Adobe’s eBook Platform Is A Piece of Shit

Adobe’s eBook platform is utter shit. To those of you that have dealt with ACSM files, that statement is as controversial as saying “the sky is blue”. To those of you that haven’t, and are wondering what makes it such shit, read on.

It all started with a deal that Cisco Press had on cybermonday this year, offering 50% off if you buy three books. As a certified Cisco course instructor (I do not work for Cisco, I just teach Cisco courses) who is also working on my CCIE Storage, I can always do with a few more books, especially if they’re on the recommended reading list for CCIE Storage.

Also, since I travel quite a bit (150,000 miles this year), eBooks are the preferred knowledge delivery vector, since books are, well, frickin’ heavy. I took a nearly 800 page CCNP route book with me all over Europe last year, and it almost killed me. eBooks it is.  I’ve got an iPad, and I absolutely love the Kindle reader app. If I’ve got a long flight ahead of me (such as to say, India) then I make sure I’ve got plenty of books loaded up into my first generation iPad and iPhone 4 (which is also a surprisingly good e-reader). I also have a half decent PDF viewer for non-eBook format documents to read on the road.

I found three eBooks from Cisco Press that fit the bill, loaded them up in my shopping cart, and pulled the trigger. $150 worth of books for $75, not too bad. Two of the books were in an unprotected PDF format (watermarked with my name to discourage rampant sharing, which is fine), the other book downloaded as a tiny little file, with an .acsm extension.

I’d never heard of a .acsm file, but I would soon come to loath those four letters with the burning hatred of a thousand suns. My Canadian friend Jaymie Koroluk (@jaymiek) had this to say about it:

FFUUUUUU indeed. And thus began my Zeldian quest to get a friggin’ eBook on a friggin’ eBook reader. How hard could it be?

Well, of course my Mac didn’t recognize the .acsm file type. I tried loading it into a couple of readers, such as Kindle (it laughed at it) and a PDF viewer that I use. It turns out that .acsm didn’t actually contain the eBook, just a reference to it (and I believe the DRM rights to open the book). I had no idea what to do with it. The Cisco Press site didn’t have any specific instructions that I could find, so I Googled .acsm and eBook.

What I found was link after link that all said essentially “How the fuck do I get an .acsm book onto my reader???” Searching for acsm on Google reveals a world of woe, frustration, and hopelessness.

Google searches for “.acsm”  should just show this

After sifting through a few links, I found out that I needed to download something called Adobe Digital Editions. So I go to Adobe’s site, and I get this is the message I get when I try to download it:

What? I’ve got a new MacBook Air with MacOS Lion. There’s no “here’s what you need to do”, just that obnoxious error. With a bit of digging, I’m able to download it anyway.

I install Adobe Digital Editions, which is not intuitive and bizarrely laid out, and I’m finally able to load up the acsm file, and download a copy of the eBook. And the eBook is… a protected PDF. All that shit for a protected PDF.

But hey, at least I got it, right? Horray! But wait, I can only read it on my laptop, however. I need to get it on my iPad for this book to be of any use.

Yes, I’ve just experienced the eBook version of “The Princess is in another castle”.

But I told her to meet me here like five… fine. You know what? Tell here she’s on her own. I’m gonna go find a girl who can manage to stay un-kidnapped for say, 30 minutes at a time. 

Laptops are generally not great eBook readers, because among other issues, the batteries don’t last as long. The iPad’s battery lasts 10 hours of active use, and the various Kindle readers have their active battery life measured in days.  If I can’t find a way to get this onto my iPad, then there’s not much point in me having spent the money for this book.

I try to find some iPad app at the App Store that reads that format, that would allow me to open the protected PDF, but I came up blank. Or at least, none of them would obviously work. And most of them cost money, so I wasn’t about to do trial and error on which ones might work.

Jaymie mentioned she found an app called txtr, which I downloaded an installed. Txtr apparently was a failed ebook reader, and moved to a purely software play. They also had the ability to read Adobe eBooks (and as far as I can tell, the only iPad app that can). So Finally, I’m able to read the eBook on my iPad.

All told, it takes me over an hour and lots of tinkering, installing, and Googling to get an Adobe eBook onto my iPad.

So how does the Adobe eBook platform compare to other eBook platforms when you finally get the fucking book loaded up on your fucking eBook reader (which again, should not be nearly as difficult as it was)? Let’s compare.

First, ease of getting a book. How long does it take me to get an eBook on the Kindle, iBook, or Nook platforms? About 10 fucking seconds with a decent Internet connection. On Adobe’s platform? About an hour. By my math, Adobe’s platform is 360 times worse than the competition.

So how about usability? The book is a PDF, and PDFs are not ideal as a book format, even the non-DRMd ones that can be opened up on any reader. They’re just not optimized for eReaders and it shows. When you turn a page, the page is blurry for a split second before coming into focus. You can’t zoom in on individual photos like you can with the other readers. And there are about a dozen other nit-picky yet important UI niceties that Kindle and the others have that a PDF eBook lacks. Adobe’s platform seems like they took their existing PDF format, and slapped an eBook layer onto it in a half-assed manner.

In studying for my CCIE Storage, I came across a fantastic free Fibre Channel eBook from EMC (the storage vendor). It’s in an unprotected PDF format, but I’d happily pay $10 to get it in the Kindle format, which is much more conducive to eBook formats.

Final Thoughts

I have a simple plea to anyone thinking of publishing an eBook: For the love of all that is sacred and good in the world, do not use the Adobe book format. It will annoy your readers, and severely limit your eBook sales.

Adobe either has no clue about the eBook market, or they’re trying to sabotage it with a platform so shitty, so mind-bogglingly difficult for even tech-savvy consumers, that no one will ever want to read an eBook ever again.

That’s right, sometimes you have a product so bad, that it doesn’t just leave a bad taste in your mouth, it actually does harm to the industry. And that’s what we have with Adobe.

So Adobe, what did eBooks ever do to you?

10 Responses to Adobe’s eBook Platform Is A Piece of Shit

  1. DK says:

    Did you try Adobe’s Adobe Reader for iPad?

    http://itunes.apple.com/app/adobe-reader/id469337564?mt=8

    Warning – I didn’t and it isn’t evident from the description. But it’s free to try, at least. And it’s made by Adobe.

    • tonybourke says:

      Thanks for pointing that out, I didn’t know they’d released on. It’s pretty recent them releasing I think. Still, I tried it. I loaded up the PDF, and I got the error:

      “The document has features that are not supported in this version of Adobe Reader”

      #FAIL

  2. Matt S. says:

    Try the Bluefire Reader app. I have used it quite successfully to read Adobe DRM protected Cisco Press books on both my iPad and iPhone

    • Randy says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with the Bluefire Reader app. I use this almost daily to read Adobe DRM’ed books on my iPad. I frequently check out DRM’ed books from the digital “branch” of my local library and this works flawlessly.

    • Ken C says:

      I raised this point with Cisco Press awhile back when I first got my iPad and found I couldn’t read my books either. Cisco Press pointed me to Bluefire reader as well.

  3. Pingback: Initial Thoughts on Apple’s New Initiative | The Data Center Overlords

  4. Daniel says:

    A shame nobody will bother reading this article until they have suffered from the app ills themselves. The app is not that well known at all, most probably for its lack of popularity and I hope it stays like that. Although I think the best thing to do with it would be to discontinue it. Come on Adobe, you don’t need this piece of c##p

  5. PH says:

    How is it that FIVE years after this article was published it is relevant?!! Now the solution proposed by the article is not even available. For the love of all that is holy, I just spent two hours downloading an ebook that will take me a half an hour to read. Thank-you to the strangers in the comment section. The ONLY solution I found was the Bluefire reader.

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