Review: Bluefire eReader app spells great news for indies

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 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.

  1. Copy the DRM’d (or DRM-free) ebook file into your Dropbox folder.
  2. Open the Dropbox iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch) app. You’ll need to be online.
  3. Highlight the ebook and press the “Open With” curled arrow on the top right corner of the screen.
  4. 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.

Comments (6)

  1. ShellBell

    Martin .. I use Txtr for all of my DRM ePub and PDF eBooks (and Stanza for non-DRM epub and PDF eBooks) no matter where I’ve bought them from. I have loaded eBooks bought from Kobo, Whitcoulls (although I no longer purchase eBooks from Whitcoulls anymore), Fictionwise, BooksOnBoard, WHSmith (UK site), ebooks, Waterstones (UK site), Diesel eBooks and BookDepository (UK site) on to my iPad and iPhone using the Txtr app. I haven’t had any problems reading the eBooks using Txtr but I find the process of loading them on to the app quite tiresome. For me the one advantage the Txtr offers over Bluefire is that I can edit the Author and Title details prior to loading them on to my iPad and iPhone so that I can add the reading order of a series in front of the book title. If Bluefire had an edit function for author and title details then I would definitely be using that instead of Txtr because it has a nicer look and feel to it. The only 2 apps I use for reading are Txtr and Stanza as I don’t like the Kobo or Whitcoulls apps.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Review: Bluefire eReader app spells great news for indies --

  3. Jill

    Hi Martin…thanks for the review and instructions about the new Bluefire app. It’s most welcome for independent ebookstores like ours.

    I went to test it out, but unfortunately, both in Dropbox and, I can’t find any place that allows me to open a file with “Open with…”. I downloaded the Dropbox and apps today. The versions are 1.3 and 2.3, respectively. Can you let me know what version of Dropbox you’re using? I’d like to know if it’s the same, and perhaps I’m just missing this button.


  4. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Hi @ShellBell. Thanks for this info confirming the Txtr app is open to ebooks from outside its partner sites. I’ve added an update to my post.

  5. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Hi Jill. I’ll go through what I did with Dropbox. will be similar. First, did you download and install Dropbox for Windows or Mac as well as the mobile version? You’ll need to get the ebook into your online Dropbox account first, either via the Desktop version (copy the downloaded files into the My Dropbox folder on your local hard drive and they’ll synchronise with your online Dropbox account), or by logging into your Dropbox account online and using its File Upload facility. The uploaded ebook will then sync with your iPad/iPhone account. When you open Dropbox on your iPad/iPhone, you’ll see the list of files you have online. Highlight the ebook, then click the “Open With” icon (a curly arrow) to open it with Bluefire. It should work.

  6. ShellBell

    I’m eagerly awaiting any updates to the Bluefire app that should, at some stage, allow for everyone to amend the eBook metadata. Micah (one of the Bluefire team) advises that there should be an update to the app within the next couple of weeks – although the metadata change may be in the next update. Anyone interested in this app should check out the Bluefire thread on MobileRead forum.


Leave a Comment