The Tragic Demise of an E-Library

Paperback vs, ebooksMoving is one of the most traumatic times for us Book Pushers. We all develop massive book collections over the years. The 25¢ garage sale books, the library discards, the gift books, the special editions, the airport paperbacks you managed to get signed by the author, the ARCs, old school books, loaner books, all-time favorites that you re-read every year, that series you always meant to read because you heard amazing things about it….. it all adds up. How do you decide what to keep? What can you bear to part with? Can you sweet talk your way around barge weight limits when finally moving out of the icy wasteland that is rural Alaska back to civilization?!

I’ve moved 16 times in last 8 years. I’ve lived in Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia. Those first moves? Those were absolute nightmarish hellscapes I never wish to repeat. Until – a miracle of technology!

I admit I was pretty skeptical when ebooks first came out (how dare you imply this newfangled gadgetry will replace my precious ones?), but then I discovered all those glorious advantages that come from the electronic format. Ergo, when I returned to civilization in March (aka not rural-Alaska), I was largely able to honor the weight restrictions on the barge.

Behold, The Book Purging System:

I am not a hoarder. I simply had to diagram a system of strict laws in order to force myself to keep my book collection within an acceptable tonnage.
I am not a hoarder. I simply had to diagram a system of strict laws in order to force myself to keep my book collection within an acceptable tonnage.

You may notice that ebooks are a key component of the book purging system. There is no crying in book purging! If you have an ebook and run-of-the-mill dead-tree version of the same book – you must eliminate the paper book from your collection. I am an attorney. I know about laws. I followed every one, and ended up in New Mexico in May with a significantly limited physical library.

ibook page turnThough I am a paper book lover through and through, I am also an Apple person. I have a Mactintosh Powerbook, an iPad, and an iPhone. I loved the gorgeous page-turning feature Apple encoded in iBooks. See? It curls the pages and even lets the text bleed through on the back as the page turns! I was so instantly enraptured with this feature that I exclusively used iBooks as my reading app from 2011 onward.

I did not, however, buy many books from the iTunes store. The ridiculous iTunes store only allowed you to read books on a mobile device – not your computer. The files were actually encrypted to be inoperable on the computer. Nope. Moving on. Downloading ebooks from other sources was preferable, even when they came with aggravating DRM or formatting issues. I was diligent. All ebooks in one library of my choosing.  I refuse to have my books spread out across multiple apps and devices. When I buy an ebook, I’ll damn well read it on whatever device or app I please!

  1. DeDRM. This removes any digital restrictions placed on the ebook by the publisher. DRM is used to restrict format, region, and even the length of time you can have the book. I object strongly to DRM. Publishers claim it prevents piracy. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Anyone with enough tech savvy to illegally distribute and/or download an ebook knows how to google “remove DRM.” It is more likely a blatant attempt to force readers to remain loyal to a singular bookseller. (Nice try, but I am an internet savvy woman. I compare the prices between and book before buying. You’ll never tie me to a single bookseller!)
  2. ReFormat to epub. While using iBooks exclusively, I needed all book files to be in ePub format. Downloaded from Amazon? No problem! With Calibre I vanquish your puny .mobi and make it my own. Mwahahahahah!

Once I had my books in my preferred format, it was simple enough to add everything to my iBooks library. True, iBooks doesn’t offer the best sorting or organizational interface….but oh so pretty! I had my entire library on my laptop, iPad, and iPhone. Everything automatically backed up into iCloud. I was foolishly confident of the security of my ebook collection – there were four distinct copies of it in existence at any given time.

Then. Mavericks. For non-Mac users out there, Mavericks is the latest Apple Operating System. Think Vista. Except for Apple. One day I noticed a pop-up on my laptop informing me Mavericks was now a free upgrade. Hooray! I foolishly chose to accept the offer, and then – calamity struck. Mavericks was free because it was Apple’s attempt to enforce their fascist control over all things within their OS. Every single book, song, or movie I every downloaded form a non-iTunes source vanished. 

At first I was calm. Because all these things were also in my iPad, and in the iCloud, and my precious books were even on my iPhone. Totally recoverable. WRONG. When I called tech support to report the issue – which they did not believe could happen – they “accidentally” scrubbed all non-iTunes books, movies, and songs from every single device, back-up, and server registered to my name. (Some illiterate drone in Cupertino admitted that he had never actually used any ereading software a day in his life, and didn’t understand ereaders  I may have spontaneously developed the ability to breathe fire.) That completely wireless automatic home setup let me down this day. It let me down hard.


At that moment my entire ebook library was lost. Never to be recovered. (As an aside, this is why I haven’t been around much here or on Reading Reality.) MY BOOKS WERE RUTHLESSLY DESTROYED IN FRONT MY VERY EYES. I was forced to watch the electronic version of a book burning! I am still reeling from the trauma.

After I worked my way through the 5 stages of grief, I realized I could not rebuild without the appropriate foundation. No more trusting major corporate entities whose only goal is to profit off my misery with my precious library. I began obsessively researching all the major ereader apps out there. The best reviews with line by line comparison of features can be found here and here.

My thoughts were a little less in depth and far more fueled by residual rage and despair.

  • Kindle – Amazon pulled Orwell from all their Kindles back in 2009. How delightfully Orwellian of them! No.
  • Bluefire – Eh, tried it. Hated it. So ugly.
  • Nook – Is Barnes & Noble even still open?
  • Marvin – What do you mean I have to pay?
  • Google – If Apple and Amazon are screwing us, what will Google subject me to? Best to never find out.
  • Blio – Hmm. Blah. But acceptable.
  • Kobo – Gross! No.

In the end I went with Marvin. It syncs up beautifully with both Calibre and Dropbox – thus preventing future “accidental” purges. As an added bonus, it allows me to edit metadate – even covers – within the app. How many times have you pulled up an ebook and been so horrified of the cover you wanted to erase it from existence? Well in Marvin you can! Marvin also allows detailed sorting by series, genre, and other groups that only make sense in my head. It’s been two month now, and as I rebuild (insert sounds of taps playing for my fallen comrades), I am largely pleased. The only fly in the ointment is the lack of page turning animation. Yes, I’m shallow. I admit it. Nonetheless, hope springs eternal.

How about you? Have you ever suffered the tragedy of an erased e-library? What is your preferred reading app and why?

18 thoughts on “The Tragic Demise of an E-Library”

  1. What a nightmare. And my tech husband wonders why I won’t write my books on the cloud? Imagine if that was all your family photos (not that books aren’t family – but still). Really disturbing that a company would think it was okay to delete anyone’s files anytime without a “do you want to delete… [file name]?” box.

    I know you chose Marvin – but I do like the fact that kobo has partnered with independent bookstores and you can order ebooks through them, via kobo, and they get a small percent. Sort of like being an amazon affiliate, only it’s on independent bookstore websites and in store. Something to think about when you’re shopping.

  2. I’m sick….oh man I am so very sorry.

    My husband almost did the same thing, but he hesitated because of Apple naming the OS after a killer (literally) surf spot near Half Moon Bay. He paled when I showed him your post.

  3. I think all fellow readers are feeling sorrow for you. I have never had anything so bad happen. I had some issues years ago with my first reader and Adobe Digital Edition. It concerned my email change and verification, it was a mess and I lost some access to ebooks. I now consider ADE to be a mortal enemy.

  4. Oh, that’s terrible! I’m not sure I’d recover from that. Vista was awful but at least it didn’t eat files (that I know of).

    I do use the kindle app but I strip everything I buy and store it in Calibre so if they pull something it won’t matter to me.

  5. Sympathy! This is horrible! I would also add, do periodic backup to a removable medium – such as an external hard drive. Yes, it’s annoying and note entirely automatic. But all kinds of things can happen to a cloud. My strategy is, keep important stuff backed up in the cloud, but every so often run a manual backup (have a reminder on a calendar for once every couple of months). That way, if all else fails, it’s not really a complete loss.

  6. I can’t even imagine. Have you tried going to the book sellers you purchased your ebooks from to get another copy? I know when you buy from Amazon they save the ebook in your cloud. Kobo saves it in your account.

    Did Apple offer anything for wiping out your entire digital library? IMO, they should replace it entirely since it was their error.

  7. I’m very sorry for your loss.

    I’m considering purchasing an ereader or a tablet that I could use as an ereader as well. To date, I’ve used Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop, but that is becoming problematic with my kids. Does anyone have any suggestions about different devices or ereading apps? I’m trying to research before I make my decision, but few people I know use ereaders or tablets for consistant reading.

  8. @Amanda:

    Well, I don’t really have any specific advice – we have I think 9 different devices here b/c Mr. Richland used to work in the digital reading field and had them all for testing stuff (the darn man went to Frankfurt and London Book Fairs!). My son uses the kobo, and likes the fact that it holds a giant battery charge and is just simple black and white and very light weight. My daughter uses some version of nook and likes that it’s a bigger screen. My husband uses the kindle as an act of rebellion against the children, I think, although he would phrase it differently.

    And I read on my laptop! The laptop is the thing I constantly have, because I’m a writer, and I just don’t want a different device in my bag. It has a touch screen, which is good. I use the kindle app on my laptop – gave up on adobe and MS reader a while ago.

    My mother uses a nook because she likes being able to go to her local Barnes and Noble for set up and help – they helped her learn how to use it in person, which was important to her.

    None of us use an apple idominating device, for a variety of reasons – but pretty much everything I read (and this story is AWFUL) confirms that.

    First thing to decide – because it will narrow the field – is do you want a reading only device or a device that can do email and internet, etc? How distractible do you want to be?

  9. Holy crap, I can’t even imagine this happening to me. I save all of my eBooks on an external hard drive and update it regularly. I’d cry for a week if this happened to me. And I’d want to fight someone at Apple too.

  10. What a horrible thing to happen!
    Except for Kindle books, I save my eBooks on my laptop and on a flash drive/memory stick. I’ve had my laptop/ desktop computer crash on me at work and at home, so I believe in having a second storage option.

    For around two years now, I’ve own a Kindle Touch and have been loving it. I went with a Kindle because I wanted a retailer that would not be going out of business anytime soon, periodic book specials and slightly cheaper prices than Barnes & Noble at the time. Now, I’ve noticed that Kobo has some coupon codes with their periodic contests.

    For @Amanda, good points by @Anna Richland –
    I only wanted to read, therefore, an e reader was the best choice for me. Since I don’t own a smart phone or tablet, all of my emailing and internet surfing are done on my laptop at home. If I buy a non-Kindle book, I can usually convert it through Calibre. The only problems that I’ve experienced was with some Barnes& Noble books, which would not convert, so those can only be read on my laptop with Nook Study software.

  11. @Anna Richland: if there is one thing I learned from this adventure – it is to not trust a reader with a built in store. They have ulterior motives.

    I used to buy all my ebooks from booksonboard (indie!), alas is has since gone the place all independent bookstores seem to go…..

  12. @Amanda: yeahhhhh….I was using ADE to read on my laptop when this all went down. Adobe normally has such amazing products, how were we to know this one would go so so wrong?

  13. @Amanda: I linked to two really good articles comparing name contrasting the primary e-reading apps. I suggest starting there! Clearly I am currently a fan of the Calibre- Marvin duo, but it obviously wouldn’t work for everyone.

    I’ve tried the kindle app and just didn’t find it very useful. Much like iBooks, it offers only really basic features and it’s best feature is how integrated it is into a store. See above for me my opinions on corporate monopoly over your books. 😉

    As for a reader, everyone else is spot on. First step is deciding if you want to read only – are are interested in all the other tablet features. I love my iPad. It goes with me everywhere and has proven useful everywhere I have taken it thus far. Except the carnival. Probably could have left it at home then…..

  14. I’m so sorry. I do not share your draconic ways, so I’d be spitting nails instead of fire, but I think I know exactly what nightmare I’m going to have tonight.

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