When I was going through my hassle with Barnes & Noble over its “stealing” (and then eventually returning) the first e-book I ever bought, one thing I noticed (and that briefly contributed to confusion while I was discussing the matter with tech support) is that Barnes & Noble no longer seems to offer any way to let you read your e-books online.
I didn’t think any more of it than that at the time—just another brick in the wall of how Barnes & Noble was failing at e-books—but Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader suggests it might be part of a larger trend. It turns out that both Barnes & Noble and Kobo have shut down their HTML5 e-reader apps.
We reported on Kobo’s development of an HTML5 app back in 2011. These apps were developed in response to Apple’s demands for a chunk of revenue from any media sales made on their platform. If Apple wouldn’t let them sell e-books natively, a web app might work just as well without having to go through that platform directly. But now both Barnes & Noble and Kobo have closed those apps down. Perhaps people just weren’t using them anymore?
With the departure of other web e-book apps such as Ibis Reader, the number of e-reading-via-the-web solutions has been declining. As Nate points out, the only major companies still offering web-based e-reading apps are Google Play, Amazon, and Overdrive.
On a related note, it’s an interesting experience looking at Amazon’s iOS Kindle app. There’s basically no way to buy a book in it, nor is there even a link to Amazon’s web store. There is a tab that lets you browse the selection of Kindle Unlimited titles available, though. Perhaps Kindle Unlimited has proven to be an even better way of getting around Apple’s purchase restrictions than a web-based reader—though Amazon is one of few who still has one of those, all the same.
The IDPF’s Radium.js project is supposed to facilitate the development of web based eReaders. The current state of this project is chaotic which is typical of organizations that depend upon cooperation such as IDPF. That chaos can be seen in this IDPF forum thread: http://idpf.org/forum/topic-2517
Learn more about Radium.js and the other Radium projects beginning here: http://readium.org/projects/readiumjs
After posting the comment above, I came across a piece in Medium entitled, “What books can learn from the Web / What the Web can learn from books” (see: https://medium.com/@hughmcguire/what-books-can-learn-from-the-web-what-the-web-can-learn-from-books-64670171908f#.r9pphc4eh) by Hugh McGuire. It tweaked my longstanding interest in the differences and similarities of eBooks and the web. It also relates to this piece in that it describes some of the tensions between eBooks and the web, especially for commercial fare and may partially answer the question of why the number of web-based eReaders has dwindled so much.
A further, perhaps deeper, mystery: Why isn’t there greater eBook activity (web-based or otherwise) in the non-commercial sector? Almost anyone can create and disseminate an eBook at incredibly low cost so why don’t we see more of that, especially free eBooks?
There actually is a lot of that in the non-commercial sector. The thing is, it’s generally not very visible as it’s typically done by small writing circles and their fandoms. And those circles have been around a lot longer than commercial e-books, and there are still new ones out there today. The transformation stories archive Shifti hosts some of them, like the Paradise stories. If you google “Chakona Space” you’ll run across another (fair warning: it’s moderately not-work-safe). Then there are the big fanfic hosting sites, document repositories like Scribd, and so on. There are plenty people of people doing non-commercial e-book stuff. Including me. 🙂