Fun and Games at the Blackwells Kitschies gathering

How not to win ebook friends and influence people

I have been reading ebooks for nearly 10 years now, and have amassed a large (perhaps very large) library. After being locked out of some of my early MS Reader purchases I have endeavoured to only buy formats that I can clean the DRM wrapper off for future proofing. This has worked well, and I have been able to bring my books to PDA, Windows Mobile phones, iPhones, Sony Reader and iPad. This is a familiar path to many ebook veterans, but I present this as a bit of background to my current tale.

One of my favourite set of books, and one that I have been waiting to arrive in ebook format, is the Patrick O'Brian series of tales about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. I have these in battered paperbacks, and also in audio book from Audible. Nevertheless I would be happy to buy them again in ebook format for convenience. So I was delighted to discover that they have just been released, with the joy slightly tempered by the fact that their publisher has a pretty indifferent record with ebooks, being by far the worst offender in my library for error-strewn titles. I downloaded a sample through iBooks and it looked clean, the opening ship diagram was reasonably sized, viewable on 10" screen without obvious pixellation. No OCR errors were visible. The only wrinkle was that the cover was missing - a fairly frequent problem with eBooks, and one easy enough to remedy.

So I purchased the book from Kobo, where I have purchased many titles. I don't like, or use, their reader software, but the titles are standard ADE ePub files, easily liberated and sideloaded into iBooks or Bluefire Reader. However, this title is grievously polluted with custom CSS and Javascript so that it only displays nicely in the Kobo app. In Bluefire Reader  it displays in a monstrous font size, even at the smallest setting that BF Reader allows. This is worse than DRM. This is embedding metadata into the book, presumably after it was supplied by the publisher, that ties it to a vendors software. It may be a mistake, and they haven't checked to see that the CSS/JS combo they use degrades satisfactorily in readers that don't understand it. However it arose, this renders this title unusable in the reader of my choice, even though that reader fully supports ADE DRM. The ebook has been damaged by the vendor.

Unless there is some way to detect books that have been Kobo-ised I can no longer buy from them. I have a ticket open with them, but doubt that they will be able to supply a clean copy. I hope this isn't the start of a trend.



Yes, Kobo is apparently sabotaging publishers' epubs by including their own css and a javascript file and forcing the use of their (horrible on any reader other than a kobo, as you discovered) styles rather than the original ones. The resulting files are no longer valid epub files in addition to the various other problems since these added files are "hidden" (not referenced in the content.ofp file). It appears to be a problem with all Kobo books since it is also the case with books sold via French and British Kobo bookstores.

There is an article here by feedbooks (nice bookstore which does not sabotage the books...) co-founder Hadrien Gardeur on the topic; it's in french but you can use google translate. He's also planning to make an english version very shortly.


Hm, seems my link did not go through in my previous comment (oups): article by Hadrien Gardeur is here :


Thanks for that link - I will look out for his English post!


I've bought the first two Aubrey books through Barnes and Noble, I had no problem stripping the DRM on the nook ebooks.


Read an article earlier this week (sorry, in French) complaining about a similar issue. Apparently the FNAC company (French equivalent of Waterstones) has had major set back with the recent release of their reader, for exactly the same reason : customized kobo code impossible to get rid off and getting in the way...

Here's the article

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