Specialist computer book publisher, O’Reilly, triggered a heated response when it announced last week that it is getting out of the business of selling ebook versions of their publications from their website. Non-DRM O’Reilly ebooks were very popular with developers, but the company no longer sells them directly.
The move is aimed at pushing O’Reilly’s multitude of loyal readers to adopt another ebook service, the Safari subscription platform.
Launched in 2000, Safari morphed over time into a joint venture, owned by O’Reilly and a group of publishing heavyweights including Wiley and Pearson. But in recent years O’Reilly has bought out the other shareholders and now owns the service outright.
Laura Badwin, O’Reilly’s CEO, said:
we had to make a tough decision, and we chose to support the side of the business that has the most customers, that is growing the fastest, and that supports all of the learning modalities that customers are demanding.
Clearly it makes sense for O’Reilly to consolidate its ebook strategy and focus on a single (profitable) channel. But the move has riled a lot of customers.
There are two main gripes: DRM, and the un-availability of PDF versions of O’Reilly titles. The announcement generated disappointment at having to download “crippled” or “locked-down” books. Until now, O’Reilly had been celebrated by the anti-DRM community for making their entire calalogue of titles available in un-encrypted formats. This meant that a user could open an O’Reilly EPUB, for example, using their preferred EPUB viewer; they were not obliged to install a special app from the retailer that is designed to unlock-and-display the content. Now, if you buy an O’Reilly ebook from Amazon, you need to install the Kindle app. And the file is locked to the Kindle system.
The second issue is that many online ebook retail outlets have stopped selling PDFs, or never did sell them. Of course, if you’re reading a novel, the re-flowable elegance of an EPUB file is perfect. You can easily adjust the font size, adopt night-reading mode and, on a small screen, you never need to scroll left and right. Unfortunately, there are many books for which the graphic design, the actual layout of the page, is integral to the message, the meaning of the page. This is true of illustrated technical titles and books that include formulas and other non-text elements. EPUBs often don’t display complex pages well.
Hence the disappointment. In their announcement, O’Reilly referred users to “Amazon and other digital and bricks-and-mortar retailers” for their ebook requirements. But most other e-retailers don’t offer PDF versions of O’Reilly titles and/or only sell in a DRM-encrypted format.
While the demise of O’Reilly DRM-Free ebooks has got some readers hot under the collar, not so for eBooks.com’s customers. You can buy non-DRM O’Reilly ebooks — EPUBs and PDFs — as always from us.
And a final note: be careful. Some retailers offer “PDF” versions of ebooks, including O’Reilly titles, which are actually grotesque specimens that have been converted inelegantly from EPUB to PDF. Instead of just receiving and selling the gorgeously-designed PDFs that O’Reilly makes available, these retailers go to the trouble of spawning a kind of frankenbook — not quite grasping the reason why people want PDFs in the first place. You should buy from eBooks.com instead.