By Grant Jacobs 08/12/2018

It’s that time of year that people share lists of books that others might like to read. Often book lists offer a link to where a reader might get the book. Please don’t link to companies. Link to review or author sites.

If you’re like me, you love to see new reading ideas. Even if they make your wallet wince…

But it’s frustrating to see book list after book list promote a company. Book lists (and their makers) can be neutral just as easily by linking to review sites, or with a little more effort link to author sites.

Review sites will, in turn, link to all of the main resellers and they offer immediate access to reviews. I typically use GoodReads, but there are alternatives.

There’s no extra effort involved. You do the same search for the title as you would at a commercial book reseller and in the same way you get a page you can link to. But that page has reviews, a link to what other books the author has written and links to all the main online resellers.

It’s also better for readers who use a different book reseller than that overly-large, monopolistic company most book lists point at. You’ll give those readers  better access to their seller. In fact, you’ll  give all readers equal-handed access to their reseller of choice.

Another option is to link directly to the author’s page for the book. It might take a little more effort to find the page.

Linking to the author’s page can be particularly kind as it’ll let readers see what else the author has and let the authors interact with their fan base. Their page might include a blog, an email ‘magazine’, advance offers, and so on.

I developed this policy back in 2010, realising that I was effectively promoting a company and it’s goods. I understand people immediately think of that big company, but it’s lazy really, particularly once you see how easy it is to use, say, GoodReads instead. Another option is Open Library, but it has limitations.

In principle this practice could, and I think should, be extended to lists of gadgets and other products. Use review sites as a neutral intermediate to link to.

Amazon, monopolies and eBooks

The big company I’m referring to is Amazon, of course. There are other resellers too, but you wouldn’t know it from most book lists. Better to point at a neutral source: Amazon doesn’t need your help, after all.

This issue is doubly true for eBooks.

Amazon’s Kindle book format is a lock-in mechanism so that their books can only be read on Amazon eBook readers or in Amazon eBook apps.

According to some this is because they make more money from the eBook readers than the books. The argument goes that they want you to buy their eBook readers, so they lock their eBooks to their eBook readers – and locking out competing devices.

It makes a mockery of efforts to develop a standard eBook format, where a reader might buy from any reseller and read it on their eBook reader of choice. Perhaps the closest we have to a standard eBook format at present is ePub, which is now up to version ePub3.

You can put ePub books on essentially any device. You can for example buy (lease) a book at the Google Play bookstore or direct from some publishers and read your eBook on a Kobo device. There is software to interconvert formats such as Calibre (free).

Amazon also has deals with authors where the book can only be available from Amazon, nowhere else. That’s total lock-in.

Digital rights lock-in

There is an industry-wide issue over ‘ownership’ of the eBooks you pay for. In practice you don’t own the eBooks you ‘buy’, you lease them unless the digital rights are waived. It’s another form of lock-in. But that’s a story for another time, or perhaps for the comments section below.

Other articles on Code for life


Catty lives, scientific and viral (Book review; if you search the blog website you’ll find other book reviews. I had a bit of fun writing this one.)

The best places to read

What books do you think geeks should read?

Writing tip – avoid promoting particular booksellers…


I’ve previously Amazon claim on their website that their Kindle format books can “be read on any device.” Perhaps they’ve been knocked back on that, I can’t find it now. It’s not true. Amazon bought Book Depository and closed their eBook sales.

You could also link to the publisher’s page, but it seems to me that there is less to be gained and more time involved. My personal inclination would be to keep that for smaller, well-organised niche publishers that readers of that niche identify with. Tor, a science-fiction publishing house, might be an example. (If you look at any book they sell, you’ll see they link on to all the resellers. Interesting they name them by the format, not the reseller, and sell with Digital Rights Management removed.)

It’s worth remembering that the ‘big five’ publishers are seriously big companies. According to Wikipedia they pull over $100 billion of annual revenue.

It’s really EPUB, not ePub, but I can’t stand the acronym. It looks like it‘s shouting at me. (Internet convention of old is that capitals are shouting.)

There is software available to strip DRM (Digital Rights Management) out of books, allowing the books to be read anywhere. Legally you’ll on your own, but it’s clear many people do this.

I’m not familiar with Apple’s eBook format or Apple’s approach to DRM. Readers are welcome to comment on it.

Some books whose copyright has expired are available free online. Similarly, some authors have released early works online where the rights have returned to them.

While researching for this post, I found that Wikipedia has a page listing lists of book lists. (Hey, come on. The alliteration is fun.)

About the featured image

The featured image is from the author’s collection. You’ll see a few of the stacked books are library books. These were the books that I intended (ahem) to read at the time I wrote the post about tsundoku. Come to think of it, I still haven’t read a few of the books on the shelves behind those stacks…