eReaders and eBooks: my Kobo Clara HD

Photo of Kobo Clara HD lying on a light wood desk, showing the title image of Stephanie Hare's "Technology Is Not Neutral"

There have been a couple of threads on Twitter recently about eReaders and eBooks, so I thought I'd write up my setup.

Kobo Clara HD

In a way, my eReader - a Kobo Clara HD - is one of the most underrated pieces of tech I own.

It Just Works.

I have used it for hours and hours and hours, and I love it. The battery life is amazing.

The default UI is fine, so I haven't bothered to change it.

I can side-load books with nothing more than drag-and-drop.

Ideally it would have forward and back buttons on the side, rather than relying on the touchscreen, but oh well.

I don't know if I was just being contrarian when I bought it, or if it was because I didn't like the idea of Amazon tracking every word I read.

The fact it was also going (relatively) cheap in John Lewis - about £70 - did not hurt.

Bypassing the registration and login screen

I didn't fancy giving Kobo any personal data, so I bypassed the registration and login screen with a quick tweak to the .sqlite database on the device.

There are some instructions here, but the gist is:

  • mount the device on your computer
  • browse to the device's internal storage
  • switch to the .kobo directory
  • open the database for editing: sqlite3 KoboReader.sqlite
  • fake the login details: INSERT INTO user(UserID,UserKey) VALUES('1','');

And that's it.

Now, obviously - well, obviously to me - I should not have needed to do this just to use the eReader I purchased without handing over my personal data needlessly, but, hey, it worked.

wallabag

I use wallabag as a self-hosted "Read It Later" system.

Thanks to the wallabako code, I can read wallabag'd articles on my Kobo.

I see an article on the web that I want to read, but not now (or else I want to read it specifically on my eReader; ideal for longer form content), I press the wallabag button in my browser, and then, when I turn on Wi-Fi on my Kobo, it syncs my list of unread articles.

You need to do some configuration to make it work, but there is a decent logging to help you troubleshoot errors. It's not quite "drag-and-drop" though.

Managing my eBooks: calibre

Screenshot of calibre

I manage my eBook library using calibre. I'm currently using it on Linux, and I used it on macOS before.

It isn't the friendliest, or more aesthetically pleasing, piece of software, but it is functional, and I like it.

Aside from storing my eBooks in one easy-to-find place, there are a couple of aspects of calibre that I particularly like.

Conversion tools / regex

Screenshot of calibre's conversion interface

calibre has really powerful tools for converting files between formats.

I tend to buy eBooks from Amazon, and the Amazon format doesn't work on the Kobo. Never mind, calibre converts it automatically (once DRM is removed; see below).

I also use the conversion tools to turn PDFs into eBooks, to make them easier / more pleasant to read. I rely quite heavily on calibre's regex handling for this, to strip out irritants like titles at the top of pages, and page numbers. I tend to go for quick-and-dirty rather than perfect.

I have not found a good way of dealing with footnotes, and having them appear randomly in the middle of pages is not great. I think I'd probably settle for deleting them entirely in most cases.

Removing DRM

I'm not going to beat around the bush: one of the reasons I like calibre is because of the ease of integration of plug-ins to remove DRM from protected eBooks.

I am not a fan of DRM on things. "Defective by design" seems about right to me. If I've paid money for a book, I don't consider a limit on the devices on which I can read it to be either reasonable or justified.

So I remove it. And, once configured, calibre does this automatically, when I import a book.

Buying eBooks

I tend to buy most eBooks from Amazon, mainly because:

  • it's convenient
  • prices are normally pretty reasonable
  • the DRM falls off them easily (but I'd prefer it was not there at all)
  • calibre converts the format fine

I buy my Necromunda books directly from The Black Library - it's easy, and there's no DRM, and I want to support that.

In other cases, I'll settle for converting a PDF, but it's not ideal.

eBook pricing

Does it bother me that eBooks are often a similar price to physical books? Not really.

I buy a book because I want to read it. In other words, I am paying for what I get from the content. The value of the content does not change based on how it is published.

Does the cost of producing the book vary? I mean, I guess so, but I don't know by how much. In any case, in the context of a book, I am less worried about the cost to produce versus the value I get from it.

I don't buy books as an investment, or as something to pass down through generations. If I did, then an eBook would be a bad way to go, since all I'm buying is a licence for my own personal use (in most cases).


Author: neil

I'm Neil. By day, I run a law firm, decoded.legal, giving advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law. This is my personal blog, so will be mostly about tech stuff, cycling, and other hobbies.

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