Why you probably should NOT buy an e-reader this year

image Jane at Dear Author, the romance novel site, offers an excellent guide to the current crop of e-books----but warns that shoppers might do well to wait until next year when better technology shows up. I agree despite the existence of spiffy new gizmos like Barnes and Noble’s Nook, shown here. The reason isn’t just the expected Apple tablet, which should be good for a bunch of tasks, not just book-reading. My guess is that a slew of e-readers will be out with Pixel Qi technology. PixelQi will let one screen work in an E Ink-style mode (low power consumption, high resolution) or a traditional LCD one (color). image So what does that mean? Well, B&N Nook, which includes a small color screen to go with the E Ink one, might not seem so hot with all the Pixel Qi-based competition I anticipate (nothing definite here, just clues from Pixel QI). I also wonder about the recently unveiled EnTourage eDG e-reader/netbook, another two-screened creature. What’s the use of LCD and E Ink in one reader if Pixel  QI can handle both modes well well? image Of course, factors such as the number of books available should also matter, not just the capabilities of the hardware. Amazon might be the winner in the numbers game if you exclude the hundreds of thousands of public domain books that the Nook can access. But that could change and maybe already has if you go by the B&N line. At any rate, keep in mind the e-book-capable Apple tablet on the way; and besides, a Kindle-capable app should be available for it. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a widely circulated Adobe reader app for the Apple will appear and be able to read books in ePub. A German reader for Adobe-DRMed ePub books on the iPhone has already been announced, one more sign that the ePub standard is winning over large publishers.

What’s more, Adobe and B&N are apparently moving toward a common DRM system for ePub. Amazon may well find it harder in the future to compete with Kindle-only books and may well adopt ePub. With or without Adobe DRM? I don’t know—just that if Jeff Bezos were really smart and wanted to disrupt the competition, he’d back off from DRMed books, the way he did from DRMed music. Or he could use social DRM. If the big houses didn’t go along, Jeff could think seriously about playing up books from more enlightened smaller publishers. Talk about all the changes that just might be ahead, or at least should!

Meanwhile Amazon’s Kindle reading apps for the PC—downloadable in November, with a Mac version coming a few months later—should help you buy a little time, if you’re insistent on reading Kindle-format books but don’t want to buy a an actual Kindle right now.

And for ePub and Adobe-DRMed ePub, Sony offers a desktop reading app for PCs and Macs.

Bottom line: Think twice before locking into 2009 products, at least dedicated e-reading hardware, when the 2010 variety could be so much better. If nothing else, remember that a netbook or general-purpose tablet might be best for you both today and in 2010.

Related: E-book comparison matrix from DealNews, via D.A. Also see Technologizer’s cheat seet (via Reading 2.0 list).

25 Comments on Why you probably should NOT buy an e-reader this year

  1. I completely agree. On Saturday I was on the verge of buying a PRS-600 because my old PRS-500 had died on me, but yesterday I managed to resurrect it after a week of trial-and-error. I am now eagerly waiting for some Pixel Qi tablets to replace my HP tx2000 tablet and PRS-500.

  2. What good is a netbook when it comes to reading? I’ve always thought that it’s all about e-ink, not some eye-tiring LCD screen when it comes to digital reading.

  3. The problem with the Pixel Qi display is that power consumption is still quite high compared with e-ink. On their web site they say that it will “use 1/2 to 1/4 the power of a regular LCD”, which is an improvement, but not good enough to challenge the Kindle’s 14-day battery life.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t netbook or general-purpose tablet build with LCD’s which are bad for your eyes? E-ink was developed for a purpose, after all.

  5. Thanks, Mark, but I don’t think most people are going to camp away from an electrical outlet for two weeks.

    David

  6. There are several problems with your advice, David. First, there will always be a better device tomorrow so buying a device today is foolhardy, but so is buying a device tomorrow because tomorrow’s tomorrow will have yet a better device. So while waiting for the final tomorrow (which will never be), you either continue to purchase pbooks or buy no books at all — kind of a lose-lose proposition for an advocate of ebooks don’t you think?

    Second, you and others keep touting the vaporware Apple tablet which will be the panacea to every ill known to humankind. (A) It is still vaporware. (B) if you absolutely must have a multiuse device because you cannot be satsified with a dedicated reading device, which must be the case if you are waiting for the Apple tablet whose primary function will not be ebook reading, then why wait — go buy a netbook or a laptop or a new PC or Mac, if you must have the Apple logo.

    Finally, you lust for Pixel Qi. Why? Because it can provide a single screen that can perform several functions? But no one really yet knows how good it will be at any of the options. Devices are still vaporware and even when they do appear, will require some vigorous field testing before they can be declared a winner.

    David, the reason to buy an e-ink device this year is that you want to read books this year on a device that exists and that is know to be capable of performing and at a price that you can afford. Do you really think Apple will sell any tablet for $259? I think that will only happen if Steve Jobs has but one left and is liquidating Apple and he just wants to get rid of remaining inventory at a fire sale. If you won’t pay $500 for a reading device, why will you pay $1,000?

    Buy now because you want to read now.

  7. Kellhus: An individual matter. I myself find LCDs much easier to read than E Ink–the text-background contrast of the latter isn’t good enough for me. Furthermore, PixelQI tech will offer a reflective mode.

    Thanks,
    David

  8. Rich: Hey, each to his/her own. If you want to buy now, be my guest. But believe me, much better stuff is on the way. It’s just one of those periods. By the way, I’ve used the OLPC laptop with a Pixel QUish tech, and it was very very nice.

    As for the expected Apple, that’s just one option. I suspect there’ll be a number of low-cost Pixel QI devices in time.

    For now, people can read books off laptops or PCs while waiting.

    Thanks,
    David

  9. “—-but warns that shoppers might do well to wait until next year when better technology shows up.”

    Ahh yes… the ole “don’t buy now cuz next week/month/quarter/year something better/cheaper/faster will be available” chestnut.

    The eternal dilemma regarding any consumer electronics purchase – when to jump in. It is actually kind of surprising that any of us actually buy any of this electronic gizmo stuff because, you know, next week/month/quarter/year something better/cheaper/faster will be available :)

  10. For now, people can read books off laptops or PCs while waiting.

    You can’t be serious. Has anybody ever read a full length book on a laptop or PC? Would somebody actually read a 1000 page novel like Peter F. Hamilton novel like this? Even a 400 or 500 page book would be too long. Maybe somebody, somewhere, but I’d guess only the true computer geek would make it through to the end of full length books. I’m a database programmer and find it impossible to read anything long than 10 or 15 pages on a laptop or PC.

    I bought a new MacBook Pro 15″ laptop in early 2009. There are better models available now and will be ever better one available next year. Was I fool to buy one when I did?

    The Kindle 2 and other eink readers are currently very good for reading books. I’m not all that interested in multipurpose devices for reading, so I’d say, if you are interested in reading and not the other stuff, there are many good options available for sale right now.

  11. I am hoping for an Apple device not so much because of functionality but because it may come with enough clout to loosen all the attempts to tie peoples entire book collections going forward into single retailers. Some surrender to the restrictions companies like Amazon are putting on their ownership and then it seems they become partisans of these restrictive setups because they are tied in but I want to own my books.

    On a related note, I trief to buy the Booker prize winning novel by Mantel today. Simply impossible where I am (Japan) unless I sign up to the Kindle restrictions. The book trade has always manipulated prices by restrictive selling but I am afraid this will lead to wide scale piracy. I was so close to looking for it on torrents but managed to restrain my irritation at a wasted hour, caused not by complexities of physical distribution but by lawyers.

  12. Greg M.: Some six years ago I read the entire Psychic Serpent trilogy (a Harry Potter fanfic covering alternate versions of the last three books in the series) on my notebook. That means 1628 A4 pages full of text. I probably have never devoured a book so eagerly. So, reading on a computer screen can be done by a determined mind.

    Nowadays I read on my PRS-500 and on my Android phone. I obviously prefer e-ink, but reading on my phone is OK for short periods of time. Also, the phone doubles as a dictionary when I am reading on my PRS-500.

  13. You could make the same argument when it comes to PCs. Wait until next year and the models will be faster, cheaper, and more colorful. Well, that’s true…except if you wait until next year, you won’t be able to do your computing (or reading) now.

    Bottom line, I’ve got an eBookWise which works fine for me, so I won’t be buying a new reader this year. But if I didn’t have the eBookWise, I’d be shopping. Because I do a LOT of reading and the current products are plenty good enough for me to get a lot of positive use out of them. If I waited until next year, the models would be better/cheaper, but someone would make the same argument…just wait until 2011 and they’ll be even better.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher

  14. DRM is the real reason to wait. Whisky is right that forcing people to specific retailers with proprietary formats is a dealbreaker. Wait until you can have real choice. But I disagree with Whisky that Apple will provide a solution to this issue, based on the whole concept of the iPod and the iTunes Music store.

  15. I agree with Rich. Keep waiting for devices that may never appear, or may turn out to be not as good as hoped, or, if you can afford it, just take the plunge now and buy a device and start reading.

    Right now we have an incredible amount of selection of reading devices–screen sizes, connectivity, price, retailers–and that’s just the eInk dedicated readers. ADE ePub seems to be the way to go at the moment for current books, and there’s tons of good stuff around to read for free or cheap and without DRM.

    Although the situation with formats and devices seems to be moving frustratingly slow, when I think about it I can’t believe how far things have come since I bought my first dedicated device nearly two years ago–a Cybook Gen3. I’ve never regretted my purchase for a minute. I just bought my second device–an EZReader Pocket Pro. It’s faster, better specced, more portable, supports the latest formats, and cost half what I paid for the Gen3 in January 2008. (And yet the Gen3 is still a great device and I still use it.)

    You can drive yourself nuts trying to decide if it’s “worth the money” to buy now or if you will get more value later. Early adopter gadget geeks know–sometimes you have to pay a bit of a premium to have fun in the present. Of course next month there will be cheaper, better devices. In the meantime you will have been able to enjoy your own toy.

  16. I think I will put off buying a new car until one is available with Toyota dependability, built in the US of A, all electric with 600 mile range, holds 4 people, goes 85 MPH and costs under $20K.

  17. Amazon allows non-DRM books now, all the Public Domain books are not protected. Some of the indie authors have DRM free books for sale on Amazon in AZW format. The Kindle is able to display almost any non-DRM book around, including ePub, it just must be converted to Mobi, PRC, AZW or TXT. ePub to Mobi is easy to do and displays very well. That means the million of unedited OCR books at Amazon are available to the Kindle. Of course you need a computer to do that but most of us Kindle owners have computers.

  18. nook may be my first e-reader. It’s the best designed one I’ve seen.

    e-readers should be just for reading books — just like one wants to read a book — not as pretending to be some sort of netbook or notebook computers.

  19. I bought my Kindle 2 at the end of February 2009; and continue to use it heavily — but it arrived two months into a grad course I was taking. My hatred of printing articles onto 8-1/2 x 11 is profound enough, that I feel the device had pretty much paid for itself by mid-May when my class was over.

    That semester I finished four books in addition to course readings on my commute. Anything that allows me to cram more books into my head before I die is worth some money to me; and with each book read, the device’s ‘cost per text read’ drops. Looking back on the increase in no. of books read, in my particular case (I’m in my 40’s) waiting would have been unfortunate.

    When purchasing I took my father’s advice. “Buy the best technology you can afford to fit your needs *when you are acquiring the device*.” My own advice on top of this: Pay Cash.

    There *will* always be a ‘next best’, and the device in hand *will* always become obsolete. Always. When I bought my Kindle, it was *the only* device that permitted annotating and underlining, and was therefore the only viable option. Because I’m focused on what the device has changed for me, I feel no sting from three subsequent Kindle price-drops. Instead I feel some relief that if my device gets lost, horked or trashed, replacing it will be more economical.

    Continued access to one’s paid content is the more important consideration; and the harder one to deal with in a practical manner. I’ve dealt with it by loading piles of free, non-DRM content; and as far as purchases, mainly buying expendable content, cheap, buying ‘as I read’ (i.e. not ‘buying for infinity’); and hoping for the rest that my files will eventually forward-compatible, or become migratable to another format. If I’ve managed to get all of my paid content into my skull before it becomes unreadable (which it won’t as long as the device remains functional), I’ll feel no reason to complain too loudly. (Although I’ll certainly grumble.)

  20. Having worked on PC’s since ’76 and done serious damage to my eyes, I find even my nice new LCD monitor makes my eyes blury after a short while. Love my Kindle. I can read it all day without eye problems or running out of juice.

  21. Why do some people hype battery life so much? Unless you plan to be without electricity for two weeks, what does it matter if your reader can run that long on a charge? Personally, I sleep at night, so as long as my reader can give me a long day’s worth of reading (say 15 hours or so), and recharges in less than eight hours, I see no reason to fetishize battery life.

    @Greg: I’ve read three complete novels on an HDTV, using yBook with two-inch-high letters, a recliner, and a remote to turn pages. Portable it ain’t, but it’s not at all bad, really.

  22. @Al
    To me, the main attraction of the Kindle is the ease of purchase but the problem is that anything I buy through that system is completely tied into the Kindle. As Dave says, this is a deal breaker. I will wait until someone starts selling me the same kind of ownership of my books I have always bought with a physical book and in the mean time will continue buying and ripping DRM where I can (only ever use it for my my own use). Eventually, I believe, they will offer without DRM. Apple moved the music market by dropping DRM. The truth is I never leave the itunes store but the fact that I own what I bought makes me willing to invest in more music.

  23. Dave,

    I liked the article because I know nothing about the Pixel Qi technology, but the advice on delaying your purchase because of better technology on the horizon is kind of silly. There will always be better technology on the horizon. If everyone followed this advice, no one would ever buy anything, and I certainly wouldn’t be enjoying my wonderful MacBookPro! At any rate, one could purchase an eReader now, and sell it on e-Bay for its salvage value, which should still be pretty good (less than a year old, with some a number of titles installed)

    Jordan
    http://ereader.stackexchange.com

  24. Library Friend // October 30, 2009 at 9:45 am //

    I just don’t see the appeal of these E-readers, unless you just have more money than you know what to do with. I very rarely buy books. I can get any book I want to read from my local public library. If they don’t have it on the shelf, ask them to inter-library loan it for you.

  25. I kind of have to disagree with your device to wait for future devices. As Others have mentioned, a new Device / Technology / Etc is always around the corner.

    So My usual suggestion to someone considering getting one, is to ask them a few questions

    * How much do they read each day / month / year
    * What do they read more
    * How do they read it
    * Is what they want available in eBook

    Based on that, I’ll then ask whether or not readers in the market currently offer largely what they need. I said NEED not WANT as, you can want the sky, but how much do they actually need.

    So Yes, For people who read the occasional book, or read books with a lot of images or complex formatting, it might be worth waiting.

    But for people who read regularly, a Reader can often be a very good solution, especially if they commute, or read a lot when traveling or on vacation.

    The cost issue is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion.

    How many people spend a fortune on Mobile Phones, or Media Players, Game Consoles, etc.

    If you count the amount of time you will be spending reading, compared to another activitys, then the cost does not seem as big of an issue. Yes, it is an expensive single use item, but it is one which does it’s job well, and will pay back its investment in convenience and in some case in Price within a few months to a year.

    While I’ve been an early adapter with the PRS-500, the current generation of reader has a lot going for them, in terms of improvements in screen quality not to mention speed.

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