Reading – On-screen Problems and Solutions

E-readers, tablets and computers can be more convenient than real books, but there may be problems and drawbacks

If you don’t like buying from Amazon and/or don’t like Kindle, Kobo or any of the other e-readers and tablet software that spy on you while you are reading, then you might be encountering a problem if you want to download e-books to an iPad.

Epub logoThe problem is that the book is likely to be in “epub” format (“electronic publication“). This is a standard format for e-books and presents no problems for “unprotected” books. If, however, you have paid for the book, then it is likely to be protected by DRM (“Digital Rights Management“). This means that the specific devices (e-readers, tablets, computers) upon which it can opened will be limited and this is controlled by some software called Adobe Digital Editions. The trouble is that you can’t install Adobe Digital Editions on an iPad.

This has been annoying me for a while as I’ve been trying to assuage my conscience at putting real bookshops out of business by buying my e-books from Waterstones. At least that way a company with a physical bookshop presence is getting my money even if I’m not handing it over a counter. This worked fine on my old Sony Reader but not on the iPad. By the way, I paid over £200 for that reader about three years ago. I’ve recently seen shops clearing out their stock by selling them for £15. They’ve been displaced, of course, by Kobos, Nooks, and Kindles – more powerful, cheaper, lighter devices.

Overdrive logoAnyway, back to the point. I’ve found an answer to the problem of downloading protected books to my iPad. It’s an app called Overdrive. To read protected epub books you do still have to have an Adobe Digital Rights account. Overdrive asks for the account details upon installation. Thereafter, any epub book that is protected by digital rights will happily open with this reader and everything is tickety-boo.

While we’re on the subject of on-screen reading, it’s time I mentioned something that you may never have thought of before or which, on the other hand, you might think it’s condescending of me even to mention. What I’m talking about is being able to comfortably read a computer screen.

Mr MagooIf you work on a computer for extended periods and have difficulty seeing things clearly then it’s worth considering having some glasses made up specifically for computer use. I’ve worn varifocal glasses for at least ten years and find that they are not ideal for long periods staring at a screen. That’s because there’s only a narrow horizontal band of the lenses that focuses properly on anything at the distance of a computer screen. So, there’s a lot of tilting of the head to get the focus right and if the screen is too high or too low then it can become very uncomfortable. Single vision lenses that are designed either for distance vision or for reading are unlikely to be much good in helping you to focus accurately on a computer screen as the distance between your eyes and the screen just doesn’t fit either prescription.

So, when I bought my first netbook computer, with a 10 inch screen, I had to admit that it was becoming a strain to focus accurately for long periods of time. This problem is worse at the end of the day when the muscles that help the eyes to focus are tired. Whatever the state of your eyes, this is a fact of growing older – it’s harder to focus accurately for long periods, especially towards the end of the day. This applies whether you normally wear no glasses, contact lenses, single vision, bifocal or varifocal glasses. There is no doubt that I find it much, much easier to work at a computer all day if I use glasses designed for that distance. In fact, it’s so precise that my most recent lenses are focused at the distance for using laptops rather than desktop computers (ie slightly nearer).

I realise that not everyone spends as much time as I do staring at a screen and that not everyone is as bat-like as I am vision-wise (nor as temporally challenged). Nevertheless, it may be worth thinking about.

And here’s a completely gratuitous plug: my favourite retailer is my optician – 2020 Optical Store – nigh on faultless service for about 15 years.