ebooks

Why Amazon Wins

Remember not so long ago I complained about Amazon's ebook download links disappearing? Well, they're back; I can download my Kindle books form the website again, just in time for my employer to be purchased by that etailing monolith. Soon, I will be an Amazon employee, a curious turn of events considering how we've occasionally pilloried them on this site. Granted, the most vocal pillorer (pillorizer? pilliorian?) has been Quackenbush, but I'm hardly innocent.

Here's the thing: My first ebook reader was a Palm Pilot in the late 90's, and I loved it. Later, when Palm sank, I bought a Sony Reader, the first real dedicated e-reader. When the first Kindle was released, I joined the choruses laughing at its hideous design and fearing Amazon's fomenting reach and power.

However, it wasn't long before it became clear that Sony wasn't really going to compete in hardware or software. Reluctantly, I switched to the Nook. And I was happy for a while. But now Barnes and Noble has fired its hardware engineering staff and looks to be eager to offload the whole platform as a money-loser and a failure. Meanwhile, on hardware and features, the Kindle is constantly improving, and is now better by every possible measure to any of its competitors.

Fuck Amazon.com

If you weren't yet aware, Amazon is a fucking evil empire and they need to fucking go to hell. Here is some reading on the topic:

The Author's Guild on Amazon and it's Monopolistic practices.

Also, they're bullies

and they're bad corporate citizens

plus this happened

and this

Oh, and this is really fucking lame too.

In other words, no more Amazon. Don't give them money. By all means go there, look at their stuff, using their shopping tools.

But when it comes down to actually making a purchase, don't give them money. Give it to anybody else. Yes, even Barnes & Noble. But preferrably click that link to the right that says "Shop Indie Bookstores."

Because Fuck Amazon.com. They need to go away.

A Brief Note on the State of eBook Readers

So Kindle just announced a $139 wifi ereader along with their new $189 3G Kindle model. This competes with the Nook's $150 wifi and $199 3G readers, the price just enough lower to be giving B&N the finger. Only a little while ago, Sony's $199 reader with no connectivity at all seemed like a decent buy, but now it looks ridiculous, even with it's own price dropped to $150. And the 3G Sony Reader that was $400 and has now plummeted to $250? Still an overpriced joke. Since the introduction of the iPad, ebook-only readers have been engaged in a vertigo-inducing race to the bottom. Meanwhile, independent ebook readers, like Cool-Er, have been driven out of business because they can't meet loss-leader price points.

So how long until there's $100 reader? A $50 one? How about a free ereader, given away to lock you into an ebook format? Time will tell.

Stanza Ebook App No Longer Available on iTunes

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Apparently, Stanza for iPhone/iPod Touch, the best ebook reading software I've ever used, is no longer available. Suspicions point to Amazon (whose Kindle app for the iPhone/iPod Touch is the WORST ebook reading software I've ever used), who bought Lexcycle, maker of Stanza, some time ago, killing the program to make less competition for its Kindle app, especially with the forthcoming rollout of the iPad. Note, no official notice killing the app, nothing on the Lexcycle or Amazon websites. Just the app surreptitiously gone from the store.

I am not happy at all. Screw you, Amazon.

EDIT: App appears to be back now, so false alarm. Sorry. Still the news that there's no plans to make a version of Stanza specifically geared to the iPad is worrisome.

The iPad is NOT a Kindle (or Nook) Killer

The iPad is basically a big iPod Touch with optional 3G internet, optional external keyboard and the ability to use iWork. It has access to an Apple ebook store, which is nice, but because it runs iPhone apps it can already read Kindle, eReader and B&N books as well as books from FictionWise and Books on Board through Stanza. So that's just not such a big deal. It's not a Kindle killer because it doesn't have an eInk screen, which means it's backlit, just like the iPod Touch, iPhone and laptops. Though I must admit it looks sweet for reading color comics on.

I'm still waiting for a tablet that can change from eInk to regular screen and back, like some of the technology demos that have been floating around.

What this is: A decent alternative to a netbook, because you can write and read on it, and do low key work related stuff. No flash, which means no Hulu etc, but most Netbooks are too slow for Flash video anyway, whereas the iPad can do video from the iTunes store and from YouTube. And it's supposedly very fast, unlike most Netbooks, and it's going to have rock solid OS software unlike the creaky Windows XP that's on the typical Netbook. So it's a good addition to Apple's lineup, but yeah, not exactly the revolution people were thinking about.

The Atlantic is Publishing Two Stories a Month -- But Only for the Kindle

Like many, I was sad when the Atlantic decided some years ago to stop publishing monthly fiction, making the number of magazines paying real money for short fiction countable on the fingers of one hand. (My count is currently Harpers, The New Yorker, Playboy and Esquire. Am I missing any?) Apparently, Atlantic has started buying short fiction again twice a month for release on the Internet, which would be wonderful, except it's exclusively for the Kindle. What's worse, according to the New York Times, "Although the authors may at some point obtain the rights to republish the stories as part of a collection or in another magazine, the stories cannot appear in any other e-reader format." So it can NEVER be available for a device other than the Kindle?

You know, the short story audience is small enough without putting extra barriers in the way. The Kindle may currently be the most popular dedicated ereader, but as someone with a Sony Reader myself, and with the Nook on the horizon, it strikes me that limiting your potential reader base this way is the height of stupidity.

The Nook's Most Important Feature is Epub Compatibility

I've seen a lot of articles on line about the various features of the Nook device, but most of them seem to bury the news that it's Epub-compatible, if they mention it at all. But Epub compatibility--and the fact that BN is converting its entire library to epub--is the single most important bit of news here, and the reason is simple. Sony now also sells its ebooks in the epub format. Which means if I bought a bunch of books for the Sony Reader, and then buy a Nook, those books are still usable. On the other hand, if I had a Kindle, my Kindle books would be unusable on the new device. In other words, the Nook and the Sony Reader allow me to create a library of books independent of whatever reader I have, where as the Kindle locks you into their format. That means that 10 or 20 years from now I might still have usable ebooks, for reference, for rereading, for referring to notes I might have taken. As long as there are still devices compatible with epub, I'm fine. That's huge.

Now if we can just get these ebooks off of DRM, we'd really have something...

Sony's New Readers and Library Announcement

Sony had a big press conference today, not only for the new regular ($200) and touch-screen ($300) ebook readers already announced, but also for a big new $400 touch-screen reader with always-on 3G Internet courtesy of AT&T free of charge ala the Kindle.

Gizmodo has the rundown, but here's the highlights: The 3G device will be called the "daily", and will be available in December. The always on 3G will only have access to the Sony eBook store (so far), so no web browser like the Kindle(?). The new device is bigger than the Kindle (7"), but smaller than the Kindle DX, priced between them and, unlike them, touch screen so you don't have to deal with those annoying buttons. Also it's much purtier than the Kindle. And, of course, all the new Readers reads ePub books, like those sold at Fictionwise, Books-On-Board and Powell's World of Books. Unlike the Kindle models.

More big news is that the Sony eBook store has made deals with a number of public libraries, including my own New York Public Library, to have automatic access to library ebooks from the Sony software. All I have to do is type in my library card number and it will download the book, which will automatically expire and delete itself, with no possibilities of late fees. Normally, I'm against DRM'd books that delete themselves, but hey, library books are free, so who really cares. I'll take free books that delete themselves over no books.

Sony also announced some kind of literary Twitter service, which strikes me as very odd. Something to keep an eye on, anyway.

Of course, if the 3G Sony Reader was the same price as the Kindle 2, then we would really have a horse race on our hands. As it is, it's still exciting to see that Sony is trying to innovate and staying in the market, and the $200 reader (when it's finally released) I think is still a killer device.

Also, whither the Mac version of the Sony software already??

Update: Gizmodo has a comparison chart of the 3G ebook readers

Update 2: Mac version of the software finally released!

The State of Ebook Readers July 24th, 2009

You may recall that back in May at BEA I was told by the makers of BeBook that their $200 BeBook Mini eBook reader would be available at the "end of June". It's now almost the end of July with no BeBook Mini to be found. Word has just come out that the device would roll out "within the next 2 to 3 weeks in Europe for 200 Euros, which is currently $284 USD, quite a bit more than promised. I, for one, feel lied to.

In other news items of interest:

  • Amazon recently dropped the price of the Kindle to $300
  • Rumors are flying about an Apple tablet device early next year. (This has been a rumor for so long though that I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Also, Barnes and Noble recently launched its own ebook store and iPod Touch/iPhone app, with an associated Plastic Logic ebook reader device promised soon. I can't, however, seem to find a straight answer about what format these books are in, and what kind of DRM they have (they pretty clearly have it, since the books can only be read using the various BN applications and can't be printed).
  • The Sony Reader 700, which, unlike the 505 model, had a touch screen but was criticized for being too expensive and having too much glare, seems to have been discontinued.
  • And finally, much bruhaha about Amazon deleting books from people's Kindles and refunding their money without telling them, which folks are comparing to Barnes and Nobles sneaking into your house at night, taking your books and leaving some bills on the table. Bezos recently apologized for this, but I think it's pretty clear why we, the book buying public, need to stand up against DRM. If you buy something it should be your property, not loaned to you by some corporation who reserves the right to tell you what you can do with it or take it back from you.

So here's what the playing field looks like right now in the US. Note that in addition to companies' own ebook stores, there are many (non-Kindle) device-agnostic ebook stores like FictionWise.

The Kindle: $300 (or $490 for the DX which is bigger and supports PDF) always on 3G Internet, large ebook store, but no support for open formats like ePub or, on the regular Kindle, PDF.

The Sony Reader 505: $279, though less, ironically, on Amazon where it's $268. Reads PDF and ePub as well as Sony's proprietary format. Large ebookstore for the proprietary format books, but it only works with Windows (though a Mac version has been promised soon). See my review.

The Cool-Er Reader: $250. The cheapest ebook reader. Reads PDF and ePub. Has a decent sized bookstore, though without the loss-leader pricing of Amazon or Sony.

The BeBook: The regular BeBook reader is still on sale for $279 and supports ePub and PDF without any company-specific bookstore. Besides the fact that the BeBook people are liars, there's no reason to ever by this device since it's the same price as the brand-name Sony Reader.

iPod Touch. $230 - Cheaper than all of the above, it doesn't have the eInk screen of the other ebook readers, so it's not as easy on the eyes. It does, however, have lots of features that the eInk devices can only dream about: WiFi Internet browsing, games and the whole panoply of the App Store, not to mention the fact that with Stanza, the eReader App, the Kindle App, and the BN eBook App, the iPod Touch has easily the largest selection of books available of any ebook reading device, including your home computer (which can't read Kindle books). Or, I should say it has the largest selection of ebooks available on any device save for its brother, the iPhone, which has everything it has plus 3G, a camera and the ability to make phone calls. The iPod Touch and iPhone have much smaller screens than the other devices, but fit in your pocket, and have touch screens.

Keep in mind that it's obvious that a lot is happening in this market and things could change any minute.

Epub vs. Print

Scott Edelman's post about twittering at ReaderCon reminded me of something I wanted to make clear. At the panel on online vs print, people were talking about the "things you can do online that you can't do in print", bringing up hypertext links and hovering over a word to make something pop up, and thus missing th point completely.

The reason online publishing is better than print publishing is that I can fit millions of pages of online content in my pocket. It's the instant availability and portability of e-content that is e-publishing's "killer app". Everything else is dressing.