Posted by: curlypaws | October 25, 2009

eBook Readers

When the Kindle became available to UK purchasers I was sorely tempted to buy one. The Kindle 2 is a much more attractive looking machine than the original and (in the US) has an impressive range of books. However, as I started to consider things more closely, it wasn’t such a good offer.

The International Kindle has a restricted range of books. Due to publishing rights differing between the US and UK, a lot of books in the US Store can’t be purchased for UK use unless you have a US credit card (or, as Fraser Speirs notes a US gift certificate).

The Kindle also uses a proprietary format, rather than the more general ePub type of books. While ultimately this may not matter and I wouldn’t generally bet against Amazon it does make me nervous (although Amazon is now promising a Mac and PC reader).

Once the Kindle 2 becomes properly available in the UK, and UK publishers make their books available, it will be more attractive. Having said that, it faces new competition with the new Barnes & Noble “Nook” (which is US only, but also supports the ePub format).

In the end I decided to buy a Sony Pocket Reader, which combines a neat 5 inch screen size with support for the ePub format (and an ability to cope with PDFs). I’ve been very impressed with it – the metal casing feels very sturdy and the screen has a good level of contrast. You can’t read it in low light (although there is a case available with a small light attached), but otherwise the hardware is very nice indeed. Of course, you do have the cost of the reader to find, but you have instant access to the books you want and can free up all the space taken up by storing paper books.

The only thing that (to me) stops the eBook market taking off is the fact that so many books are still not available on the format. While things are improving, there are still many strange gaps in the books available. While US residents can buy electronic versions of Frank Herbert and Philip K Dick books, here in the UK they seem to be impossible to purchase. There are also many recent books that are not available electronically – which again seems strange given that the eBook versions are often more expensive than the paper ones (where they are popular enough to be discounted by booksellers). I wish more publishers would follow the examples of O’Reilly who offer support for multiple formats and also help you upgrade from paper versions of their books to electronic ones at a modest cost. And why do many eBooks lack a graphic cover? Until the software side improves, it is hard to see the eBook market breaking into the mainstream. I think that eBooks are the future, but the fragmentation of the market into competing formats and the various other niggles may make this a slow process.