Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Look Before You Leap into the Fire

I'll just come right out and say it: I'm a much bigger fan of ink-on-paper books than I am of ebooks. There. I've said it. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the feel of a book, the look of the font, yes even the smell of a book, and I have been known to judge a book by its cover.

Having gotten that confession out of the way, I will also say that I can see the merit to ebooks. For instance, my mother is a former librarian and a voracious reader who is burdened by macular degeneration, which makes it difficult for her to read traditional print books. She is currently experimenting with reading on an ereader (The Nook Simple Touch) on which she can expand the type size.

I can also appreciate the advantages of carrying multiple books on a single device when traveling by plane, rather than lugging around a back-ache-inducing sackful of books. I'm even tempted to read the new Stephen King book (which clocks in at 800+ pages) electronically, rather than toting around the tome itself (although it is awfully good looking).

This week is a big week in the electronics world, as both the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire tablet are being released, and both are getting lots of media hype. If anyone out there is considering buying one of these tablets, or another brand of tablet or ereader, I think it's essential that you understand one thing very clearly: If you purchase an Amazon product (Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, etc) you will ONLY be able to buy content for that product from Amazon. Every other seller of ereaders allows you to purchase books from your local independent bookseller. Amazon does not. 

In fact, Barnes and Noble, which sells the Nook family of ereaders has clearly decided that the customer should be in charge of content decisions. Of course, the company would prefer that you buy books from its own bookstore, and it's made it easy for you to do so, but they don't insist; they let you decide. Amazon takes that choice out of your hands.

Today NPR ran a story about the pricing of Amazon's new Kindle Fire, stating that Amazon is selling the KF for less than its manufacturing costs (not to mention all of the related marketing costs). Why would they do that? Because the company expects to make A LOT of money from everyone who buys one of its devices:

"Once you're inside Amazon's ecosystem, there are a whole bunch of ways they can make money off you. You buy Amazon's books, movies, and music. You buy Amazon's apps. You see Amazon's ads. There's no Apple store on an Amazon device. You're locked in. This is the model printer manufacturers often use. You can buy a decent printer for $40 — less than it costs to produce. That's because printer companies make all their money selling ink cartridges to go in the printers."

Basically, Amazon is putting a storefront in your hands, where it makes money on everything you do with the device. So why not sell it below cost? It's like the phone companies who give away phones or sell them cheaply because they they know once they have you locked into a contract they can more than make up the difference. Ugh. Count me out!

Personally, I am opting for the Nook Simple Touch and the Nook Tablet. The December 2011 issue of Consumer Reports gives the Simple Touch its highest rating -- and that was before Barnes & Noble dropped the price of the device to $99! It's got fast page turns, sharp text, and an amazingly long battery life -- and no annoying ads to get in your way.

I opted for the Nook Tablet because it has ample storage (16 GB with micro SD card slot for additional storage -- versus Kindle Fire's 512 MG of RAM and 8 GB of storage with no capability to add storage) and a long battery life. But primarily I opted for the Nook Tablet because I applaud B&N's willingness to open up its devices to multiple content providers, enabling users of its devices to continue to support their local independent bookstores.

With the holidays fast upon us, I'm sure many people are considering the purchase of ereaders or tablets. I encourage you to evaluate your decision carefully. It's not just about the upfront cost of the device. Would you buy a car if you could only buy gas for that car from a single service station? It might be fine for a while, but what if that service station decides to dramatically increase its prices? Or delivers bad gas? You would be stuck, because you would have no other options. Giving someone a device that essentially controls them is not a gift; it's a burden. Give the gift of choice. Of options. Of freedom. Better yet, just give them a book. (I couldn't resist!)

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I recently bought a kindle for a trip overseas - I didn't do great homework first! I wish I'd realized that I could only buy from Amazon. I wish I'd known how much e-books cost on Amazon.
    I am a book person - I prefer the book in my hand, being able to highlight, go back easily and re-read a passage. I like being able to share books.
    The e-reader worked well for the trip as I tend to bring lots of books with me when I travel, but when I got home, I actually bought real paper books of some on my kindle cause I wanted the hard copy!
    I figure I can loan the kindle to folks when they travel ... build a good library that people can share.
    Hasn't turned out to be such a great investment for me I'm afraid!


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