A friend on Facebook mentioned she was interested in buying a Kindle today and a very interesting conversation cropped up.
I can’t link directly to the conversation, but I’d like to pull out some important questions you should consider before buying a Kindle, Sony or any other dedicated ereader device.
- Where am I, the buyer, located?
If you’re in the United States or Canada, you have many options other than the Kindle for an ebook reader, and more ebook stores from which to buy them. But if you’re outside of these two countries, or even outside the UK or Australia, your options are much more limited.
Many ebook stores have geographical restrictions on which books you can buy and require a US/Canadian/UK credit card to purchase books, so first check if there any restrictions tied to the available payment methods. [Read When I Have Time article: Where to Find and Buy Ebooks]
- What is the best ebook reading device?
It’s no secret that I love using the iPad (and previously the iPod Touch) to read ebooks – I find it the most flexible regarding ebooks formats available I can read, and I love the fact that I can do more with it like watch movies, listen to podcasts and use the thousands of applications the Apple store offers. I personally have no problems with the size of the screen or the fact it is back-lit instead of “eye friendly” E Ink.
The good thing about the iPad is that it has the potential to evolve – new applications can come out tomorrow that will help you adapt to the changing ebook world, its formats, and new bookstores! [Read When I Have Time article: iPhone applications to read ebooks]
- So which ebook reading device should I buy?
Prices of these devices are easily in the $2-300+ range, and since most formats are specific to the device, it’s a big decision if you’re interested in keeping a digital library. I recommend to anyone thinking about buying a Kindle or any other dedicated ebook reader to find a friend with one and beg them to let you borrow the device for about 3 days (a week is better) and plan some reading time so you really get a feel for it.
Take a really good look at the device’s ebook store before buying – see if the books you are really interested in are available. If you read my article, you’ll see that books you buy on the Kindle will NOT be able to transfer to another reader device later (like the Sony, for example) so it’s a commitment. Play first! [Read When I Have Time article: Advantages and Disadvantages of ebooks]
- My device gives me access to all the classics like Tolstoy and Jane Austen, isn’t that cool?
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but almost every ebook reader will give you access to the classics for free – the Project Gutenberg has them in a ton of formats as well as most device manufacturers will encode them for free, since they start out in plain text. I notice that most people don’t read them in the end.
- Isn’t there software that will convert from one format to another to get stuff onto e-readers?
You can convert any non-DRM file into other formats but if the ebook file is protected (with DRM, Digital Rights Management) as most Kindle/Sony/etc files are, you would need to “crack” them which is illegal and therefore not a good option for everyone, especially if you’re not tech savvy. Of course, some people crack ebook files anyway, but there’s no guarantee that a method for cracking ebooks that works today will work tomorrow.
Read more about EPUB, the open ebook format.
- Can’t you put stuff onto Kindles that you don’t buy from Amazon?
For the Kindle, other than the Kindle format which is encrypted with their DRM, you can only put non-DRM Mobipocket files, unencrypted PDF and a few other formats like Microsoft Word which can be encoded into the Amazon Kindle format. Amazon does not support EPUB nor any other special ebook format that might offered by other ebook stores that sell mainstream books.
This has a lot of good info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle Read closely in that many sites compatible with Kindle formats listed will say “unecrypted” or “free” books which means they are public domain books or small pubs/self-published books and not bestsellers.
- Can’t I make a big effort to buy books that don’t have the DRM slapped onto it? I think this can done particularly with the smaller publishers that I buy from?
It depends on what types of books you like to read, but I haven’t seen any “bestsellers” or mainstream books sold without DRM, ever. Small publishers, as you noted, may offer some books without DRM, but if anyone wants mainstream books (think NYT bestsellers, etc.) they will always have DRM.
The best rule to understand is: public domain books can be encoded into ANY format since they start as plain text, so there will be a lot of sites that offer only these books in Kindle/Sony/etc formats but that doesn’t mean they are really a viable solution for buying books you’re interested in.
Most formats : eReader, Sony, Kindle, etc, will give you a way to encrypt into their format, but the source material cannot be encrypted. So you can encrypt a document you create yourself, an email, a self-published ebook into other formats, but you won’t be able to take a Kindle formatted book and encrypt it into a Sony format.
Do you have any more questions before buying an ebook reader?