TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
 Advocating Well-Stocked National Digital Libraries in the United States and Elsewhere

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Saturday, October 11, 2003:
E-Book meeting in China, the real birthplace of printing

If you want to see the future of e-books--or at least a future other than the OeBF-envisioned variety--maybe you need to talk the boss into a trip to China. It's the site of an August 2004 conference. Oh, and yes, that's the Great Wall of China. Here in the States, the e-book world has its own wall or series of walls--the different e-book formats. Meanwhile some Chinese perspective on the past:

As early as 4000 BCE, the first written symbols are to be found on Chinese pottery, long before cuneiform writing in Babylon (1800 BCE). The Chinese can rightly claim many more firsts, including the invention paper by Cai Lun in the year 105, a development which lead over the ensuing centuries to the rise of a tradition of hand-copied books. Wood block printing began in China in the late sixth century, and moveable type was invented by Bi Sheng in 1041—more than four hundred years before Gutenberg's European invention.
Boast from the Chinese are nothing new, but this one rings true. A hint of things to come? Could it be that, due to the backwardness and greed of Microsoft and the other OeBF-controllers/sponsors on matters ranging from formats to DRM, China will indeed end up as E-Book Central? I'm hardly a big booster of the Chinese government or others limiting freedom of expression, but here in the States, within certain product areas, we have our own dictatorships. Not to mention our contagion of corruptly oppressive copyright law. You think the DMCAish approach will is bad news in the UK? Just wait until the Chinese use DMCA-style arguments against poiltical dissidents.

Whops! Sorry. Didn't mean to spoil the conference for you. Go and learn from the technology at least.

(Via ebook news.)

Jake's clueful e-book rant--and advice for writers

"When the popular press and industry experts proclaim a technology 'dead,' it usually means there's either plenty of life left or things are just getting started." - Small publisher and marketer Jake Ludington in his IowaGeek blog, commenting on a gloomy e-book story from Reuters.

The TeleRead take: Of course, Jake doesn't disagree completely with Reuters and the experts quoted there. Just like the story, he blames no small part of the industry's problems on the eTower of Babel. Hello, Open eBook forum? How soon until you and your big sponsors--Microsoft, Adobe, Palm and Overdrive--are the only ones trying to rationalize the lack of consumer e-book standards? Pretty pathetic. Publishers, er, more publishers, will catch on sooner or later to the con and demand a Universal Consumer Format to serve their own needs rather than the cashflow ambitions of Microsoft and the like.

Jake goes on:

Despite all the shortcomings I list, small publishers, including me, are churning out new eBooks at a rate that puts the traditional publishing industry to shame. Many of the more successful titles aren't novel-length volumes, rather they are short documents designed to solve a particular problem the reader might be facing, whether it's computer related, self-help, or a home improvement project. These pioneers will pave the way for book length material to succeed as well, despite the opinion of higher ups at Barnes & Noble or any of the traditional publishing houses.
Some e-book-related advice from Jake: So how should writers prepare for the eventual move to e-books? Here's Jake's take--with which I agree:
...authors in all segments of the publishing arena would be wise to start building their personal brand. Create a blog or topical site related to whatever it is you write about and post regularly. Make sure the people buying your dead tree material know where to find you on the Web, and offer them additional opportunities for content not sold under the imprint of a traditional publisher. These efforts will increase reader loyalty and reduce your reliance on old publishing models for revenue. I'm not suggesting abandonment of traditional publishing--it still serves a purpose. Think of your branding efforts as a symbiotic relationship between the traditional publishing world and Web-based self-publishing efforts. The two mediums will drive each other and when the shift from print to electronic media happens, authors who are prepared will already have more control over their future...
And speaking of blogs as opportunity-creators, I notice via Library Stuff and HypergeneMedia Blog that writers are increasingly using blogs to showcase themselves for prospective employers. Check out New York Magazine hires blogger and An unlikely source for writing talent: Blogs (er, a little bit of journalistic snobbery here?). There's even J-Bloggers: The Cyber Journalist List, which leads to the blogs of pros. Needless to say, a well-stocked national digital library system with stable links would be a boon to serious journalists and other bloggers--not just writers of nonfiction books.

Friday, October 10, 2003:
Help Gemma Towle's e-book survey for her Ph.D. studies

Just received from Loughborough University in the U.K. Please fill out Gemma Towle's useful online questionnaire for her Ph.D. in electronic books.

Heartfelt advice to publishers from Winston Smith (and a few words from me, too)

Here's Winston again...

It's perfectly possible that the publishers really have no clue what's going on. They see the Microsoft PR guy--they aren't for the most part reading blogs. Convince them that not only is there profit to be made [through e-books], but that releasing in .LIT is costing them money and customers, and perhaps they'll start looking for a better solution. In any case, I'd at least like them to be aware that, whatever Microsoft might be promising them, it's nothing but a line.
The TeleRead take:I hope that my readers at publishing houses won't be too shy to print out Winston's comments for the benefit of senior execs--both the remarks above and those from earlier today.

Oh, and remind 'em what a line Microsoft gave me and others in '98 about a universal e-book format at the consumer level. I remember Dick Brass even introducing me at the press conference in Gaithersburg, MD, as a "friend of Microsoft." I certainly felt that way at the time in regard to e-books. Instead Microsoft sold me out along with others and backed off from nonproprietary e-book standards for consumers. I'd like to think, incidentally, that the sellout took place at the corporate level and that Dick himself meant what he said.

Whatever the case, Microsoft has a lot of credibility to regain. Just how much should publishers trust this outfit, whether about DRM or e-book standards?

Dan Jackson: No doubts, please--Winston is the real author of Convert Lit

Dan Jackson overall loved my TeleBlog item on Winston Smith and Convert Lit. But he wants me to be even more emphatic that Winston is the real McCoy. I'm pleased to oblige by quoting Dan in full below, even though I've already referred to an earlier Winston-related note that I received from Dan.

In the just-received message, Dan also discusses his preferred name for the crack program--something more filter-friendly than the one Winston prefers (yes, I confess to a wimp-out except for direct quotes from Winston--and now from Dan). And separately, Dan reminds us that some people would not buy Microsoft Reader books unless they could crack them for backups. It's an extremely important and valid point that some TeleBlog readers have already made.

Dan's latest note to me:

Firstly, since in your article you seem a little unsure about it, Winston has asked me to vouch for his authenticity. He is indeed the real author of Convert LIT.

Also it's worth noting that I preferred to call the program "Convert LIT" rather than just "clit", since while calling it "clit" was quite funny and led to the amusing suggestion of "Clit Commander" for the title of a GUI wrapper, it would probably mean that web pages referring to the program would get blocked automatically by braindead filtering software, of which there is unfortunately a plethora at the moment.

Secondly, I've actually received emails from people saying that they wouldn't have been buying Microsoft Reader format eBooks at all if it wasn't for the fact that they can be converted to an open format. A couple of these are reproduced (in slightly edited form) below.

Other than that, thanks a lot for a great article!

Dan Jackson.
Letter One relayed by Dan:
Another "success" story regarding clit...

Last year I reviewed the Myfriend ebook reader...

Well, I'm happy to say that clit has extended the life of this top-of-the-line $1200 100-dpi ebook paperweight by finally allowing me to purchase and read protected ebooks!

No illicit motives here, I've been wanting to spend money on ebooks, but haven't been able to until now because of the lack of activation support on the Windows CE 3.0 Myfriend device.

We'll see how long this lasts!

[name removed]
Letter Two forwarded by Dan:

...My feeling is that Ms delayed the recent free ebooks download until they were certain that clit15 was blocked, but I might be well off the mark.

Good luck in finding a secure site to host future versions of the software.

Ironically, I was all set to start buying ebooks in MsReader format but, since I can't read them on my handheld, there is no point in wasting money.

(name removed)
Thanks, Dan! Now let's see who in the mainstream media has the guts to pick up the c---, er, Convert Lit piece.

HarperCollins exec: Format war hurts e-books

"There was a format war. They compete and are not compatible. That creates resistance." - David Steinberger, HarperCollins president of corporate strategy and international, discussing e-books.

The TeleRead take: You think e-books are living up to their potential? Well, consider some other zingers from today's Reuters article headlined Bubble bursts for electronic books.

"Expectations were widely overblown at the time of the Internet bubble," said British publisher Helen Fraser, managing director at Penguin.

"But there is a small market for them and it may grow as different reading devices appear on the market. Sales do go up month by month," she told Reuters.

She said if Penguin sold 40,000 copies of a printed book, it would typically shift 4,000 audio books of the same title and 400 e-books."
Immediately following the Fraser quote and just before the Steinberger one, Reuters observes: "In the technological battle to find the perfect way to read electronic books on your palm-top or personal computer, competing formats have put the consumer off."

True, true, true! High time for a Universal Consumer Format without all the horrors of the proprietary approach--especially those of Microsoft Reader!

Meanwhile I hope the Steinberger quote encourages Winston Smith. The eTower of Babel--very much related to the use of proprietary encryption schemes--has frustrated publishers along with readers. The only real winners are the software companies, not the book publishers. Microsoft and Adobe and Palm Digital Media are prepared to slug this one out for years, with scant regard for the welfare of the book industry.

Judging from TeleBlog fans, the Palm Digital Media approach, relying on credit-card-based encryption rather than the machine-based variety, is easier on readers than the Draconian Microsoft one. But it's still no substitute for a UCF. Perhaps PDM can come around eventually and pitch in toward the development of a consumer-friendly standard.

(Via eBookAd.)

Update, Nov. 8: Sternberger has moved on to Perseus Books.

The Microsoft Reader crack: The lowdown from 'Winston Smith,' Convert Lit coder

(Welcome Slashdotters! See update.)

“Winston Smith,” an unemployed American high school dropout self-named after 1984’s hero, is one of the three authors of the Convert Lit program that cracks Microsoft Reader format.

A new British law will force the present host of the Convert Site, Dan Jackson Software, to shut off the downloading later this month. But Winston hopes the crack can be available elsewhere on a high-profile site in a country with the right legal environment. Any offers? Send ’em to Dan.

His goal, and Winston’s, isn’t the encouragement of piracy. In fact, in correspondence with me, Winston describes himself as a big buyer of paper books. And I suspect that within the bounds of his limited budget he probably would be reading and paying for the electronic kind, too, in a major way, if he owned the right handheld.

So why Convert Lit? Easy. Winston, as a matter of principle, wants you to be able to back up Microsoft Reader books and not worry about “protection”-related hassles. Horror of horrors, you can even take the illicit ASCII and enjoy the books with software not blessed by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. That’s what is possible technically. Legally it’s virtually impossible in the United States, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which says the average American can’t circumvent copy protection--even to make backups or share a book with a close friend. Psst! You’re not even supposed to discuss the details of circumvention, the First Amendment be damned!

In line with the aptly Orwellian pseudonym, Winston identifies Microsoft and its ilk with Big Bro. As he views it, corrupt copyright law is dumbing us down and reducing our interest in reading. “These days, who reads--except for some old coots? And perhaps a couple of tech-crazed geeks.” At the same time, his thoughts nicely jibe with my theory that disgruntled consumers make the best revolutionaries. I’m not talking machine-guns and Molotov cocktails, just an uppity assertion of Americans’ rights to own books, not merely rent them or otherwise be at the mercy of control-fixated publishers and software companies. Winston’s motives are a mix of the noble and juvenile--he admits to a crush on Sabrina Lloyd, the movie-and-TV star, and a desire to talk her up and win her attention--but at the core of his Convert Lit crusade is his desire to let Netfolks enjoy books as desired within fair use, not just Microsoft’s way.

A fan of both Pocket PC eBooks Watch and TeleRead, Winston dropped me several e-mails after reading of my own series of personal horrors with Reader. He wrote from a Russian e-mail address protected with perhaps a dozen proxies between me and the Web interface. Honest, Mr. Chief Software Architect, I haven’t the slightest idea who or where he is. A related letter, however, passing on Winston’s pointer to a DMCA-related article, came from Dan Jackson. While I lack absolute proof, never having seen Winston at work at the keyboard, turning out Convert Lit, I’ve every reason to believe that he’s the real McCoy.

If Bill Gates and friends are clueful in this case, they won’t sic Legal on Winston and Convert Lit colleagues. Instead the Chief Software Architect should turn the matter over to Marketing and Public Relations. Winston in effect provides some great insights into why “Microsoft” is a hated name among millions and why e-books sales for the whole bloody industry are a pathetic $10-million or so a year--a fraction of Tom Clancy’s annual income.

Of course, like Winston, I wonder if Microsoft doesn’t care a lot more about DRM ideology and related profits than about e-books to enlighten the masses. Within e-bookdom, Bill Gates is an anti-Carnegie. If he wants to refute this, perhaps he will stop imposing his expensive proprietary ways on publishers and readers and go for the open-standards approach that Microsoft executive Dick Brass promised in a press release announcing the establishment of the Open eBook Forum. We badly need a universal consumer format for e-books in the spirit of the laudable vision championed by Brass some five years ago at the news conference where I stood within a few feet of him. The format could even work with DRM Lite, as I’ll call it, a nonintrusive, nonproprietary form of the technology. DRM Lite would not be crackproof, but at least be a way to make legalized file-sharing easier through tracking of royalties, with suitable precautions in place to safeguard privacy.

But so far, I believe that Microsoft and the like would not be the least interested in such a compromise.

This is America in the era of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act--one of the most prescient buys that Hollywood and other copyright interests made during the Bill Clinton era through millions in well-targeted campaign contributions. The irony is that the DMCA is actually a threat to our country’s long-term economic prosperity and national security. Foreign hackers hate us. The DMCA will be a good recruiter for cyber-terrorists--including perhaps those in Iraq, for which the Bush Administration has hired Hilary Rosen, mouthpiece for the recording industry, to help rewrite copyright law. And that’s not the DMCA’s only con. With the DMCA as a crutch, U.S. companies are relying on fifth-rate technology rather than paying programmers to do the job right. What’s more, if the corporations were smarter, they could serve their shareholders better and turn to nonproprietary protection techniques that receive more scrutiny than proprietary technology and related gimmicks do.

For an example of “protection” at its most obnoxious, consider the Digital Rights Management and related technologies associated with Microsoft Reader. Microsoft has squirreled away tens of billions in spare cash, and yet an unemployed high school dropout, who tries to make his living fixing computers and doing manual labor, has played a key role in bypassing this substandard “protection.” Winston, though obviously damn bright as a self-taught programmer, would be the first to admit he’s hardly the ultimate at his craft. And yet he and his friends could still crack Convert Lit. You’d be surprised how absent-minded and cheap a megaconglomerate can be about the little details. That’s my main theory here. Another theory is that proprietary DRM is inherently inferior, so maybe cash wouldn’t have entirely mattered anyway, given the approach used. Questions also exist about the basic concept of DRM and whether it can ever truly be crackproof. Whatever the circumstances, however, my belief is that lawyers for DRM zealots at various corporations are pocketing the money the programmers should have gotten—if not at Microsoft, then elsewhere. The lawyers intend to rely on the DMCA, a law blithely passed by fellow lawyers who make up so much of our well-bought Congress.

You needn’t be a geek to be upset about this. If you’re truly an American patriot, you’ll hate the DMCA for its restrictions on free speech. And if you live in the U.K. or other countries saddled now with DMCAish restrictions, then you’ll be a British patriot, a French patriot, a German patriot, a whatever-your-nationality patriot. So far in the past few days, however, perhaps fearing Microsoft, the media seem to have wimped out. I’ve yet to see a single article about the effect of an EU-inspired law on Dan Jackson, who must now stop hosting his Convert Lit site in the U.K. Even bloggers, letting the mainstream media set their agendas, have essentially ignored Jackson’s plight. Anti-DMCA articles are still appearing, but Dan Jackson, at the cutting edge, has vanished from headlines.

Still, the pesky DMCA controversy lives on. Here in the States, a bright young Princetonian now finds himself the target of a $10-million DMCA-related suit from a greedster company trafficking in Digital Rights Management technology. His crime? Pointing out how use of a shift key could bypass SunnComm’s lame CD copy protection. Oh well, given the pathetic sales of the e-book industry, one wonders how much Microsoft and publishers could sue Winston and buddies for. In the case of e-book publishers, Winston might even argue that consumer-hostile DRM is actually costing the industry and that maybe AOL Time Warner and the rest owe him some hefty consulting fees. Yes, I’ll issue a satire alert for that last sentence. The rest of this TeleBlog posting, however, is as real as the signatures on the checks to DMCA-supporting pols in search of campaign gifts.

Below I’ll present Winston’s thoughts. I’ve organized them by topic and lightly edited them for style but have not censored the good stuff except for some details that might help reveal his identity. Please note that the term “Convert Lit” is an exercise of editorial judgment, and that I’ll let Winston use an earthier name below. Needless to say, I don’t agree with every syllable Winston writes, but he deserves a full say, if we consider the significance of Convert Lit, whatever the name.

Meanwhile, given Microsoft’s presumable wish that all mentions of Convert Lit vanish, I would encourage Netfolks to copy this posting immediately and circulate it as freely as they would like while crediting, so that readers know where to go for updates. And now here’s Winston on Winston.


I am an American citizen by birth. I am over 21. I am a high school dropout, and failed to arrive on any college campus, even with the incentive of weeklong drug-filled orgies. Everything I know about computers and programming I have taught myself. I am currently unemployed. What little money I make comes from fixing computers or doing the odd manual labor job. Lack of a college degree is a true impediment to getting hired.


I have a twisted sense of humor. Clit is clit, not Convert Lit. The original idea was that Microsoft would feel compelled to denounce the program by its precise name.

We never got the chance to laugh, though. To date, Microsoft has not once mentioned Clit, nor have they acknowledged that such a program exists, to the public, or, I am sure, to the publishers. That the C could be conveniently made to stand for "Convert" was an intended amusement.

I am solely responsible for the quickly-thrown-together Graphical User Interface in asm. It’s entitled "Cuntlit" and named with the same idea in mind as Clit. The acronym is "Convert Until Now Transformed: Lit Into Text." The use of Charisma Carpenters' backside for elements of the user interface was an obscure joke that no one caught.


I am a rabid fan of free speech, regardless of how much I might disagree with what is being said. My other motivations follow those of "Coauthor in the Shadows."

In his words: "My motivations are to break DRM systems for my own education and to force providers of these systems to make their systems more complicated and bug-ridden until they cannot be effectively maintained. Keeping Clit as a useable program is to assuage my guilt at making the end users suffer through this process." Coauthor in the Shadows, naturally, is in possession of more maturity than I claim to have.

Beyond twitting Microsoft, and causing it to cripple LIT more and more, until the program is so unfriendly and complicated that the whole format collapses under its weight proves impractical in other ways; beyond letting normal, law-abiding citizens actually use what they have legally purchased; beyond the fulfillment of doing what I consider an ethically required endeavor, Clit for me is just my way of getting Sabrina Lloyd’s attention.

Aren't all the best things in life done for a woman? I am a diehard fan and harbor the dream of someday meeting her. As an incidental benefit, Clit will give me the voice to bring attention to her goodness. It's not the best ulterior motive, but it's not the worst.

That--and, hey, the coding experience I'm gettin--is also valuable.


The problem for e-books is utter apathy. People simply do not care. In fact, for the most part, people simply do not read. For a fascinating eye-opener check out John Taylor