Monday, October 3, 2011

Which eBook Reader is Right for You?

You're thinking about buying an eBook Reader. To help you in your thinking, we've put together our current recommendations. But before we share them, we'd like to walk you through the pros and cons you should consider before you buy an eReader, and some of the essential differences in presentation and format. 

Advantages of eReaders

The pros are convenience, large print, backup; the lure of free books and, let's be honest, instant gratification.

Convenience. Depending on the make and model, an eReader can hold 1,000 books or more. That's handy if you are down-sizing like we did recently and your new home doesn't have room for all those books you've collected over a lifetime. As more and more textbooks become available, it's a real boon for students and academics, too.

Large print. Most eReaders allow you to choose the font type and size that's easiest to read. Some eReaders, like the Kindle, will even read the book to you. (Winnie: “The selection of computer-generated voices are no threat to talking books, believe you me. The computer's pronunciation can be hysterical.”)

Backup. When you buy eBooks from AM, AP or B&N, their computer servers remember your purchases so you can re-download those eBooks should it become necessary. (Mack: “For example, I downloaded a free book from one of those sites that was “buggy” and locked up my eReader. Their service department was extremely helpful and walked me through the process of purging my eReader, re-registering it, and re-loading my earlier purchases”.)

Free Books. There are thousands of free books available on the Internet. Here are some free and reasonably priced fee book sites:
Baen Free Library--Publisher of science fiction and fantasy. 
Project Gutenberg--Free online books that are out of copyright.
Internet Archive--Books in all languages; most eReader formats. for students and scholars.
Fictionwise--Buy eBooks at discounted prices. 
Smashwords--Self-published books. Discover the next great writer!
Google Books--Free and fee books. 

Instant gratification. Just finished reading a book by a favorite author and want to read his or her latest work? No need to go to be bookstore or the library. With an eReader, you can buy it online and be reading it in minutes. (Winnie: “For bookaholics like us, this can be a very expensive 'advantage.'”)

Disadvantages of eReaders

There are some negatives associated with buying an eReader (besides possibly threatening the future existence of your local library):

You're paying for the right to buy a book. When you spend $114 or more for that eReader, you are not buying a book. You're just buying access to the online bookstore. New releases by established authors cost about about $15 although older books generally go down in price. (Winnie: “So, the savings are good but not great. Most bestsellers will cost you more than a paperback, but less than a hardback.”)

You may lose eBooks if the eReader breaks, has to be reset, or you buy a different brand. The Kindle from AM uses a unique software format. So, you can only read Kindle books on a Kindle eReader or with a Kindle App on your smart phone. Other eReaders, like the B&N Nooks, use open source software and it is usually possible to convert their eBooks to a Kindle format or just about any other eReader format by downloading 
the free Calibre eBook software onto your computer. Calibre also enables you to save and organize your eBooks on your computer. (Mack: “Remember my “buggy” eBook problem? While it's true that I didn't lose any eBooks from that particular online bookstore, the reboot erased all of the other eBooks I had purchased from other vendors. I was really thankful I had already saved them into my Calibre library on my PC, so I could just drag them across back into my eReader.”)

They run on batteries. No electricity, no eBook. You never have that problem with paper. 

There are hidden costs associated with using eReaders. Besides buying the eReader, you will need a computer, wireless access (wi-fi) and an Internet connection. Depending on how much you read, your eReader batteries should last for several years, which is good because replacing batteries currently runs between $40 and $100. If you buy an eReader that connects with the Internet via a cell phone line, plan on another $180-$360 a year for a 3-G connection, or over $900 annually for 4G. These prices are subject to change, of course.

You can't share your books. This is one big reason why publishers and the online booksellers love to sell you an ebook. B&N, for example, allows you to loan an eBook you bought from them just one time to one other person—and only if the book's publisher has given them permission to do so. 

Lots of free books aren't worth the price. Most of the free eBooks are either really old books that are out of copyright or self-published. 

Large print is limited. Yes, you can select the size and style of font when you are reading an eBook. But the home menu—all those screens you have to wade through to get to the book—is fixed size and not adjustable. This negates much of the large print advantage for people with serious vision problems.

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