Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

eReaders for Your Computer

image Not everyone has a handheld device a la an iPhone or Blackberry. Nor does everyone have an eReader (Kindle, nook, etc.). As of this moment, I don't own either. As of December 25, 2009, I own a Kindle 2. Fortunately for those who aren't willing to pay for one of those options there remain other ways to read eBooks: on your PC or Mac.

Now a desktop or laptop is not the best way to read eBooks. LCD technology by its very nature causes eye fatigue of varying degrees, and few people enjoy curling up in bed with their laptop or tablet. Sitting at my desk, with my laptop open, I rarely do more than read short stories or quickly scan through something longer to see if it's something I might want to print.

That being said, I still wanted to scope out the available eReader applications available for your PC or Mac. I'll take a look at each of the eBookstores from my previous post and list the eReader app each requires you to install in order to read eBooks from their store.

That last statement perhaps is worth commenting on: many eBookstores have their own application you will need to install in order to read content from their site. If you're tech savvy enough you may be able to get away with downloading in say, the EPUB format, then import that file into some other eReader application or convert it from one format to another to satisfy the app in question, but my suspicion is that you'll be fighting DRM all the way.

Other eBookstores are satisfied with offering their eBooks in a variety of formats, then pointing you in the direction of someone else's eReader application. For example, DRM-protected PDF files often require Adobe Digital Editions.

As you can imagine by glancing at the list below, if you shop at all of these eStores you're going to have to install a lot of readers:

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My documents folder has a corresponding number of eBook folders, which has certainly cluttered things up a bit.

So, here are the eBookstores with their respective eReader apps listed alongside.

1. Amazon.com Kindle Store
eBook formats: AZW (aka, Kindle format)
eReader App: Kindle for PC

2. Barnes & Noble
eBook formats: PDB, EPUB
eReader App: Barnes & Noble eReader

3. Books On Board
eBook formats: ADE, PDB, EPUB, MOBI, LIT
eReader Apps: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Digital Editions

4. Diesel eBook Store
eBook formats: PDB, PDF, MOBI
eReader Apps: Adobe Digital Editions

5. eBooks.com
eBook formats: MOBI, LIT, PDF, EPUB
eReader Apps: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Digital Editions

6. fictionwise
eBook formats: PDB, LIT, PDF, MOBI, LRF
eReader Apps: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Digital Editions

7. kobo books
eBook formats: EPUB, PDF
eReader Apps: Adobe Digital Editions

8. Mobipocket eBooks
eBook formats: MOBI
eReader Apps: Mobipocket Reader

9. Palm eBook Store
eBook formats: PDB
eReader App: eReader Pro

10. Scribd
eBook formats: DOC/DOCX, PDF, ODF, TXT, RTF, others?
eReader Apps: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Digital Editions

11. Smashwords
eBook formats: HTML, MOBI, EPUB, PDF, RTF, LRF, PDB, TXT
eReader Apps: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Digital Editions

12. Sony Reader Store
eBook formats: EPUB
eReader App: Reader Library

13. Google eBookstore (added 2010-12-13)
eBook formats: EPUB, PDF
eReader App: for non-DRM, you have many options. For DRM-protected content, Adobe Digital Editions.

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Kindle for PC

One of the features lacking in Amazon's Kindle plans for e-book domination has been the fact that in order to read e-books purchased from their store you need to have a Kindle.

No longer.

Amazon has just released the new Kindle for PC software, currently in beta with Mac version coming soon, which is a free download and allows you to view Kindle e-books on your home computer or laptop.

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If you're leery of beta software best wait for the release version, though I installed and did the basics without any issue.

Kindle for PC is a quick install. In moments, I was presented with the application's opening screen:

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The "Register now to get started" dialog wants your Amazon account information, but it is not necessary to fill this in as there is a "continue without registering" option. I went ahead and filled in my Amazon account information and clicked "Register".

Here's the application resized for better viewing:

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The interface is simple almost to the point of being plain. But then it has a fairly narrow, specific purpose: to view Kindle-formatted e-books. Since I registered the software with my Amazon account, Kindle for PC went through a quick sync cycle to see what Kindle e-books I had already purchased. Of course, I don't own a Kindle and therefore have not purchased any e-books from the Kindle store, so nothing showed up.

Fortunately, Amazon makes it easy to add Kindle e-books to my collection by placing a button at the top of the app that says, "Shop in Kindle Store":

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That, of course, brings you to the Kindle storefront where, with a quick search, I can find my e-book, The Hall of the Wood.

If you're curious about how the buying process works, click on the "How buying works" link beneath the "Buy" button at the right. This will bring up the following dialog with the new Kindle for PC option listed alongside the more traditional ones:

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You'll also see the Kindle for PC device already selected if you registered when the app came up:

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For demonstration purposes, and because I've never actually seen my e-book other than in DTP preview mode, I went ahead and purchased my own e-book. Chalk up another sale for me. Once I went through the payment method, etc., I get this:

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After clicking "Go to Kindle for PC", I'm brought back to the Kindle for PC app:

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A quick double-click on my e-book and it brings it up in all its glory:

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Now that's cool.

I can't say I'm real keen on reading e-books on my PC (or Mac if I had one). In other words, I still want an e-reader. But Amazon is addressing a void in the Kindle's feature set. One less thing for someone on the fence about purchasing one e-reader over another to concern themselves with. Plus, who knows, for people who want to buy e-books from Amazon but don't have an iPhone or Kindle, now they can.

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The nook: More competition for Amazon's Kindle

10533_188131055019_9122810019_4293351_2828455_n Barnes & Noble has released for pre-order their Kindle-killer: the nook (lowercase 'n' on purpose).

'Kindle-killer' is perhaps a bit of an overstatement given that the Kindle owns the e-book reader market right now. But the Nook's imminent arrival is what caused Amazon to preemptively drop the price of the Kindle, so its impact has already been felt.

And make no mistake: e-book reading devices are important not only to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but especially to book/e-book publishers.

Why?

Because, since the arrival of Kindle and the Sony Reader, reading is up:

Amazon […] says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before owning the device. That factor is up from 2.7 in December 2008. So a reader who had previously bought eight books from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books, a rise from 21.6 books.

Sony adds this:

Sony […] says that its e-book customers, on average, download about eight books a month from its online library. That is far more than the approximately 6.7 books than the average American book buyer purchased for the entire year in 2008, according to Bowker, a publishing industry tracking firm.

More reading by consumers means more profit for the publishers. With a price war being waged between Amazon and Wal Mart (and now Target), there is real concern by the publishers over margins and profit.

There will no doubt be an exhaustive series of technical articles detailing the differences between the nook and the Kindle (here's one, from B&N's perspective). For now, though, we can take a look at this feature set from Barnes & Noble's eReading Blog:

  • Download eBooks, magazines and newspapers in seconds flat
  • Enjoy eBooks on an incredibly readable E Ink® reading screen
  • Navigate your eBooks and other content on a color touchscreen
  • Sync your eBooks to your iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Mac or PC
  • Share eBooks with friends using one of our eReader clients
  • Read any eBook for free in a Barnes & Noble store
  • Get special content and promotions in any Barnes & Noble store

The one thing I really like about Barnes & Noble selling an e-reader is that I expect I'll be able to visit my local store and demo the reader. That's something you can't do with the Kindle. I would keep in mind, though, that the nook is a first generation product. Even the Kindle has gone through one iteration now, and I think in many cases people who bought the initial model wished they had waited. This may or may not be the case with the nook.

As far as e-book formats go, the nook supports EPUB, the open e-book format. This is huge. Most of the new readers post-Kindle support this format. Kindle, by comparison, only supports their own proprietary format (the DX model also supports PDF). People do not want to be locked into proprietary formats. They want open formats, which allows them to view any content on any device. Kindle-formatted e-books are viewable only on the Kindle and it's associated applications (like the iPhone Kindle app).

I'll leave you with possibly one of the most tantalizing features of the nook:

The Nook also has software that will detect when a consumer walks into a store so that it can push out coupons and other promotions like excerpts from forthcoming books or suggestions for new reading. While in stores, Nook owners will be able to read any e-book through streaming software.

In my opinion, it's this sort of interactivity which eventually will lead to the demise of the printed book.

The nook is available now for pre-order, will be available for purchase Nov. 30, and be in stores Nov. 28.

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Amazon Kindle: Now, is the price right?

Amazon cut the price on their Kindle digital e-book reader again. This marks the second price cut of the year so far (the previous cut was $60). With Christmas rapidly approaching, and more digital readers hitting the market all the time (now, Barnes & Noble is going to sell one), one wonders if we won't see another price cut—or possible holiday price reductions—before the year is out.

As it stands now, here's the current breakdown of Kindle models and prices:

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The $259 and $279 Kindle differ only in that the latter allows one to download e-books when traveling abroad (outside the United States). The Kindle DX is the deluxe, super-sized Kindle, with a larger reading screen and more memory. Scott Hanselman, a technologist whom I follow on Twitter and whose blog and podcast I read and listen to regularly, has a nice post up about the differences between the Kindle and the Kindle DX if you'd like to read more on that.

Given this most recent price reduction, I'd like to dig up an older post of mine, How much does the Kindle 2 really cost?, where I cited an article where the author ran through a cost-justification of the Kindle 2. The author makes a comparison between buying a Kindle and accompanying e-books (at a rate of 2 per month) vs... buying the same number of traditional paperbacks.

So, buying paperbacks:

I could get free shipping if I ordered two paperbacks at a time and didn't mind waiting five to nine business days for them to ship. If I chose standard shipping (three business days) instead, I'd pay about $4.88 for two paperbacks mailed together. I wouldn't be charged tax. (I live in San Francisco. How much you pay in shipping or taxes depends on where you live.) The $4.88 shipping for two books a month would equal $58.56 a year. That brings my two-paperback-a-month habit (books + shipping) to $447.12 per year.

Versus buying the Kindle (remember, the cited price of the reader does not include the recent price cut, nor does it include the price cut of $60 from three months ago):

My Kindle 2 order totaled $365.98, which includes $359 for the e-book reader and $6.98 for three-business-day shipping. The average price of the top 10 Amazon Kindle nonfiction bestsellers is $9.78. If I bought two e-books per month, I'd spend $19.56 per month or $234.72 a year (shipping isn't necessary). My grand total for the year: $600.70, which includes the Kindle 2 and 24 e-books.

That gives us $447 vs.. $600. A $153 difference. If you extrapolate this out to 2 years as the author of the article does (excluding the cost of the Kindle on the second year, of course), those figures go to $894 and $835. By buying the Kindle (at yesterday's prices) you wind up saving $59.

Now, let's look at that in light of the recent Kindle price reduction.

The first scenario obviously doesn't change, so our annual price of buying 2 paperbacks/month remains at $447.

The first year Kindle price plus e-books, however, goes down to $500 (Kindle: $259; s/h: $6.98; e-books: $234.72) from $600.

That makes for a 1 year difference of $53 in favor of buying traditional books (much better than the initial figure of $153). Over 2 years, however, we have $894 for traditional books and $734, a difference in favor of the Kindle of $160. Before the price reduction, that savings for 2 years of Kindle ownership was $59.

Given all of that, the question is this: Is now the time to buy a Kindle?

I think not.

While I think the long term cost savings begin to warrant the cost of the device, I'm willing to wait just a little bit longer to see what holiday price reductions Amazon institutes. Competition in the digital reader space is increasing, driving prices down. I'd like to see how much further they fall before I pull the trigger.

2009-10-09 Update: No sooner do I publish this post when word gets around Twitter that Barnes & Noble is planning a color e-book reader, to be released next year. A reason to put off buying a monochrome reader, or does this have further potential to drive prices of existing readers down? Guess we'll wait and see.

How much does the Kindle 2 really cost?

iSuppli, which makes a business out of tearing down electronics products to see what's inside and then publishing their cost findings, released a report stating that Amazon's Kindle 2 costs $185.49 in components. The Kindle 2 retails for $359. That's a difference of $173.51.

Engadget shows the component breakdown:

I don't mind Amazon making a profit, but I'm still not sold enough on the Kindle to fork over $359 for it. James Martin of PC World did a cost-justification analysis comparing the purchase of a Kindle 2 and associated e-books vs. going the traditional route and it didn't work out so well:

"...my number crunching reveals that even a loyal reader of paperbacks would only have saved $58.82 by the end of the second year of Kindle 2 ownership."

That's a whopping savings of $60 after two years. In his analysis, he assumes 2 paperbacks per month; that's a lot of reading. I know I couldn't maintain that pace for 2 years.

He goes on to say:

"Amazon is sure to introduce a third-generation Kindle during that period, which you may decide you can't live without. There goes your $58.82 savings, and then some." 

Therein lies the crux of technology, my friends. There's always something bigger and better right around the corner. However, I'd love to own a Kindle 2, and maybe that "next gen" version will help drive down the price of the current model.

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