shopping for e-readers

For Those Who Don’t Have E-Readers Yet

One of the things I’ve learned in publishing is to never assume anything. I check out blogs and comment threads all over the web to see what’s happening and to see what readers think and what they want.

From what I’m gathering, even though so many on the web already know about and own e-readers, there are still many who don’t. Not only don’t they own them, they are intimidated by them. I understand this because I was just as intimidated for a long time. I started reading e-books by downloading them to my computer. I got that. I knew how to do it. But e-readers really freaked me out.

And let’s face it, a lot of the blog posts on the web about e-readers are written by techies and experts who take for granted everyone knows what they are talking about. I’m still learning about DRM…I think that’s what it’s called…and I’m still learning how to download digital books to my kobo e-readers without going through the Kobo store.

So you’re not alone out there. Not everyone is a digital expert, including authors who write digital books. And I think it’s important when it comes to things like this to think about what your needs are when it comes to reading e-books, and make it as simple as possible. In my case, I love my Kobo e-readers. For me, the process is basic and all I have to do is push a few buttons and I have a book. As I said, I’m still learning. But for now I’m so happy with my e-readers and my e-books, I can’t imagine ever going back to print books.

Here’s a blog post I think is helpful about e-readers if you in the market to buy one.

Like a digital music player, an e-reader is useless unless you can easily get e-books onto it.

Let’s get one misconception out of the way: e-book formats are superfluous because Kindle, Nook and Kobo e-readers are closed systems.

In other words, if you decide a few years from now to switch from, say, Nook to Kobo, or from Kobo to Kindle, or from Kindle to Nook, or whatever, books you’ve already purchased will be stuck on your old device. They cannot be transformed to your new, different e-reader, regardless of format.

Hence the reason to choose wisely, hence these thorough examinations.

Amazon v. the world

I raise the format issue because one of the knocks on the Kindle is that Amazon uses a proprietary e-book format called AZW (indicated by the file name suffix .azw; for free books, Kindles use a format called Mobipocket, .mobi).

The rest of the industry uses the open EPUB (short for Electronic PUBlication), which includes the more than 11,000 libraries that lend e-books.

This mean that Kindle can’t be used to borrow EPUB books from public libraries, just from other Kindle owners.

However, three months ago Amazon announced Kindles will be able to borrow EPUB library books sometime this fall.

Kindle’s pending library compatibility removes any real difference between Amazon’s proprietary e-book format and EPUB, at least as far as purchased e-books are concerned.

Both Barnes & Noble and Kobo use EPUB as their e-book formats, but then add their own copy protection scheme (referred to as DRM, digital rights management) to stop you from sending that file to someone else on a different e-reader for free, and makes these e-books incompatible with any other e-reader. (All three let you “lend” a limited number of e-books to other Nook or Kobo users.)

Therefore, e-book formats, open or not, are an insignificant consideration. You’ll be trapped regardless of whether you choose Kindle, Nook or Kobo.

Free books, however, are DRM-free and are usually available in both .mobi and EPUB formats. (For more information on how to get free e-books, see my “How To Get Free E-Books.”)

Actual shopping

To make a long-story short, for the moment Kindle presents the best buying experience for one reason: Amazon let’s you skip a sync step. A second minor Kindle superiority: longer free samples. All three e-readers let you download free samples, but with Kindle you usually get more to read before you buy.

But first let’s quickly address the varying differences between Amazon, Nook and Kobo e-book selection and prices before we get to the skipped sync step.

In practical terms, there aren’t any differences in selection and price in the competing e-book catalogs. All three have all the best sellers and popular older books from the so-called Big Six publishers, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House and Simon & Schuster and a mix of smaller houses as well as periodicals. Each e-book store offers around 2 million e-book titles, which means you’ll usually be able to find what you’re looking for as far as new e-books are concerned.

And the publishers don’t exactly encourage e-book price competition, so pricing differences among the three e-book stores are minimal, if non-existent where best sellers are concerned.

From store to e-reader

Kindle, Nook and Kobo e-readers let you buy e-books right from the device, as long as your e-reader is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

The differences in how each online e-reader store is set up don’t make one superior to the other. You can search for a title, browse categories, check out best-seller lists, and download samples (which we’ll get to in a second) on all three.

The speed at which whole books and samples get downloaded to your e-reader once purchased depend on the speed of your Internet connection, but figure around a minute from clicking the “buy” button to actually reading your new e-book.

You also can shop for e-books from the Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo Web sites from a PC, smart phone or tablet (although, as I mentioned in Monday’s Part I, you can no longer shop for e-books from within the updated iPhone Kindle, Nook or Kobo apps; if you want to continue ordering e-books from within these apps, don’t update them), as well as from Kobo’s standalone Mac or PC application.

But if you buy an e-book from the Web or a smart phone/tablet app, you now have to get it to your e-reader, which means syncing via Wi-Fi.

Nook and Kobo syncing is simple. Go to the Kobo’s home screen or the Library screen on the Nook, and simply tap the sync icon (a pair of arced arrows completing a circle). You purchases will then be transferred to your e-reader lickety-split.

Easy – but Kindle let’s you skip this step entirely. When you are ready to buy an e-book from the Amazon Web site or smart phone app, you can choose to transmit it directly to your Kindle. No syncing step necessary.

Recommendations

As noted, Amazon’s skipped sync step is convenient, especially for the tech-phobic, and the longer sample chapters also are nice. So, right now, Kindle gets the edge in e-book shopping.

Two things, though.

First, nothing stops Barnes & Noble or Nook from upgrading their shopping to accomplish the same direct-to-e-reader capability at some point.

Second, Nook has a singular shopping advantage over both Kindle and Kobo: the 40,000 Barnes & Noble real-world retail locations.

Not only can you get Nook hardware help from living, breathing sales people, but your Nook will automatically connect to the store’s Wi-Fi, and you can download and read any e-book in Barnes & Noble’s catalog for up to an hour a day.

If you live near a Barnes & Noble bookstore – and with 40,000 stores, who doesn’t? – you may find being that close to flesh-and-blood help and access to free e-reading a real shopping advantage.