Why I Won’t Be Blogging The Hugo Shortlist This Year

This year, an actual majority of the entries in the Hugo Awards have made their Hugo Packet submissions PDF-only. See Charles Stross’ blog post about this from two years ago for why this is a bad thing.

Last year, for those books which were PDF-only, I was able to reflow them in the ereader I had then (an iRiver Story). However, that broke a few days ago (just after the warranty expired, of course), and I discovered that the wonders of market forces now meant that there are only two ereaders (by which I mean e-ink devices which are designed for reading, rather than generic tablets marketed to readers) available in the whole of Manchester — the Kindle and the Kobo. (Actually, there is a third, a Sony ereader which Argos sell, for sixty quid more than the most expensive price I saw for either of the other two).

I bought the Kobo because I’d rather a duopoly than a monopoly, but unlike the iRiver I used to have the Kobo doesn’t have PDF reflow capability.

(This is one reason why Free Software needs to become more prevalent, incidentally — people *want* PDF reflow on the Kobo but can’t get it, and can’t write it themselves. Unfortunately, I know of no eink device that runs a free OS.)

This means that I have the following choices if I want to read the books (those where I even have the option — the books by Mira Grant get as far as the ‘by the same author’ page and then stop):
a) Read them on a computer. I don’t want to do this as I spend enough time staring at a computer anyway, and because I do a lot of my leisure reading on the train and bus into work and on my lunch break,
b) Squint at a tiny little picture of what a book page would look like — one of the main reasons I like having an ereader is that it allows me to reduce eyestrain, because of the aforementioned staring at a computer. I can do this for short scientific papers, but not for a 900-page novel like A Dance With Dragons
c) Use the magnify function and keep scrolling round a screen, shuttling from one side to another as I read each individual line — no chance.
d) Use Calibre to convert the books from PDF to ePub. This is what I’m going to do, so I’ll eventually get to read them, but I won’t have time to do this before the voting period ends.

So no Hugo votes from me this year, and I suspect none from any user of the Kobo, which is I believe second most-popular ereader in the UK and third most popular worldwide. (I *may* for example vote for Among Others by Jo Walton because it’s the ONLY novel that’s provided in multiple formats).

I truly appreciate the Hugo Packet, and I think it’s a wonderful thing in many, many ways. But if publishers aren’t going to provide actual ebook versions of books, why are they bothering?

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9 Responses to Why I Won’t Be Blogging The Hugo Shortlist This Year

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Yes. Ridiculous situation. Right now they’re losing potential voters; but the real issue of course is that they’re losing readers.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think most/all of the books are available to purchase in proper ebook formats — but with DRM. It’s only in the DRM-free Hugo Packet that they’re only available as PDFs.
      Happily, Tor are going DRM-free this month — with luck, that will convince other subsidiaries of the big publishers to do the same very shortly.

  2. Don Alsafi says:

    I’ve of course known of the Hugos for years, but am voting this year for the first time – largely because of your blogging of the entries last year, by the way. So I’m sorry we won’t get to read your thoughts on them this year!

    I too was annoyed by the PDF-only entries. I tried converting via Caliber, but the whole “inserting page numbers, author & book title into the text of every page” thing really is a clunker that should be far easier to take care of than it is. After banging my head against that particular wall for about an hour, my girlfriend found MOBI versions on a torrent site and downloaded those for me instead.

    “Thanks for providing reading copies for us, Hugo! Too bad they suck. Guess I gotta nab decent ones illegally.”

    Seriously, seriously dumb.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      And the thing that publishers seem congentially unable to understand: every time something like this happens, they are training people to get their books from torrents.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        Exactly. I do hope that Tor have a very positive experience with their dropping of DRM (which has now started, incidentally) and convince their parent company and the other major publishers to follow suit. Tor are opening their own ebook store some time in the next month or two, and when they do I’m going to encourage everyone I know to buy stuff from there to reward them for doing the right thing…

  3. Debi says:

    I have used online-convert with moderate success to mass-convert txt-files of books to epub. (I recently mainlined a series of 50+ books and nowhere near all of them were available in the library.) It’s not publishable-quality, and the formatting was often weird, but in most cases it was readable enough that I got to enjoy the story. I have not tried it with pdfs.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks. Almost all online converters are front-ends for calibre, and in calibre’s FAQ it lists, in order of decreasing preference, formats that it can convert from:

      PDFs are really, *really* hard to convert into a usable ebook format, because they’re essentially a layout format and they have things like page numbering built into the text (and sometimes they draw the text as images rather than have an embedded font…)

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