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eBookstore roundup

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The eReader market is as popular as ever.  Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook lineup has given users many choices in the market at multiple price points.  Of course Sony has their lineup, as well as Kobo, and many others, but the Kindle and Nook have really propelled the eBook race.  Most of us have an idea on how the hardware is on these devices, but what about the books?  How do these bookstores stack-up?  Which one is cheaper, easier to use, widely accessible and anything else that can help us get our favorite books or magazines on our new toys?  Well worry no more, we have all (well hopefully most) of the answers for you.  So let’s see what we found out.

As we look into all the pros and cons of the bookstores, it’s important to note that not every format will work for your device.  Sony, Kobo and B&N have done an excellent job with giving users the option to add ePub books on top of their own DRM content purchased from the respective sites.  The Amazon Kindle however, even though an excellent device, can ONLY work with content from Amazon’s own Kindle bookstore.  So Kindle owners, this is all pretty much a tease for you, but you never know, maybe they will open up the Kindle down the line.  Also, there are hundreds of eBookstores online.  We decided to focus on the major ones, so please let us know if there are any others we left out that can compete with our list.

Google eBookstore

Google has been researching and providing reading content for years now.  They are heavily invested in keeping historical and published data online for easier access.  After recording enough content, they then decided to go after publishers of newer media to launch their own bookstore to compete with Amazon, and other online bookstores popping up.  Google’s eBooks are available for Android (obviously), iPhone/iTouch/iPad, online through the web, and lastly the Nook and Sony readers.  This is a pretty impressive array of devices that will surely expand into the Blackberry and WebOS arena here soon.

The store is typical Google.  Very clean, minimal, and with the focus being on simplicity.  The top part of the page has scrolling ads (all for the store) to tell you about the newest books, the available devices for reading GBooks (sounds better than Google eBooks right?), and anything else they feel could enhance your reading experience.  The left side of the home page is filled with sections for top selling, by subject, top rated, new arrivals, etc.  You are able to scroll horizontally through a list of books with ease along an endless supply of books.  When you find a book you like, click on it to pull up detailed information and so forth.  Once in your selected books, Google kindly recommends books based on your selection.  From here you can even review the book if you like, just to tell everyone how great it was, or to vent for wasting your time.

I have to give it to Google though.  The selection seems pretty solid with competitive prices.  Their book search is fantastic (as should be expected), while the entire bookstore feels very calm and easygoing, if that makes sense.  They don’t yet carry magazines, and I’m not sure if that’s a route they are looking into yet.  Overall, it’s just a very unobtrusive way to shop, and that’s kind of refreshing.

 

Amazon

While Amazon didn’t start the eBook tech, they sure pushed it into the mainstream.  The Kindle was a fantastic reader from the get go, but the second version really exploded with the public.  Now that the new Kindle’s can be had for under $150, the eReader market’s running at full steam.  They recently announced that eBooks for the first time have overtaken sales of paper books.  That’s a huge feat considering paper books have been around for a couple of decades, give or take.

The Kindle store is just a subsection of the normal Amazon site.  If you’ve ever shopped at Amazon (who hasn’t), it’s all too familiar.  Their search engine does a great job finding books you’re looking for.   They have numerous options for finding books, magazines and newspapers while giving you tons of suggestions for your next one.  This is what Amazon does best, make sales.  After seeing the layout for Google’s bookstore, the Kindle store seems like a used car salesman, while Google comes across like a Lexus dealership.  Google is clean and simple.  The Kindle store has options coming from everywhere reminding me of the now bloated iTunes.  Buy this! Sale here!  Upgrade your old Kindle now!  Give a gift card!  Sync wirelessly!  And the list goes on and on.  I don’t like it.  Maybe it’s because I’m buying books, which remind me of libraries, but the Kindle store is just too loud for my tastes.

With all of these options flying at you, the amount of choice they give has to be impressive right?  Well there are categories for categories.  Tons of sections and subsections.  They have definitely done their homework.  The problem with the Kindle store though is that it only applies to one buyer.  If you don’t own a Kindle, don’t look here.  If you do own a Kindle, this is the ONLY place you can look.  Good thing they stay competitive with everyone else’s prices though.  Of course once they have people hooked, they can always be on the high side of the pricing game in the future.  What can you do?  If you bought Kindle books for a couple years and now have a big selection, and all of a sudden Amazon is a couple bucks higher than everyone else, are you going to jump ship?  You’ve invested too much into their proprietary format to make a move.  Just a little something to think about.

Barnes & Noble

After seeing Amazon making money hand over fist in the new paperless market, and while seeing their stock dwindle before their eyes, B&N decided to jump into the eReader game with a splash.  The first generation Nook used a dual screen display with an lcd screen on the bottom for navigation and a typical e-ink screen up top as a reader.  It was a good looking device which had a little more functionality than normal.  Then came the Nook Color.  The gorgeous color screen took reading to a whole new level.  There was an anti-glare coating used on the screen to help with daylight visibility, all while being able to view magazines in color and browse the web.  B&N is here to fight.

The Nookbook store has a very tasteful design.  More Google than Amazon, but gives you more options than Google.  They use a light color sequence that again, gives a serene feel.  Barnes & Noble takes advantage of the space very well, highlighting bestsellers and other sections like customer favorites.  An interesting approach noticed throughout the store is the book club feel.  You have a series of books hand picked by Barnes & Noble staff that’s highlighted on the main page, like “Jule’s picks.”  B&N even highlights their book club forums for members to discuss their Nooks, books, and whatever else they feel like.

Nookbooks are DRM protected like Amazon’s are, but the difference is the actual devices can play Adobe eBooks and ePub books from your local online library.   The prices are similar across the board, something I’m noticing a trend of.  Nook is also available on iPad/touch/phone, Android, PC, Blackberry and Mac’s and if you don’t know that, they will sure remind you.  Newspapers and magazines are part of the package with the store as well.  I have even found subscription magazine prices to be on par with magazines.com, so again, the prices are there.

Sony Reader Store

Sony has long had a hand in the eReader market offering solid, but not great devices that support a huge variety of formats.  They have had their eBook store out as long as anyone, and have we have seen them improve their offerings over the years.  Unfortunately this doesn’t translate into a fun shopping experience.

Right off the bat, the Reader Store is ugly compared to the competition.  They use drab colors throughout (the red) that reminds me of a high school I went to that was built in the 70’s.   The banner info near the top seems like one patched together mess.  I can’t tell where one option starts and another ends.  Scrolling through the features books is old school.  The books quickly fade in and out.  Everyone else uses a conveyor belt strategy that lends to a nice little eye candy.  It’s the little things that separate the pack.

They do provide you with a good bit of information as you search for your books.  The suggestions are relevant, and they even give you full previews when you hover over them with your mouse.  Sony offers magazines and newspapers as well.  When it’s all said and done, nothing’s a deal breaker.  You just wish they had a better design team to make the experience more enjoyable.

Kobo

The Kobo bookstore is used in effect with Borders bookstores.  The Kobo eco-system is available for any mobile OS as well a desktop version, and of course used for the Kobo, Sony, Nook and other readers considering they use the more accustomed EPUB format.  While being a popular store for eBooks, Kobo is the underdog in this fight.  To be honest, I’m not sure why.

The selection in the Kobo store seems plentiful.  It has the usual new best sellers as well as some books that are about a decade old.  The pricing is similar to the other bookstores as well, perhaps a little higher in some of the cases.  The overall look and feel of the site is much better than the Sony store.  The colors are friendlier and the design is much more inviting.  The homepage is almost swallowed up by an entire display for the site.  They want to give you 20% off an ebook if you sign up for an account today.  It’s a little off putting at first, but it flows with the site.  You can see the bestsellers, new releases, and kind of (half heartedly) taking a page from B&N have a “what we’re reading” section.  Except they don’t have a name and face to go with the guest picker.

The site is very easy to use, and gives the user many choices to pick their readings with, and also many ways to buy, gift, or even send a gift card.  It comes across as more of a bare bones B&N store, without the simplicity and minimalism the Google eBookstore had.  To sum it up, everything is easy to get into and out of, with minimal hassle.

Conclusion

After all of this, I came away a little perplexed.  Even as of a couple of months ago, pricing was more scattered.  I would check a book at B&N, and compare it to Google’s eBookstore and see a difference of a couple bucks.  Now though, it seems like the competition is keeping prices in check.  Most of the books I compared with were the exact same price.    I didn’t expect it to be so similar at this point. The average price for a new best seller is $9.99.  They all have Public Domain material available, as well as offering free ebook specials.  They all have smartphone apps and will have tablet apps.   The main differences between these eBook wars are the ease of use with the site, and whatever eReader you rely on.  Even then, unless you have a Kindle, you have options.

In the end, I felt the Google eBookstore was the friendliest to navigate around.  There was minimal interference while providing sufficient options.  The content was there in the books department, but they don’t yet have a magazine service up and running.  B&N came in second place with a friendly site, and the feeling of interaction.  You can tell they are the true bookstore of the bunch.  You have the librarian’s picks, and the book club forums as well as an efficient and well designed site.  The last 3 bookstores really didn’t stand out from the others.  I liked Kobo better than the Amazon due to the friendlier nature of the site.  Amazon is for power users that know where they want to go.  It can be too easy to get pulled this way and that way at Amazon, which can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for.  Sony was clearly in last place for me, which is disappointing.

So there you have it.  The top bookstores available for us to consume reading resources.  They are more similar than we thought, while giving us enough differences to maybe make us shop around a little.  Owning the Nook Color myself, it’s very nice to know that I have many choices to shop around from.

 

 

 

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Allen Schmidt

Allen is a former contributing editor at Nothing But Tablets, which was merged with Pocketables in 2012.

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23 thoughts on “eBookstore roundup

  • Avatar of Mathis

    despite the fact, you can handle hundrets of books on such a small space, i don’t get it, why i should buy an ereader. batterieliefe of a few thousand sites, nice-my book don’t need a batterie.
    if i choose to buy art(weather it is a book, a cd or a picture), i prefer to have it in real life, something i can touch, not just 0’s an 1’s ;)
    buying a new cd means for me to have something real, made by the artist, something i can look through(the booklet, case AND cd-cover), most time i get the lyrics in the booklet. when i download it from itunes/amazon, i get some files with coverart… isn’t it the same with books? isn’t it more impressive(or stylish) to say: look, all these cupboards full of books, thats my personal libary!- than:look, thats my xy-reader, i have 1000 books on it.
    isn’t it a beautiful feeling, touching a book the first time, having the smell of printed paper?
    sure, maybe it’s cheaper(single bookprice)and more comfortable to handle if you move, but whats next digital? our clothes? ;)

    Reply
    • And the rainforest is slowly dieing all the way to and from the bookstore, music store, or art gallery ;)

      Reply
      • Avatar of Mathis

        don’t want to know, how earthunfriendly(you know what i mean? o.O) it is, to produce all these plastic-slates and the batteries. so this is a pat-situation… i’m just not sure about the sense of some things like all these geopositionings, like on fakebook… facebook: your friend ____ has just entered mc donalds at _____street. how cares(despite some advertisement-software-groups;) ). same story with getagging of pictures. i’ve heard, it’s possible for adobe to proof, if your cs-version is cracked or not, all of your images get invisible watermarked. who gives me the proof, they’re not able to use geodatas from my pictures to use it for adv.-services… maybe, i’m just a bit paranoid… using facebook and complaining about privacysecurity :D

        i just don’t see the sense in every technology ;)

        Reply
    • Shelf space, or a lack thereof. I’ve got far too many old paperbacks that I’ve read all of only ONCE that I’m unlikely to re-read or do anything with, not even get around to hawking ’em on ebay or sell ’em off to the local used book shop. Going digital means the only books I bother to pick up a physical copy of are titles I enjoy enough to specifically want it in hardback.

      The same goes for music, only I’m less likely to grab a CD than a hardback because to me the art of music is in its SOUND, it’s simply less of a tactile experience so going all-digital is that much easier. The last physical CD I bought was well over a year ago, and then that was because I’d just enjoyed her opening set at the concert I was at.

      Reply
      • Avatar of Barto

        Bingo! The number one BEST thing for me about an ereader is less storage space required! After my wife got her Kindle, she finally got rid of dozens of books that she hadn’t touched in years. Now we need a smaller house ;)

        Reply
    • I, personally, am not buying books to impress people with but to enjoy reading them. My personal points in favour of e-readers are the immediate delivery of the books, the reading comfort (this convinced my wife to agree on buy an e-reader, when she began the new 1000 pages Ken Follett, which is not really heavy but too bulky to read comfortably) and that this way, I can fit more than one book into my bag without adding ballast (there’s nothing more annoying than finishing a book on a train and having nothing to read left).
      That some people claim to need the feel of paper to enjoy reading is a very common argument, that I just can’t comprehend.

      Reply
    • I’d like to get an ereader because most of the books I’m interested in I have to order online from abroad. It would be nice to not have to wait 2 weeks for the delivery and pay those extra charges as well. That’s the number one reason for me.

      Reply
  • The problem is that if you like weird books(like I do) you might not find the book you want anywhere. Or it’s not available outside the US, etc. Last book I got I found using less legal methods, and went to the author’s webpage to inform him that there was no way for me as an international customer to get the book. Eventually he got it sorted out and I bought the book legally as well.

    Reply
  • If you are into science fiction or fantasy you should try http://www.webscription.net/, the ebook site of Baen Books, especially if you are a fan of the excellent Liaden series (I’m serious, try it!). Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a subscription service. They even provide a number of free titles by authors like David Weber, Eric Flint or Catherine Asaro to get you hooked (http://www.webscription.net/c-1-free-library.aspx).
    It seems you can read their books on all the usual reading devices, they even offer rtf files. They also claim that you can read their books on the kindle, which I can not check, because I don’t own one.
    Well, enough with the advert.

    Reply
  • I didn’t see this in the article, perhaps I missed it, but are all these ebookstores available worldwide? I know that the Kindle one is, what about the rest?

    Reply
    • Yeah, good question. When I’m navigating to the Google Book store, I get the message:
      “The latest Google eBooks are not available for sale in your location, yet…
      Google is working with publishers around the world to let you buy the latest ebooks from top authors. In the meantime, you can still browse millions of free and public domain Google eBooks and read them effortlessly across your devices.”
      Turns out they only sell in the U.S. The Nook Book shop works also just in the US, as far as I know. Maybe it works with a proxy and an American credit card?
      BTW, this shop looks and feels for me very much like a Amazon with a different color scheme and not like the Google store.

      Reply
  • Avatar of Mathis

    All these mediastores should have worldwide equal contant, same with iTunes and YouTube. Every third musicclip in german is locked because of some stupid rightmanagement…. even official bandchannels. When i tried to get iDraw in the appstore, i gar to figure out, it’s not availabel in germany… why?

    Reply
  • I don’t read that much but if I did I would certainly look at an eBook reader as It would be so much more convenient to have all your books on one small device. This is last physical medium to be digitized and its about time.

    Reply
    • Avatar of macilaci457

      I agree but i already have tons of e-book that I want to read on the device as most books are english (not my native language).

      Reply
  • Avatar of JosephM

    Being an avid reader, I definitely like the idea of carrying all my literature in one small package.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mathis

    isn’t that the same, as the ipod-story? who needs 160 GB of music everywhere, all the time? i don’t even have that much, i have about 30 gig(in .ogg, so in mp3 about 45-50gig), having 8-16 gig of that with me is totaly enough. everyone should draw a line, what he wants, and what he NEEDS.
    look, thats my new 4×4-offroadcar. -cool, what do you do with it- yeah, i’m driving to walmart and back… XD

    Reply
    • I guess for some it’s more comfortable, not having to worry about space. You just fill it up in as you go. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to fill it up the next day, perhaps it’s the same thing with readers.

      Reply
  • Avatar of Relyt

    I honestly didn’t even known Google had an eBook store. The more you see, the less you know..?

    Either way, this has me thinking about Android. We all know that multiple app stores are imminent, but as for how diverse and broken up the system will be we have no idea yet.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew B.

    the more I read about Nook, the more I want one.. I read my books on iPod touch 3G, and it is horrible experience (not surprisingly, 320×480 screen can’t be too good..). Is nook color available in canada?

    Reply
    • Avatar of Matthew B.

      To answer my own question- yes, the nook color will ship even internationally. That’s great news :)

      Reply
      • Avatar of macilaci457

        Good to hear!

        Reply
  • Avatar of Linear D

    Don’t forget all the free public domain ebooks that are available. I have a Nook Color and there’s so much free stuff available I may never buy an ebook from B&N or anyone else ever. Gutenberg.org is the grand-daddy of them all but, as the article mentions, some (all?) of the ebook merchants mentioned have free books as well.

    Perhaps NBT could do an article about the most popular free ebook sources?

    Reply
  • Avatar of ElectricBugaloo

    Well, it didn’t cost me too much to try out an e-reader; a refurbished nook 3g version for around $80 seemed pretty worthwhile to me. Plus the nook takes microSD cards, which along with ePub support is one of the advantages it might have over a kindle. It’s kind of nice to have all of HP Lovecraft’s works with you when traveling about, or all the Wheel of Time books or whatever, especially since I’m so disorganized in real life. The last firmware update also gave you the ability to organize things into virtual shelves, so now you aren’t just scrolling down a long list of random books. I wouldn’t say they are must-haves, but they are more useful than I’d thought they were. I don’t like the pricing on ebooks, because it seems the digital version isn’t much cheaper than the physical most of the time.

    Reply

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