Ebook Readers and Mises.org

The Mises Institute is cranking out .epub versions of its vast library of free literature. In addition to all of the free pdfs, this makes an ebook reader a valuable tool for Austrian and libertarian readers. As more books are published in epub and ebook readers improve in quality and fall in price, this technology is becoming a real boon for Mises.org readers as well as a great new medium to spread the Austrian literature. Students will also greatly benefit if they can find their textbooks online (search on The Pirate Bay and Ebookee.)

A reader will save you a lot of money on books, and is much easier to carry around than paper books. The screens are “virtual paper”—reflective displays, similar to an etch-a-sketch. This makes it easier on the eyes to read for long periods (whereas backlit LCD displays make the eyes sore after a while). I also like that you don’t have to hold it open, which is a major nuisance with books.

I recently tried out the Sony PRS-600: it worked great except for two problems. 1) It’s too small to be practical for reading 8.5″ x 11″ pdfs. 2) The screen had too much glare and too little contrast while reading inside on a cloudy day. This may be due to the touchscreen layer, but hopefully the problem will be overcome soon.

For reading academic literature, screen size is important. Epub looks good on any size of display, but pdfs pose a problem. Pdfs are generally too large to fit comfortably onto a 6″ display. A 9” display would be perfectly able to handle full size pdfs. Some ebook readers can extract the text and reflow it in a larger font, but this jumbles headers and footnotes with the main text. If the pdf page size isn’t too big (as with pdfs of books and journal articles), you can crop or trim out the margins to get a readable fit. Here are a handful of programs for doing this:

  • pdflrf (torrent): crops and converts to images (Sony format)
  • soPDF: pdf to pdf conversion, non-image so text is reflowable and searchable
  • PaperCrop: converts to images, optimized for reader screens
  • pdfRead: converts to images
  • PDF Cropper: full-featured tool, but free version makes watermarks

I returned the Sony Reader and I’m going to keep my eye out for a model with a larger display. Right now, both Copia and Asus look promising, and should be releasing soon. An important consideration is when to buy: the technology is still fairly new and expensive, and will certainly improve markedly over a short period. Like PCs, they will become obsolete quickly, but they should become cheap enough that it won’t matter. Even at the current primitive stage, the benefits are already substantial. You should at least start thinking about buying an ebook reader instead of paper books.