference, novels, and any other type of book you can think of.

311_ereader (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sooner or later, some wonk is going to publish one of the price/cost spreadsheets that is going to make it very clear that e-books are far more economical than print books. Besides saving the time and money spent on commuting to the bookstore – not to mention the trees saved when we buy an electronic version of a book over a print version – e-books save time and energy in all sorts of other ways. For example, the Kindle comes with a built-in dictionary, which looks up definitions and other information about words and phrases when you highlight a word. So you spend less time thumbing through a dictionary or surfing to definition sites.
Time is money, so into the spreadsheet those savings go as well and that might just tip the balance away from print. Not to mention that there are more than enough free e-books out there (and not just oldies but goodies) so that you could theoretically never have to spend another shekel on books! How’s that for balancing the balance sheet?
So, whether you’re looking at one or not, chances are an e-book reader is in your future. As we discussed last week, there are different hardware options, each with their own format. Fortunately, the software options – the formats you download the books in – are “fungible,” and for the most part can be converted between formats used by different devices at the touch of a button (one of the formats is a bit more work requiring three or four clicks). The magic comes courtesy of a free application called Calibre (, perhaps the greatest boon – and bargain – for e-book lovers on the market today.
First, a word about PC reading. If you aren’t ready to sink money into an e-reader just yet, you can download Amazon’s Kindle for PC or Mac for free, and read all the books you care to from the Amazon bookstore. The Kindle application strives to give users as close a look and feel experience to the real thing as possible; if and when you get a “real” Kindle (or iPad, as there is also a Kindle app for Apple’s device as well), your library automatically gets synced up. As of now, there is no way to read Apple iBooks on a non-iPad device, so computer users who want to try e-books before they buy will have to make do with the Kindle desktop app (with hundreds of thousands of book choices, including thousands of free e-books on hundreds of topics, we won’t cry too hard for them).
If you’ve got an e-reader, though, Calibre can help you navigate the wild world of e-book formats successfully. The list of devices Calibre supports is too numerous to reproduce here (check out, but suffice to say that it includes readers neither you nor I (and probably nobody else) has ever heard of! Calibre automatically converts between the e-book’s present format and the format used by the device; all you have to do is import the book into your library and sync your device; your e-book is there, nicely formatted for whatever device you have. Among the other wonders of Calibre is its built-in news downloader. Far from a simple RSS downloader, the Calibre news reader lets you access hundreds of newspapers and magazines from around the world, delivered to your device nicely formatted, with table of contents, etc. The news downloader alone is worth the price of Calibre.
Note that some purchased books (like from Amazon) come DRM protected, which is no problem if you’re using a Kindle, or an iPad or laptop with a Kindle application, to read. If you want to load up the book onto your Sony or other e-reader, though, you need to remove the DRM (in this situation, the old adage – “Google is your friend” – comes in handy). Amazon e-books come in two flavors .AZW format (DRM removable) and .TPZ formant (DRM not removable, from what I have read).
But you may not need to be doing much DRM stripping, once you get through this list of sites where you can download free ebooks for your device, for uploading to your device by Calibre or reading on your PC you can use Calibre’s built-in reader to display any format the application handles. If you have an iPad and use Calibre’s sister app for the device, called Stanza (, you have built-in access to free books from Feedbooks (the site is, and you can also download their e-books to your PC).
Feedbooks has e-versions of the classics, as well as newer self-published or otherwise non-copyrighted material. Similar in content and policy are and And if you like science fiction, check out the select offerings at
Wowio ( has an interesting take on ebooks, offering freebies while operating a store, with an emphasis on comic books and graphic novels. The offerings at Wowio are different than what you would find at more traditional sites. When you sign up, you’re allowed to download some of their for-sale comic books for free, and every once in a while they give away an for-pay e-book to readers, usually sponsored by a software company or book publisher (for example, they’ll give away a previous title of an author whose new book they’re trying to promote).
Note that many of the for-sale books are just a buck, so if you’re willing to part with a few shekels, you can build an impressive library of cookbooks, reference, novels, and any other type of book you can think of. Eventually these e-books will be replacing the real thing; think of how much shelf space getting rid of your “analog books” will save!