Realising that my collection of Chinese language books has grown to the point were they’ll require a big box and hefty shipping cost to get them back to the UK when I return from Taiwan, I have been looking for electronic alternatives to “dead tree” media.
The benefit of ebooks is that they weigh nothing, well, apart from the device that holds them. As the distribution cost is next to nothing, they are also available worldwide (publication rights and DRM permitting). This makes them perfect for people who are learning Chinese in their home countries but want access to Chinese language media, and people like myself, who want to avoid shipping big boxes around the world.
The ebook service that I’ll be looking at in this post is Taiwan’s POPO 數位書城, which is operated by Taiwanese publisher Cite (As Cite is Taiwanese, naturally all of the books are in Traditional Chinese). This is not meant to be a review of the service, more a guide on how to buy books using it, though at the end I will look briefly at the platforms you can use to read the books and give a few words about the ones I have used.
Note: If you are planning on running the POPO software on Windows then try installing and opening it first. As I mention below in some cases there is an error that prevents it from opening if the date format of your computer is set a certain way
1. Create an account
To be able to purchase and download ebooks from the PoPo website you’ll first need to register for an account.
Click on the 加入會員（jiā rù huì yuán）member join link on the homepage
Scroll down to the bottom of the terms of service and click 我同意（wǒ tóng yì）agree
Fill out your new account details –
The following fields are required:
- 帳號（zhàng hào） account/username
- 筆名 / 顯示名稱（bǐ míng / xiǎn shì míng chēng） screen name
- 密碼（mì mǎ） password
- 確認密碼（què rèn mì mǎ） confirm password
- 電子郵件（diàn zi yóu jiàn） email
- 生日（shēng rì） birthdate
After completing the form, click 確認送出 （què rèn sòng chū）submit
Check your email account the account activation email and then click the link to activate your account.
2. Add Credit to your Account
After your account is activated, you’ll see the following welcome message – click on the third link to add credit to your account 儲值看好書（chú zhí kàn hǎo shū）top up your account and read.
Choose how any credits you want to buy and click 下一部 （xià yī bù）next.
Note: $30NT (New Taiwan Dollars) is about $1US, so you can work out how much you are spending on points – It might be worth having a look around the shop first and seeing how many you’ll need before buying.
Choose credit card as the payment method.
Enter your credit card details click 確認付款（què rèn fù kuǎn）confirm payment.
After your payment is successful click the 回首頁（huí shǒu yè）return to homepage button.
3. Buy some Books!
Find a book that you would like to buy and then click on the title, you’ll then see the details page for the book where you can choose to 線上是閱（xiàn shàng shì yuè）read a sample online (usually you can see the first 10 pages or so), 暫停租閱（zhàn tíng zū yuè）rent the book, or 我要訂購（wǒ yào dìng gòu）buy the book.
After clicking on the 我要訂購（wǒ yào dìng gòu）’I want to buy’ link, you’ll get the following message that says it has been successfully added to your cart.
You can then click on the 我要結帳 （wǒ yào jié zhàng）checkout button which floats to the right hand side of the page.
Check that it’s the correct book and price, then click on 結帳（jié zhàng）checkout.
You have one last chance to back out – are you really, really sure? If so click on 確認，付款（què rèn, fù kuǎn）confirm payment.
Note: After the last confirmation a box will pop up for you to enter your username and password, this happens even if you are already logged in. Enter your details then click on 登入, then click OK on the “login successful” box that pops up.
You’ll now see the 完成訂購（wán chéng dìng gòu）finished checkout confirmation.
That’s it! You can now view the book you have purchased on your Windows PC, Android device, or iPad (depending on the devices that your purchase was available for).
4. Read your Books
Currently, POPO supports three platforms – Windows, Android and iPad. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an iPhone version, or a Mac version either. Though I imagine these are in the works since the iPad version was only recently released.
Similar to the iTunes model, you can install the POPO ebook reading software on up to 3 devices. A nice touch is that you can easily delete devices when you want to install the software on a new device – In the process of writing this guide I installed it on 3 PCs and then tried to access it on my Android phone and was simply asked which of the 3 computers I wanted to delete to make room for the new device.
Software download links
To read your your ebooks all you need to do is install the software for your specific device:
Using the Software
I don’t have an iPad (yet), so I was unable to test the iPad version of the software, but I have used both the Windows and Android versions. From what I can see form the screenshots in the iTunes store, the iPad version is the same as the Android version, except for the addition of a coverflow interface.
First the Android version. This version is easy enough to install, and the app can be found in the Google Play marketplace for free. After logging in using the details that you registered for an account with you can sync your books with your Android device and read them. The only issue I had with the Android version is that in portrait mode the book library menu navigation is squashed together and unusable, though this doesn’t happen in landscape mode, and when actually reading a book portrait mode works just fine.
The PoPo Reader Android Interface
The interface while reading is very good – you swipe left and right (or tap left and right) to change page, pinch to zoom, and single tap the screen to show the menu and page previews along the right hand side. You can also add bookmarks as well as use a highlighter pen on pages and write sticky notes.
In the Windows version I had some issues that stopped me using the program for a week before I gave up and contacted technical support, who responded with a day (less than a day if you don’t count Sunday afternoon).
The issue I was having was related to a date format problem on my computer. The ebook reading software expects the date format to be in Taiwanese date format. I had originally tried to installed on an English Windows XP install, then I tried on an English Windows 7 installation that had the interface changed to Traditional Chinese, neither of which worked. To remedy the problem I actually had to go into the Control Panel, and the Regional and Language Options, and actually change the Standards and Formats option to be Chinese (Taiwan). So I ended up with an English install of XP, but will all formatting set to Taiwanese. Not a huge issue but if you rely on the formatting settings or any other program then this might not be acceptable to you.
Note: No matter how I set the Regional and Language options in Windows 7 I still couldn’t get the program to load without a ‘date conversion’ error. My advice would be to try and install the program and open it, before you buy any books, that way you can be sure it works before spending any money.
Regional and Language Option in Windows XP (Control Panel -> Regional and language Options)
When the Windows program was working, it wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed using it. You can zoom in and set bookmarks, use a highlighter pen and also add sticky notes to pages. The only issue I really found was with the clarity of the words. As the books I bought were all comic books, the text was quite small, so when zoomed right in the text became slightly blurred, making some complex characters unclear, which could be an issue if you are trying to look up a Chinese character by handwriting it into your dictionary app.
The PoPo Reader program running in Windows XP
After using the POPO platform to buy, download, and read a book, the following are my initial impressions:
- Can install software on 3 devices
- Android interface very functional
- Reasonably cheap books
- Responsive support
- Possible “show-stopper” bug in Windows version
- No iPhone or Mac version yet
- Selection of books is quite limited at the moment
- Books are all Traditional Chinese (not really a con to me, but might be an issue if you’re leaning exclusively Simplified)
Another possible con, and something that is most likely connected to DRM, or the way in which the ebooks are made, is that text is not selectable. This makes it impossible to copy and paste a word into your dictionary – though this is the same as with paper books, so it’s debatable whether this is a con or not.
The main benefit of platforms like this, is that they are making Chinese content available online, and due to the sometimes limited availability of this content outside of Asia it’s great to see them developing – and accepting credit cards from other countries! If you find a book available on POPO that you want to buy, it’s definitely easy enough to register for an account and buy/download it, so my overall opinion is give it a try.
Which platforms are you using to buy Chinese language ebooks online? If you have a recommendation then please let us all know in the comments!