A big hole in the eReading landscape has just been filled with the launch of independent ebook reading app Bluefire.
The free iPad and iPhone app will read ePub formatted ebooks, including ebooks encrypted with Adobe’s ACS4 digital rights management. While there are already several eReading apps that will do this, what sets Bluefire apart is that it’s not tied to a specific online ebook store.
This opens the way for indie booksellers and publishers to get into the game. You can use Bluefire to read DRM encrypted ebooks from other bookstores or, potentially, libraries, many of which use the Adobe DRM system to expire ebooks at the end of their loan period.
This is the role that many of us had hoped the otherwise excellent Stanza ebook reader app would have filled. But Stanza’s purchase by Amazon stopped its development in this area, drastically reducing its usefulness since most commercial ebooks are sold with DRM. This move made things much more difficult for indie booksellers to get into the game, and for niche publishers who might want to sell a few of their ebooks directly.
Review of Bluefire eReader App
I’ve done a quick road test of version 1.0 of Bluefire Reader and it performs fine as a basic ebook reader. It has a basic set of features including control over page turn effects, font size and margins, brightness, night mode and customised format settings. And it supports bookmarks with notes and a basic search function.
It doesn’t support synchronisation of last page read or bookmarks between devices. I installed it on my iPad and my iPod Touch and it didn’t offer any opportunities to synchronise between them.
In terms of competition, Stanza is a more refined and feature-rich eReader app but Bluefire shines with its ability to read those Adobe DRM-encrypted ebooks bought from anywhere. This places Bluefire ahead of both Kobo and Txtr—two other reader apps with similar capabilities—since these apps favour titles bought from their own or their partners’ ebook stores.
The process to get ebooks into Bluefire is simple. When you first start up the app (or later if you prefer), you’re prompted to enter your Adobe ID and password. Once that’s done, you’re able to read encrypted ebooks. If you don’t have an Adobe ID, you can set one up in a couple of minutes, providing just your name, country and email address.
You can then download ebooks into Bluefire. It looks like the developer plans to add access to a range of commercial ebook stores so you can purchase from within the app but right now none is set up. The only in-App store is Feedbooks with its collection of DRM-free public domain books.
However, if you’ve already downloaded encrypted ebooks, it’s a breeze to transfer them to your Bluefire library. Bluefire supports Apple’s iOS “Open With” feature so you can copy your ePub format ebooks into its library via a Dropbox or Box.net account. These are free online storage services, worth signing up for if you don’t already use one.
I used Dropbox. I copied an encrypted ebook that I’d bought from the Whitcoulls/Kobo ebook store and it worked just fine.
Here’s what you do.
- Copy the DRM’d (or DRM-free) ebook file into your Dropbox folder.
- Open the Dropbox iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch) app. You’ll need to be online.
- Highlight the ebook and press the “Open With” curled arrow on the top right corner of the screen.
- Select Bluefire from the dropdown list and, presto, it copies your ebook over the internet straight into your Bluefire library ready to read.
While other apps from Txtr and Kobo will read Adobe DRM-encrypted files, as far as I know they will only read encrypted files bought from their own stores (or in Txtr’s case, its partners’ stores). Let me know if I’m wrong on this point since I haven’t yet tested it. [Update 12 Oct 2010: @ShellBell in comments confirms that the Txtr app works fine with DRM epubs bought from other stores. And I just found this item confirming that Txtr opened up its app with an August update.]
Anyway, it’s great news that at least one app will now read those Adobe ACS4 encrypted files bought from anywhere. For readers, it offers a very open ebook purchasing and reading platform. And it removes one more barrier from indie booksellers and publishers who want to sell off their own websites.
The next challenge for most of them, of course, will be building an ebook store and finding a third party source of the Adobe ACS4 DRM or, for the brave, buying the Content Server software and doing it themselves.
It’s easier, but still not easy.