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Introducing Bookle, an EPUB Reader for Mac OS X

We’ve long thought Apple would add EPUB reading capabilities to Preview or Safari in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, or port iBooks to the Mac, but it hasn’t yet happened. While we have no plans to switch away from PDF as the primary format for our Take Control ebooks, it’s clear that the EPUB format is the future of ebooks. Unfortunately, we haven’t been happy with the best-known EPUB readers for the Mac, such as Calibre, which is cross-platform ugly beyond belief; Stanza, the Mac version of which strips all formatting and graphics and is now obsolete; and EPUBReader, which requires Firefox and isn’t Mac-like.

So rather than write an editorial about how Apple was slighting Mac users, I drafted a spec for a straightforward EPUB reader for the Mac. That, of course, was the easy part. Luckily, I was able to recruit Peter Lewis of Stairways Software to do the real work of programming an EPUB reader. Peter’s primary program these days is the wonderful macro utility Keyboard Maestro, but he’s best known for creating the file transfer program Interarchy (previously Anarchie) back in the early days of the Internet.

Enter Bookle — a straightforward, elegant EPUB reader for Mac OS X that maintains your library of EPUBs, available now from the Mac App Store for $9.99. Bookle 1.0 is intentionally simple, since Peter and I wanted to get something out quickly and then react to requests from users, but it has all the core features needed to read DRM-free EPUBs. (This unfortunately excludes titles purchased from protectionist publishers and resellers, including DRM-shackled titles from Apple’s iBookstore. We don’t apply digital rights management encryption to our Take Control titles on the iBookstore, but not all publishers respect their readers.)

Reading an EPUB with Bookle is as simple as dropping it on the app’s icon in the Dock, or choosing File > Open. The clickable table of contents appears in the sidebar, with the EPUB itself in the main window. You can navigate within chapters using the keyboard or mouse, or use the standard two-fingered trackpad gesture. Jumping between chapters is similarly easy: you can use keyboard shortcuts, two-fingered left/right swipe gestures, or the toolbar buttons.

Text formatting, background colors, and graphics all appear as you’d expect, and all links are live, both within an EPUB and out to Web resources. In short, Bookle just works the way you’d assume, and you can even customize the font, size, and background color in most EPUBs. Honestly, that’s about it for now, because we wanted to get Bookle to you quickly, and because book-reading software should be as obvious and easy-to-use as possible.

Nevertheless, Bookle does come with full documentation: the software includes “Take Control of Bookle,” a free 32-page ebook that covers everything you can do in Bookle, along with advice on where to find tens of thousands of ebooks in EPUB format — many of them free — as well as suggestions for programs that you can use to create your own EPUBs for cross-platform reading. With the included copy of “Take Control of Bookle,” you can start reading an EPUB right away.

Of course, we have ideas for additional features in Bookle, and we’re also interested in learning what you want to see in a refined, effective, Mac-focused ebook-reading program — just check in at the Bookle UserVoice forum to see (and vote for) what others have suggested and to offer your own ideas.

Bookle costs only $9.99, and it’s available from the Mac App Store to make it easy for you to get and us to manage. Bookle runs on any Intel-based Mac in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or 10.6 Snow Leopard.

(If you’ve purchased ebooks from the Take Control cart and want to download the EPUB versions for reading in Bookle, just log in to your Take Control account and click the green EPUB icon next to the book you want to download. Alternatively, you can click the Check for Updates button on the cover of any of our ebooks to go to the book’s Ebook Extras page, where you can find a link to the EPUB in the Downloads tab. Note that we don’t have EPUB versions of some of our oldest titles.)


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Comments about Introducing Bookle, an EPUB Reader for Mac OS X
(Comments are closed.)

Roland  2012-02-06 14:00
I so dearly want a good EPUB reader and I'm a Peter N Lewis fan and I'd be happy giving you guys $10 but why, when it's an open standard, do you have to be lemmings and only offer it through the dreaded AppStore?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-06 16:36
The simple reason is that it eliminates a ton of issues related to hosting, taking sales, dealing with returns, and customer service, not to mention the exposure. Who knows, if Bookle does sufficiently well, we may be able to afford the extra time and effort necessary to sell outside the Mac App Store as well.
Nancy Jentzsch  2012-02-06 14:28
As usual, rather than complain, Adam has taken the initiative to get a reader for the rest of us. Thanks to Adam and Peter. I'm off to the App Store (not my favorite, but I understand how much easier it is for software vendors!!). Hope many discover it. Leo needs to talk it up on MacBreak!!
bowerbird  2012-02-06 16:24

i wish you woulda let me
put in a bid on this job.

now i'm probably gonna
havta undercut your price.

sorry about that... :+(

SSteve  2012-02-06 16:33
Is that some kind of weird passive-agressive Haiku?
Stewart C Russell  2012-02-08 11:39
No, it's just the Bowerbird, who seems to be on the same high horse he was on back on the Bookpeople list c.2004. How's that ZML working out for you, eh Bowerbird?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-06 16:33
Competition is a good thing for improving quality, though competing purely on price can have the effect of making it so no one can earn a reasonable amount. I'll be interested to see what you can come up with, in terms of how it's different from the decisions we made.

As far as how I decided to work with Peter, it wasn't a bid thing - we've known each other for years, and he was game for taking a flyer on it. We agreed that $9.99 felt like a fair price for the app, given that neither of us felt like working for nothing, or close to nothing.
bowerbird  2012-02-06 17:06
adam said:
> competing purely on price
> can have the effect of
> making it so no one can
> earn a reasonable amount

that is a topic too big for
a comment-box this small, but
adobe's .epub viewer-app is
_free_, so that's the floor.

and the ceiling is the sky...

i'm sure peter's a great guy,
and so are you, adam, so i
wish you both the best luck.

i've been a tidbits fan since
-- what was it -- easyreader?

gastropod  2012-02-06 18:12
Adobe may be free, but it's dreck. I use it to get library books onto iThings, and I cringe every time it opens. Not just ugly, but the index font is unchangeable, so if I ever actually had to read it, I couldn't. $10 for a good program is more than fair, it's cheap. If $10 is too much, there's calibre, which can be made somewhat better than the defaults if you spend enough time to figure out how to edit config files. I'd rather spend a pittance, and use the time saved to read a book!
Dennis B. Swaney  2012-02-07 08:32
Great! Make it available to Leopard users, both PPC & Intel. I'll even pay a little MORE for it.
Paul Taylor  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2012-02-06 16:51
Thanks Adam, it is a very good simple document viewer for technical books. The outline model is intuitive for navigation through the type of books you produce. One thing I noticed however was that the title pages are missing from all my Take Control Books (except for TCO-Bookle title).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-06 18:22
The title pages are actually interesting, and we learned how to do it better with "Take Control of Bookle." Pages uses the first page of the book as the cover graphic, but that's actually a special thing, and not really the first page of the EPUB itself. With "Take Control of Bookle" we made the first two pages into the cover, so the first one is used as the special cover graphic for iBooks and the second one is what appears in Bookle. We'll probably be changing our production process to do this going forward as well.
gastropod  2012-02-06 18:09
Hooray for a plausible epub reader on the mac!

Here's another vote for a non-app store option. (And I muchly want it on Leopard too.) Meanwhile a question or so:

The app store description says that it gloms books into its own library. Can this be disabled? I want my books to stay where I put them and not get duplicated. 'Own library' is one of the things I hate most about calibre.

You say "customize,,,in most EPUBS". Is there a way to force customization in -all- epubs? My eyes are betraying me with age; what's comfy for more than a sentence varies with many factors. I sometimes need very large fonts (1/2-1 inch tall); slender fonts smear too much even then; and contrast matters excessively. So anything I -can't- customize is often unreadable.

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-06 18:25
There's no way to disable the library features, since a sandboxed app in the Mac App Store cannot do things outside of its sandbox. But EPUBs are small enough that there's little harm in duplicating them, plus you may want them in iTunes as well. Once they're in Bookle, you can store them elsewhere or trash them as you wish - "Take Control of Bookle" explains where the actual files are.

As far as overriding fonts and sizes, we found in testing that there were some EPUBs that hard-coded their CSS styles in such a way that we couldn't override. It might be possible to break through that, but it wasn't obvious how quickly. I don't have a sense of how common this is yet.
gastropod  2012-02-06 20:08
Thanks for the info.

>There's no way to disable the library features

YA reason to dislike the Mac App store. So here's a stronger plea to eventually make a relative that's allowed to have features available elsewhere. I'll gladly pay a surcharge.

>little harm in duplicating

Except that I twiddle things. I'm not a read-only user, and I don't want to make the same twiddles in who knows how many places by the time I get a whole bunch of apps. I wouldn't remember which I've twiddled and which I haven't. Even changing file names would get hectic by the time spotlight starts finding 67 copies of what seem to be the same thing, and maybe are--but how does the average user tell?

I'm getting quite annoyed at Apple. I understand about the average user often not having a good grasp of a file system (I do user support for rent), but duplication into each app's space is making things worse, not better.

(end old fogey mode)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:45
Understood. Yes, there are tradeoffs with the Mac App Store, and we're well aware of them (and thoroughly annoyed as well).

In terms of modifying metadata in the EPUBs, I'd like that to be the sort of thing that is possible in Bookle. And perhaps we could add a feature that would make it easy to pull things back out (even just displaying the files in the Finder via a menu command), so Bookle could be the source of all the EPUBs, but it wouldn't be hard to use them elsewhere either.

Doing the referencing thing to files in arbitrary locations, even if we were able to avoid the sandboxing limitations, does have other user experience problems, because files move, disks aren't available, and so on. So it's not an unalloyed win.
gastropod  2012-02-07 17:45
How about a Bookle Pro that's independent of the app store, once you see how the original Bookle fares. It would presumably be a separate program, but aimed at serious readers/creators, who will (hopefully) be willing to pay $20-40 for full featured software, including no library--just double an epub, and it launches. Maybe meta data editing within BP, and it would be great to be able to hand the css or other parts to something like bbedit for in place editing (foiling publishers who think they know best :-)). Bonus points (and bucks!) for Leopard support.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-08 15:20
It's not inconceivable! :-)
John Spragens  2012-02-08 23:14
I trust you'll post an update if you release a version outside the App Store. I don't go there, but this does sound like an interesting program at a nice price.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-09 06:03
Oh, certainly. An independent version isn't likely right away, since we'd prefer to devote time and effort to improving the program rather than setting up and maintaining an ecommerce site and program registrations and all that. But if it does happen, I'd be certain to say something.
Francisco Hirsch  2012-02-07 06:45
Bbedit is sold both on the Mac App Store and on it's site. Users that bought Bbedit on The Store can download "extras" from the site that allow ir to Work as Fuller Bbedit. Maybee something similar can be done for Bookle
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:46
Yes, that's true, but BBEdit isn't a sandboxed application right now, since it wasn't necessary initially. So they can do things (like share support files across machines using Dropbox) that we can't. (And they won't be able to at such point as Apple forces sandboxing.)

But your point about extras is a good one - perhaps there are some things that become possible with add-ons or scripts or the like. We'll keep it in mind.
Murphy Mac  2012-02-06 18:10
I haven't messed with EPUBS much yet, but I'm very interested. How does Bookle compare to the iPad format that iBooks Author creates? Does EPUB allow one to embed media right into the book?
(The article mentions links but I don't know what the limits are for what you can link to.)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-06 18:27
Bookle cannot currently display the .ibooks format put out by iBooks Author - it's sort of mangled EPUB. We're certainly looking into supporting it, but I don't have a sense of that yet.

As far as other media, I don't have any EPUBs with video or audio, but graphics and links just work like they would in a Web page (an EPUB is really basically a Web page, and since we're using WebKit, anything Safari can do should be roughly possible).
Have you tried renaming a .ibook file to.epub and throwing it at bookle? The reason I ask is that this mostly works, at least in terms of text, in Calibre.
Off Topic:
Interesting, if I just submit a comment, it doesn't get tagged as by a member, I have to go to the account page, login and then (I think) it gets tagged. Seems if the email matches a member name, it should just work.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 07:30
The system is supposed to do that. It's precisely the same email address? I can go in and merge your pre- and post-account posts.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 09:21
Yes, I've played with various approaches with .ibooks files, but they're basically unusable. I haven't tried a text-heavy .ibooks file, though.  2012-02-06 18:18
Has anyone actually been able to get this at the Ap Store? Every time a click on the buy button, I get the spinning beach ball and Ap Store hangs forever. I hope this means Apple's servers are overloaded by eager Bookle buyers.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 09:16
We haven't heard of others having trouble, so I'd recommend restarting and seeing if that clears the problem on your Mac. (But this is partly why we're using the Mac App Store - problems like this don't send us diving to figure out if our server is functioning.)
Deborah Clark  2012-02-06 20:45
This is a great idea, but for some reasons, my books created with Calibre do not load properly into this app... I can read them in iBooks and Readdle on the iPad, so what would be the difference?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:48
If you send me some of these books via email (click the envelope icon next to my name at the top of this article), I can take a look. My experience with using Calibre to convert Word documents to EPUB was poor, to say the least, so it's entirely possible that Calibre isn't putting out valid EPUB. Or, it's equally possible that it's creating a valid EPUB variant that we simply didn't expect or run across in our testing.
George Jarrett  2012-02-06 21:24
This is great news. With Adam designing the spec, and Peter writing the code, it should be a great app. I have tons of epubs that I don't read on my Mac because all of the apps are so clunky.

Sadly, I am still running Leopard on a PowerPC Mac. Any chance of an unofficial, universal binary, Leopard-compatible build? I will happily pay, with $ or bug reports.
Dennis B. Swaney  2012-02-07 08:37
I'm with you. It is sad to see loyal users being continually slapped in the face because they can't spend a few thousand $$ every year to replace perfectly good functioning computers. Not to mention being punished for not using the worst OS Apple has ever released: Lion
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:50
Peter is the final word here, but it's possible, even likely, that it wouldn't be feasible to generate a Leopard build based on the APIs that we need to use. I'll certainly raise it as a question, but don't get your hopes up.
Interesting. But some time ago I bought Scarlett from the App Store and it looks definitely more powerful. Especially searching possibilities (both using an app and with Spotlight). I read a lot technical books, so it's essential.
passepartout  2012-02-07 02:36
Great idea. Sadly, a little too late for me. Last week, I finally overcame my revulsion to Calibre's interface (tip: reduce font size to minimum and remove the toolbar icons) and now use it for managing my entire pdf/epub collection and I can thoroughly recommended Calibre (if you can stomach the interface): it is exceptionally full-featured. Although $10 is not a lot to pay for the only native ePub reader on the Mac, it is still (infinitely) more expensive than the cross-platform category leader with an extensive user base and good software support. IMO this restricts Bookle's appeal to those who wish to donate $10 to support TidBITS. I wish the product well, but hope that the eagerness to extract $$ from potential users doesn't dent its adoption by a more general (ie. non-TidBITS supporting) user base.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:55
We certainly went into this knowing that Calibre exists, has tons of features, and is free. And if it meets your needs, that's great. Personally, I really hate Calibre's interface - things like menu items that read (I'm not kidding here):

Add books from directories, including sub-directories (One book per directory, assumes every ebook file is the same book in a different format)

As a Mac user, I expect more thought and care to be put into user interface. But again, if it works for you, go for it.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden  2012-02-07 04:01
Thank you for this; I bought it immediately. What I would love to see added are leading and margin controls--those huge wall-to-wall blocks of tightly-leaded text are pretty hard to read for any length of time. Compare the default display of Bookle to, for instance, any story on TidBits and you'll see what I mean.

I realize that it's possible to work around this by directly editing the CSS inside an ePub file, but it would be swell if it were a simple handy control pn the toolbar.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:56
A good suggestion, thanks! I'll add it to the Bookle UserVoice forum so we can see how many others want to see it as well.
Raymond Osborn  2012-02-07 07:43
Forgive my ignorance, but are there any benefits for me to switch from my current PDF versions of the Take Control books to the EPUB format, or is this an investment in the future, when you might choose to add animations, etc?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 08:59
Honestly, no, if the PDF versions of our books are working for you, there is no reason to switch to the EPUB versions of our books. And as I said in the article, we have no plans to switch away from PDF as our primary format. It might happen in the future, but it's not even on a roadmap.

There are some advantages to EPUB in general, largely relating to the fact that it's a reflowable format that adapts (fairly) well to changes in window size, font size, and so on. Since PDF is a page-based format, there's a limit to how well it can adapt to size changes. That's why, for instance, we recommend our EPUBs to people who want to read on an iPhone, but PDF to people who read on an iPad. The PDF display is better and more intentional (since we do things like fix line lengths and page breaks), but it's just too small on the iPhone.

The goal with Bookle is to give people another option for reading EPUB on the Mac.
Victor Norton  2012-02-07 10:19
Typically, if you buy a PDF version of a technical book from O'Reilly, you can download the .epub (iPad) version and/or .mobi (Kindle) version for free. I don't know if you have these options with Take Control books, but I expect not.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-07 13:31
Actually, we do have these options, and we always have (since the point where we started converting our PDFs into other formats). PDF is our primary format for purchasing for historical and user experience reasons, but once you have the PDF, you can click Check for Updates on the cover to access the Ebook Extras page that has links to the EPUB and Mobi versions. Plus, if you buy the PDF from us, it's automatically added to your Take Control account, so you can log in to download the EPUB and Mobi versions of all the Take Control books you've purchased.

And, if you decide you want the print-on-demand version of a purchased book, you can click the Order Print Copy button on the cover of the PDF (or in the Print tab of the Ebook Extras page) to order a print version discounted by the cover price of the book so you're paying only for materials and shipping.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-08 06:18
In addition to Adam's reply here, I wanted to add that an advantage to the PDF of a Take Control ebook is that we do put time into the layout of the PDF, thinking about page breaks and generally designing for a 8.5x11 "page." In the PDF, you will rarely find awkward breaks between pages, weird line breaks, and various layout infelicities that inevitably occur when you set the text free to be in whatever type size (and font) that the reader chooses (or the ebook-reader software displays by default). If the PDFs are working for you, truly, there is no big reason to switch to EPUB.

However, if you gain a better reading experience by setting your own font/size, or if your favorite ebook-reading app is EPUB-only, or for whatever reason, if you prefer the EPUB, it is available. Our early EPUBs for the Take Control series were generated by a third-party conversion service and visually they sometimes are far less than ideal. About a year ago, we brought conversion in-house, and now although there are some aspects of the EPUBs that I would like to tweak, they are vastly improved from those earlier efforts. As more of the older ebooks get updated, more and more of them will look better in the EPUB format.
Max Pinton  2012-02-08 20:40
Do any EPUB readers have a layout engine with features similar to Adobe's Paragraph Composer? I'm surprised that problems like widows, orphans, bad wraps, etc, that have been solved for years in the print world somehow seem insurmountable for Ebooks.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-09 05:57
Not that I know of, but it's a good idea. I suspect that the ebook reading world simply isn't mature enough for that level of refinement to hit the top of a priority list. Plus, remember that EPUBs are basically Web sites, and the controls for reading niceties aren't common in Web standards (I honestly don't know what CSS can do in this regard, but it's not something I've heard anything about before).
Max Pinton  2012-02-09 11:53
That reminded me of TypeSet, which is a JavaScript implementation of TeX's line breaking and justification. Could something like this be added to Bookle?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-09 14:22
Oh! I don't know and will have to pass it on to Peter. I'm very much still wrapping my head around what we can do with Web technologies within the WebKit view. But it looks very cool.
Bill seitz  2012-02-07 12:45
I've been using FBReader, which is OpenSource and cross-platform... though I mainly use it on my Android phone and tablet. On the TCoBookle book it works pretty well, though it isn't pretty.
I hope that you'll consider including support for OpenType fonts, since there is a mean of accessing advanced typographic features using CSS (although this may still be a draft standard), and so presumably also with EPUB. Much more importantly, though, what all EPUB applications need is more sophisticated H&J routines. It is all about READING after all, and the more even the typographic color of the pages, the more fluently they will read.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-08 09:18
Bookle relies on WebKit, so for the moment, what WebKit can do, we can do. Customizing that may be possible with CSS, but we're still wrapping our heads around it.
Bob Kline  2012-02-09 11:46
I've followed TidBits for a number of years and have always enjoyed your materials. (Back in the days of Eudora!)

Great beginning with Bookle! The ebook world needs more focus on simplicity and quality, thanks for your contribution.

I look forward to future improvements.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-09 14:23
Peter has already rolled out 1.0.3 (1.0.2 was the main public release) with a couple of bug fixes, and we're building a great (if a little daunting!) to-do list with all sorts of wonderful ideas. The Bookle UserVoice forum at has been good for collecting votes and opinions.
Philip Thrift  2012-02-10 17:54
How is Bookie better than NOOK Study for Mac OS X:
It's free and it's what I use to read DRM-free EPUB format ebooks on my MacBook Pro.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-02-11 07:45
I didn't have time to look into the Nook app in detail, but on an initial impression, Bookle is way smaller (5 MB to 53 MB) and doesn't require that you log in to a B&N account before you can do anything. The Nook app wouldn't even open an EPUB without me logging in, and I didn't have time to set up an account to see what B&N might be tracking or requiring of me with that account. To judge from their screenshot, they're also doing only the two-up page view, unlike Bookle's default scrolling view, which is merely a matter of preference at the moment (in an ideal world, we'll figure out how to a good two-up view as an option in Bookle).