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.


Small note: The Kindle

Small note: The Kindle doesn't natively support Epub., but on my Mac, at least, I can use Stanza to read an epub book and export it as a .mobi (or .azw)-formatted book.

The iPhone/Touch is decent in

The iPhone/Touch is decent in my limited use as an e-reader. I generally don't buy e-books, so I only use it for books I'm interested in that are eventually released as a free d/l (Doctorow, etc) or for some stuff on Project Gutenberg. Stanza is a nice reader, and doubly nice that it's available for OS X as well.

The initial rumor was that the Apple tablet was to be in the $400 range, but now the rumor is $800+, which in my wallet's opinion is just ludicrous. Like you, I won't even believe in the iTablet until I see it.