Jag Venugopal's Blog

October 21, 2009

On choosing an eBook reader

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 5:57 pm
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Barnes and Noble has released its “Nook” ebook reader.  Sony recently released a couple readers. There are rumors of others waiting in the wings.

 The blogosphere is all abuzz comparing the relative technical specifications of each one of these readers, recommending the one or the other. But I think that technical specifications of the hardware ought to be only part of the consideration when purchasing an electronic device, especially one that is a closed system such as an eBook reader.

 The first consideration in the purchase ought to be the longevity of the service. Generally, you can only buy the “software” (i.e. books) from the company that sold you the hardware.  This is important for two reasons… one, you want newer titles to be available for your device in the years to come. Secondly, you want the device to be supported for a long time, so you can read the books you have purchased, which are useless outside of the device.

 The question to ask yourself is… if I invest money in buying from Barnes and Noble or Sony, will their service be around for the next few years, or  are they likely to leave the market? Those who purchased music from Sony’s online store a few years ago must now be regretting their decision, given that the store has shut down, and the DRM’ed tracks are useful only if copied to a CD and ripped back. Similarly, B&N’s financial woes do not exactly inspire confidence. Of all the major players, I think Amazon’s the most likely to stick to the Kindle or its successors.

 The second consideration is the variety of software, and its price. Sony strikes out here, because it is primarily an electronics vendor, with little experience in book retailing. It is not at all clear that selling eBooks will be Sony’s core business. Thus, it is likely that new titles which are outside the pulp-fiction mainstream may not ever make it to the device. The struggles being faced by Barnes and Noble also raise questions about their willingness to invest in selling books outside mainstream bestsellers. They are an also-ran in the Internet book retailing business, and their brick-and-mortar bookstores are under assault from Amazon. Even on this count, Amazon is most likely to succeed, because books are core to their retailing business.

 A third, and final consideration, is what value is sought to be derived from an eBook reader. Certainly, the readers are more portable, and occupy far less shelf space than the thousand or so books each can carry at a given time. However paper, too, has significant advantages — the primary one being that it is far more resilient to falls or liquid damage. The replacement cost of a paper book is minuscule by comparison. And, it can be read, then given away or resold. It is for this reason that I haven’t yet taken the plunge into the eBook world, preferring instead to read a few limited computer titles directly on my laptop. I’m holding out for price drops on the large Kindle though… when I can read my collection of non-DRM’ed PDF books natively without re-flowing the text, then an eBook reader will make sense to me.

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