The Battle of the eBook Readers

For a couple years now the Amazon Kindle has been the standard for ebook reading, even though the Sony Reader has been around longer and many people find it just as good. Now, the Barnes & Noble Nook has come out – so we have the Big Three of ebook readers, even though there are other ebook readers available, and more being planned.  I have no intention of trying to review them, or compare their technology, PC World does a good job here.  I’ve owned a number of ebook readers, including the Kindle, but I’ve sold or given them away.  So far they haven’t quite lived up to my expectations.  The trouble is, I again want to own an ebook reader.

My first impulse is to buy a Kindle 2 because I’d like to have its text-to-speech feature, and because I buy a lot of books from Amazon.  Then I happened to read, “Sony rolls out EPUB content, makes B&N nook transition easy and international.”   By using the EPUB standard, Barnes & Noble and Sony have made Amazon look like Apple promoting it’s proprietary AAC song format over the standard MP3 song.  Amazon created a nice music business attacking Apple by marketing MP3 songs and this is what Sony and B&N are doing to Amazon by promoting the open EPUB format.  Sony is even abandoning its proprietary format and switching to EPUB which makes it compete better against the B&N and Amazon at the same time.  Great strategic move.

If you bought an ebook reader, you’d want buy books from any bookstore, right?  Televisions can tune any channel, but imagine having to buy a different TV set for each station in town.  That’s sort of how ebook readers work now.  For each online ebook store, there’s an ebook reader they promote.  Another sign that the open EPUB format is really the emerging standard is some public libraries are now lending books in this format.  

Look at eReader.com, an online store that only sells ebooks, they promote the eSlick Reader.  Oddly enough, this site is owned by Barnes & Noble, so it appears B&N are promoting two competing ebook readers – I bet that will change soon!  This site has been around for awhile and also provides the free eReader software for a bunch of existing computing devices to let folks read ebooks on any digital devices they already own, like computers, laptops, PDAs, cell phones, including the popular iPhone.

If you visit the Sony Reader Store you won’t see any mention that the B&N Nook can read their books for sale, nor does the B&N Nook site promote selling their books to Sony Reader owners.  Behind the scenes, EPUB ebook users are finding ways to load books from both stores on their favorite device.  This leaves the Kindle kind of lonely by itself.  Fictionwise, another general ebook online storefront, promotes the eSlick reader too, but works to get their books on any device they legally can.  When you purchase a book it goes into your library, but when you go to download it, you are given a long list of supported file formats, including the Kindle and EPUB.  Fictionwise even has a Fictionwise Kindle eBookstore.  So even though the Kindle is proprietary, being the horse out front of the pack means it gets a lot of support.

See how confusing it is to decide which ebook reader to buy?  To make the issue even more complicated, go read David Pogue’s “Should e-Books Be Copy Protected?”  The MP3 song is very easy to steal and share, but there are now plenty of legal sites selling the unprotected MP3 song.  Would it be possible for all online bookstores to sell the same unprotected EPUB formatted book that could be read on any ebook reader?  Maybe in a few years, but right now book publishers are too scared to sell unprotected ebook files, so the protected EPUB format is emerging as the standard now.

Deciding which ebook reader to buy now means aligning with a particular bookstore, or finding one that works with many different bookstores.  Some ebook readers are expensive because they come with broadband cell phones built into them to easily purchase books from the proprietary bookstore that markets them.  I’d rather have a cheaper ebook reader that works like a MP3 player and use my computer to buy books and be my file librarian.  That way I wouldn’t be tied to any bookstore. 

I have an iPod Nano and touch, Microsoft Zune and Sansa Clip all loaded with audiobooks that I buy from Audible.com.  I never feel the need to buy an audiobook when I’m away from home.  I always run out of battery juice before books.  I’ve never run out of books away from home because my devices all hold so many.  Ebook readers can hold thousands of books, so I don’t see the need to spend money for instant access.  Besides, it’s just a way to tie the device to one bookseller.

If there was a Kindle 3 for $150 without the wireless, I buy it because of the text-to-speech feature.  Otherwise, I’d probably like the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, that uses EPUB, but it costs a little too much right now, even at Amazon’s $189 price.  I also wished the Sony Reader Pocket Edition had a 6” screen.  It would still be much smaller than Kindle and full size Sony Reader.  The smaller screen means more page turning, but many reviewers love it because it’s so easy to carry around.  I was always afraid to carry my Kindle 1 away from home.  That brings up another factor.  It hurts far less to lose a $150 reader than one that costs $300.

The reason why I want to get another ebook reader is because I want to read science fiction magazines.  The top four print magazines have been available for a couple years now for ebook readers, and I’m hoping the emerging online magazines will start offering EPUB editions too.  The ebook reader might increase readership for the dying short story market. 

One plus to the ebook readers that have wireless/broadband connections is they make provisions for reading blogs.  I bought a netbook hoping it would be a great portable RSS reader, but it hasn’t worked out.  The form factor isn’t very book like.  I’m hoping that RSS software for reading blogs will migrate onto ebook readers too.  iTunes manages podcasts for iPods, so why can’t software manage blogs for ebook readers?

However, what’s really emerging is bookworms love ebook readers for consuming books.  Ebook readers are really perfect for fiction reading, and especially for people who love to read fiction in quantity on the cheap.  And this is great – it saves trees and the environment.  Because libraries are starting to lend EPUB books, and because there are about a million out of print books available for ebook readers, and because there are many online stores selling ebooks cheaper than print books, bookworms really benefit from owning an ebook reader.  I think the time for ebook readers have finally arrived and I have to get back in the game again.

JWH – 12/19/9

3 thoughts on “The Battle of the eBook Readers”

  1. On Amazon’s side, the whole point is getting and reading books, and Amazon still has the largest, best, and cheapest variety. (Compare Fictionwise prices to Amazon’s ubiquitous $9.99.) Once you buy a Kindle, why do you care if someone with a Sony reader could or could not read the book you just bought? I would also speculate that Kindles will support epub in tuture – iPods support mp3 after all as well as aac… To Amazon’s credit — they were chided by the techy press for not supporting pdf and not supporting other devices like PCs — and yet they said they would and they do now.

    Or, maybe have the embarrassing thought I’ve had: hmmm maybe I can work some overtime and get several e-Readers … ahem.

  2. I am partial to Amazon since I buy so much stuff from them. And I liked my Kindle 1. I sold it to my friend who travels a lot and was anxious to try out a Kindle. I mainly listen to books now-a-days, so I felt the Kindle was wasted on me – but I’ve been missing it. Too often I buy a book that I could have gotten much cheaper by buying the Kindle edition. Sony and Barnes & Noble have gotten their books more in line with the Kindle pricing, so I don’t know if that’s an issue still.

    I want an ebook reader but don’t want to pay $260 for one, or even $199. And it bugs me to have to buy a machine with broadband when I don’t care for that feature. I may wait awhile still and see what the Kindle 3 might be like, but if I see the Sony Reader Pocket Edition for sale near the $150 price I will probably just get it. The main goal is to read more short stories.

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