Ebooks. Look but don’t touch!
Ebooks are great. The convenience of having searchable text with me at all times has even been enough to make me grudgingly buy kindle versions of books that I’d already bought in paper form. However ebooks are not without their frustrations. Despite having all that text on your screen you’re restricted in what you can do with it – it isn’t possible to copy blocks of text into a separate document. When this topic came up in Tim Ferriss’s excellent interview with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings I was pleased to find out that I wasn’t alone, but disappointed that they weren’t able to offer any solutions beyond the standard ones.
Free your text from its electronic cage
There are a couple of workarounds that allow you to free your text from its electronic cage. Firstly, and most unsatisfactorily, it is possible to copy a tweet’s worth of text using the search field. This becomes laborious if you want to copy a whole passage. Secondly and slightly less unsatisfactorily, all your highlights are available if you click on ‘Your Highlights’ at kindle.amazon.com. However they’re horribly formatted and in some modern books only a limited amount highlights are transferred to the site, so if you’re a prodigious highlighter and comment-adder you will probably find this workaround both disappointing and frustrating.
Scanbot: a slightly convoluted but workable solution
I am delighted to announce my discovery of a solution to this problem, the Scanbot smartphone app. Just point the smartphone camera at the kindle, it will capture an image of the page and upload it as a pdf to the cloud storage of your choice. If you splash out on the pro version you get optical character recognition which allows access to the text, either by copying the text from the pdf or selecting the ‘view’ option within the app. You can then copy and paste it to your heart’s content. It will work with multiple pages and even with old fashioned paper books too!
It would be easier if Amazon just let me copy text from my Kindle, but until they do I’ll be incorporating Scanbot into my creative workflow.