Tower of BabelEarlier I praised the Fairfax County Public Library, my favorite system, for experimenting with e-books. I stand by that!

Still, I can’t help but notice the FCPL’s eBabel problem, the fault of the ill-managed e-book industry, not the library:

1. So far I can’t get either a Cybook or a just-borrowed Pepper Pad to work with the library’s Mobipocket option. My old PocketPC and Sony Clie at least will–after I go through convoluted steps. With a common e-book standard, libraries and patrons wouldn’t suffer such problems as often. If the eBabel complexities are annoying me, imagine what they mean to patrons without any tech savvy. Frankly, I’m amazed that civilians bother to read e-books.

2. Yes, the Tower gets in the way of my selection of books. I find myself scanning just as much for format information as for the title and the author. I don’t want to clutter up my Pocket PC with PDF, and the Adobe software doesn’t work out that smoothly on my Clie. And yet most of the e-books are in the Adobe format, probably for commercial reasons.

Fit title for e-bookdom

Between audio books (an understandable addition because of patron demand for them) and the hated PDF, I can find precious few Mobipocket books. Oh, well: I at least found Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove‘s book, in Mobi. A fit title for the e-book biz.

The eBabel horrors at the FCPL are the exactly kind of nonsense that we’ll continue to suffer if the proprietary format faction at the IDPF uses DRM to keep the Tower of eBabel intact.


  1. Which is worse than the Adobe option? Hardly, Branko. Mobipocket, as evil as it is, can be a pleasure to use compared to Adobe. Along with Microsoft, Adobe may carry off the honors among the majors for having the most loathsome DRM. Usual IMHO disclaimer. Thanks. David

  2. I agree…almost….Mobipocket is a nice format…but only if I create it myself…I hate files that die and device that have to be activated and don’t use them if at all possible.
    PDf is pretty bad when it is drm infested, but .lit is easy to crack so I have to quarrel with that…
    I can make a .txt from the .lit and then use it in all devices….^^
    But I guess any format that forces us to get illegal before we can use it properly isn’t worth the code it’s written in…

  3. […] Dave Rothman often refers to digital formats as the Tower of eBabel and it is such an apt description. There are dozens of formats and none are interoperable. If these e-reader execs think that we readers are just so hot for this technology that we will take the time to run our books through 4 different software programs they are greatly out of touch with realilty. Perhaps they have read too many paranormals? Sony, in real life, people do NOT shift into werewolves, vampires do NOT exist and there is not always a HEA at the end of every romance. That’s just in the books. […]

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