Wednesday, December 31, 2014

RIP Barnes and Noble

Warning: Frustrated vent post. Read at own risk.

Barnes and Noble used to be the king of my book buying world. I've got their little nook reader, a healthy library of books (Digital and physical), and they've been the only place I've bought books for the past decade or so. I've used them for years, visiting their stores, downloading their books, and supporting them because I liked them. I like their stores and the atmosphere there (Even though the bastards got rid of most of the comfy chairs), I like supporting one of the few dedicated book sellers, and I've already invested quite a bit into my library with them. It's not a massive library by any means, I have no pretensions of being well-read, but it's been growing steadily over the past few years. I never had any reason to go anywhere else for my books.

That is, until they gave me a reason.

A few weeks ago I discovered a speed reading app (Balto Speed Reader on Android) and have been cracking the DRM my books so I could read them with it. Purely personal use, so I didn't have any qualms about figuring out how and downloading the necessary software. Never had a problem with it.

I was overjoyed to receive a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas since I had a number of books I've been itching to buy and read. I suppose it's important to note, I haven't bought a book in months. I went through a phase where I was rereading a bunch of my favorite books from ten years ago, so I didn't really have any need for something new. The opportunity to read something new made me feel like a little kid.

I sat down, bought a book to read at work the next day, and made a series of discoveries that made me hate Barnes and Noble.

Like, forever.

First off, I discovered that I could no longer download the books that I'd legitimately purchased on their website.

This alone sparked an unhealthy dose of rage and bewilderment.

You can't download the files from their website. At all. One of the things that made me love Barnes and Noble and they quietly yank it from under my feet without so much as a warning.

Now, even ignoring the fact that I crack the DRM on my purchases so I can read how I darn well please, my old Nook reader doesn't have the fancy auto-downloady McBits that the new ones have. You have to manually download and place the files onto the reader. It's in the instructions when I plug my nook in! Even if I were a legitimate customer the fact that I hadn't upgraded my hardware would have alienated me from Barnes and Noble, leaving me unable to read the books I'd purchased from them and unable to use their proprietary hardware.

Luckily, I'm somewhat competent with computers, meaning I'm patient enough to type random crap into Google until I find what I'm looking for.

It turns out you can pull the books off of your Barnes and Noble App if you have it. Okay, that works. So I get the app for Windows 8 (Which is one benefit of having it, I guess) and find the files after sifting around a bunch of outdated information on Google.

Okay, easy. Now I just crack them and I can go to bed.

And the plugin I use with Calibre doesn't crack the DRM any more.


Another furious hour of troubleshooting and Googling follows, and it turns out Barnes and Noble changed their DRM methodology some time in the middle of last year, and I have to find the hash buried somewhere inside their app to crack it. Great, wish I'd known that an hour ago. Or two hours ago. Or when I told my family to just get me Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas.

So now I'm sitting here fuming at B&N, my gift card empty and my cracked books safe and secure on my hard drive, and the first thought in my head is to look for alternatives. I certainly don't want to support B&N's stupid practices any more, and word on the street is that they're having some financial trouble so let's not buy any more of their proprietary one-trick hardware.

Amazon was my first thought, and I figured it wasn't a bad place to start. I'm not a big fan of Amazon - I mean, I've bought a grand total of one thing from them, and it wasn't even a book. How serious can a none-book company be about digital books, right? Their DRM is probably worse than Barnes & Nobles!

Well, wait a second. The first thing I notice is that most of the eBooks Amazon has are cheaper than B&N's books by two dollars most of the time. The rest of the time, they're about half the price of B&N's, for the exact same product.

Well, holy cow.

I still have some shenanigans to deal with downloading the app and finding the files, but they're not tucked away in some mysterious corner like the Nook app and the cheaper books are enough to make me forgive them that much.

Hey, I'm allowed to be arbitrary. At least Amazon didn't start out telling me I could do something and then change it later on. Not yet, at least.

The next test is to crack the DRM so I can use it how I want to. I imagine this is going to be a huge chore, with another hour of fiddling until I finally figure out what mystic dance I need to perform to accomplish anything. If it doesn't work that means I'd have to choose between B&N's crappiness and torrenting the books I want, which is an ethical quandary I'd rather avoid. Steal, or reward crappy business decisions?

I drag the Kindle file into my eBook DRM cracker and...

It cracks flawlessly. No problem whatsoever.

Wow, that was easy. It took me fifteen minutes to figure it out instead of two hours and it cost me two to five dollars less per book.

I think I like Amazon.

Shame it doesn't have retail locations where I can browse books to buy online and sit in those comfy chairs while I read the first chapter. At least Barnes and Nobles will be around for a little longer. That's about all they're good for now.

Time for relaxing with a book now, I think.

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