E Ink / E Read 2013 Update

It has been about six months since my first post went live on E Ink / E Read, and I must say that writing this blog has been an incredible experience. I hope that the content I have provided here has been useful to you, and that your experiences with eReaders, tablets, and technology are more enjoyable as a result. Prior to this, my ruminations on digital reading and technology were scattered across the comments sections of a dozen different blogs and forums, so it has been nice to finally have a place of my own.

Some good news to announce: Nathan from the-ebook-reader.com has asked me to start writing for The eBook Reader Blog. I have been a regular reader and commenter at that site for a couple of years now, and I am very excited to contribute there. It has always been my favorite eReader reader blog online, and Nathan’s video and written reviews are almost required viewing for anyone interested in eReaders or tablets.

As my work schedule will be pretty heavy over the next couple of months, I have decided to focus my efforts on the-ebook-reader.com. I will still be posting here occasionally, so I am not exactly closing down shop, but for the latest from me, check The eBook Reader Blog.

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Will Random House Lower eBook Prices?

vladimirPriceGougingRandom House was the only ‘Big Six’ publisher to escape being named in the ongoing eBook price-fixing lawsuit levied by the US Department of Justice. They implemented the same agency pricing model that inflated eBook prices and made their cost prohibitive to many readers, but I guess there was no solid evidence of ‘collusion’ that could be held against them.

Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins have all settled the suit (refusing to admit guilt along the way), and they have agreed to renegotiate contracts with eBook vendors. This means that more Kobo eBooks will be eligible for Kobo discount codes, and more students and educators will be able to have access to eBooks at reasonable rates. Oh, and everyone who overpaid for eBooks from these publishers in the past will be getting a reimbursement check. Payments will start to go out 30 days after the final settlement details are concluded. Customers will receive between $0.25 and $1.32 per eBook. This can amount to a nice sum of you buy a lot of eBooks.

Publishers shouldn’t fear the $69 million dollar payout though; I’m sure many of those readers will turn right around and spend it on more eBooks. I know I will.

I have noticed that eBook prices have already started to go down. Some of the eBooks I have been tracking that were priced at $12.99 or $14.99 a few months ago have dropped to an odd number like $10.67, but, for the most part, it has been a gradual change. Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader thinks that Amazon really can’t afford to slash eBooks prices anymore, so don’t expect anything extreme. The $9.99 price point might not be as important to the company as it was in the past, but according to their official statements, they are making efforts to get back there.

Random House isn’t bound to any of this, however. Remember, they supposedly weren’t involved in any price fixing, even though they continue to ‘fix’ their eBook prices at, what I would consider, unreasonably high rates.

Take for example, the above Vladimir Nabokov novels (see image). This incredibly talented writer died on July 2, 1977, but his eBooks are priced as if he were walking around collecting royalties today. His estate probably has something to do with this, but I seriously question the fairness of paying $11.99 or $14.99 for eBooks whose physical alternatives are priced a few dollars lower. The works of Nabokov are serious literature, so they merit a serious eBook price (I think this is Penguin’s eBook pricing philosophy).

With the winding down of the DOJ lawsuit, I am left to wonder if 1) Random House will lower their eBook prices along with their publishing brethren, and 2) if I pay for a $14.99 eBook today, and it gets reduced to $10.67 a week from now, will I be refunded the difference when the settlement checks get mailed out?

If anyone knows the answer to these questions, please do post a comment below. I know that publishers who have settled the lawsuit still have “this price was set by the publisher” notices posted below a few of their eBooks. If I buy a bunch of them today, I am worried that they will just drop in price a couple months down the road. It makes me wonder if this is really the best time to be buying eBooks, an act that already makes me nervous.

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Nexus 10 SOLD OUT

Nexus10soldoutI’m not sure how long this has been going on, but the Nexus 10 is sold out over at the Google Play Store. Both the 16 GB and 32 GB models are gone, with no indication as to when they will again be available for sale. A simple message states: “We are out of inventory. Please check back soon.”

This marks yet another supply/demand issue for Google’s Nexus line since it was released shortly before Thanksgiving.

Google has been called to task for supply chain problems by news outlets around the world, especially in the UK where the company’s UK managing director offered an “unreserved apology” for the rash of confusion, shipping delays, and order fulfillment issues.

The Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 10 tablets have been immensely popular with Android users and I think the demand has far surpassed their original expectations. Android 4.2.1 is a big hit, and their phone and tablets ship with it. Google is new to retail sales, however, and their inexperience in this area might have something to do with the delays. I contacted their customer support about the status of my Nexus 10 order back in November and received a prompt reply and polite service, but others are reporting very different experiences.

Regardless of the snags, the Nexus 10 is the absolute best Android tablet on the market today. Even if you have to wait a few weeks, I would order one today if you have been considering it.

I went through five different tablets in the past year, looking for one that really met my needs. My search finally ended with the Nexus 10 16 GB. The Play store, the most up-to-date and completely unadulterated Android OS, the diversity of apps available; it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Google is not Amazon or Apple. They need time to transition into the hardware/supply game. In my opinion, it is worth the wait.

Image: screenshot of Google Play Nexus 10 listing as of 12/28

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Buying eBooks Makes Me Feel Dirty

Most of my relatives know that I love to read, as evidenced by the Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards I received for Christmas this year. Both cards were for the sum of $25.00, and, shortly after I got home from our Christmas festivities, I sat down at my computer desk ready to shop for eBooks.

Whenever someone provides me with an Amazon or B&N gift card as a present, I almost instinctively spend it on eBooks. Due to their relatively high cost (I could always buy the used paperback for $4.00 shipped on Amazon’s Marketplace), and the fact that I am only ‘licensing’ their content—not purchasing and owning unencrypted files—when I buy eBooks, it feels like I am recklessly spending my much needed money.

The literary fiction I love to read almost always appears in the $11.99 – $18 range. Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Rushdie, Amis, McEwan; these titles don’t come cheap (or even reasonably priced in my opinion, especially in the case of dead authors). The more notable the author, the more expensive the eBook, or so it seems. I once did the math on what it would cost me to acquire a digital library of fifty of my favorite modern classic titles. The price averaged out at around $600.00. Six Benjamin Franklins, all for a collection of DRMed computer files that I don’t even really own. I imagine that there are many other readers who hesitate to spend large sums of money on eBooks, but they will gladly throw down $300 for a Folio Society membership or $60-a-book for leather-bound classics from Easton Press. Buying a new hardback from Amazon seems like a sound investment, buying the eBook feels like it’s not.

The real challenge for publishers in the coming years will be making the purchase of an eBook seem as fiscally sound and secure as buying the physical book.

As of this moment, it isn’t happening.

Sure, there are a lot of benefits to reading eBooks, and maybe I should give them a bit more consideration. After all, I’m not just paying for the text, I am also gaining the ability to use the many features that eBooks have to offer over a hardback. Reading on my Kindle Paperwhite or my Nexus 10 tablet is much more appealing to me than reading a physical book. I have probably worn out the e-dictionary on my Kindle with all the words I have looked up over the past four years. I like to highlight these words and save them to ‘My Clippings’ for inclusion in a vocabulary index I’ve been working on. It’s always nice to have some sophisticated-sounding terms to use in my next research paper, all thanks to this handy Kindle feature. Looking up words in an eBook is much less time consuming than putting down my physical book, leafing through a cumbersome dictionary, and probably losing my place along the way.

The eBook offers instant service and incredible convenience. I don’t have to go to a bookstore, I can search the entire file for a single word or topic, and my eReader never lets the bookmark slip from its pages; $12.99 for an eBook is starting to sound like a pretty good deal.

I am aware of all of the arguments for higher or ‘fairly’ priced eBooks. I get it, there are many advantages to eReading, and those advantages should be paid for, but then why doesn’t this fact outweigh the feeling I get when I spend a large sum of money buying digital files? Three letters: DRM.

After hearing a number of scary stories about readers who have had run-ins with digital rights management (an electronic lock placed on your eBook by its publisher or distributor that prevents you from copying it, converting it to other file formats, or really from owning it in any way), I am feeling less confident about the security of my eBook purchases today than ever. Take, for example, the situation that many early adopters have encountered with the death of their former eBook platforms. The old file formats (and DRMs) that their eBooks were purchased in are no longer supported today, like MSReader or the many proprietary PDA formats. If you bought a hundred eBooks for your now-obscure palm pilot back in 2000, I feel sorry for your loss. People buying eBooks from Kobo or B&N today probably never consider that in fifteen or twenty years, these companies could be bought out or go under, and poof—there goes your eBook collection. Publishers could pull their digital files off your device during contract negotiations, without warning; authors could demand more fees or restrict access to certain titles; shadow edits over wifi and computer malfunctions could turn your favorite $15 eBook into 2345 kb of symbols and dashes. The list of potential hazards goes on.

When I purchase an MP3 music file, it is unencrypted and mine to own. There are publishing and author rights to consider there too. The situation with eBooks is totally opposite from this.

The debate over the value of eBooks is an important one. Authors, publishers, and vendors need to make a profit in order to ensure a vibrant industry and market. Consumers are gaining a lot in exchange for a relatively small margin. In many cases, an eBook costs only a couple of dollars more or a couple of dollars less than its physical counterpart. But I’m not trying to rehash these old arguments. I am simply stating that when I buy an eBook, it feels like I am making an unwise purchase.

In order for me to go on an eBook spending spree, without the guilt of frivolity hanging over my head, I can only do it with a gift card. Publishers have a long way to go before I can bear to do that without.

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Got a New eReader or Tablet for Christmas?

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 9.49.01 AMWelcome to E Ink / E Read, a blog of news, reviews, and commentary on eReaders, tablets, and eReading in general. If you have arrived at my site by searching Google for information about the shiny new device you got for Christmas, please make yourself at home and check out my reviews. There is a drop-down menu of categories along the right sidebar; just select the subject you would like to view and then click on a desired link. A tags cloud is also available that will direct you to all of the posts I have written that mention a specific topic or product.

Please follow this blog by signing up via WordPress, RSS feed, or your favorite email account. E Ink / E Read seeks to provide you with user-based information on the top tablets, eReaders, and eReading technology. I am a university student and researcher who interacts with digital reading and devices on a daily basis. This blog is an outlet for me to describe and analyze the experiences I have with the technology I use. If you are new to the world of tablets, eReaders, or digital reading in general, I hope that my perspective will assist you in learning more about this incredible breakthrough in the way we read.

There are a lot of eReading options to choose from on the market today, so sites like this are essential for consumers who want to make informed decisions before spending their hard-earned cash. Each eReader or tablet is different, and you will want to find the one that best suits your needs.

If you just found out about digital reading, or if you would like to know more about the device you got for Christmas, feel free to leave a comment or question below. I am happy to help. For the best video reviews of all the major eReaders and tablets available, check out videos published by TheeBookReader on YouTube.

Here are some links to reviews I have written about products like the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, Barnes & Noble Nook HD+, Google’s Nexus 10, and the Kobo Mini:

Google Nexus 10

Sony PRS-T2

iPad Mini

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite eReader

B&N Nook HD+ tablet

Kobo Mini 5″ eReader

Kobo Glow eReader

New Kindle tablets and eReaders

Android Reading Apps page

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Which eReader(s) Will Be Under Your Tree?


Humanity might have made it through the Mayan’s December 21st deadline, but today marks another doomsday of sorts for those who have been procrastinating their holiday shopping. Yesterday, Saturday, December 22nd, marked the last day that Amazon orders could be eligible for delivery by Christmas Eve with one-day shipping. If you forgot to order your niece’s Kindle Fire HD in time, the morose and defeated look on her face at Christmas dinner might make you wish that mankind had made its predicted rendezvous with Planet X.

Perhaps you could make it up to her by giving her a Kindle Paperwhite on December 26th instead? After two months of being listed as out of stock or delayed, it appears that the good people at Amazon finally have some units in their warehouses.

Assuming that most of you have your soon-to-be-gifted devices on hand, or even wrapped and ready under the tree, I am interested to know: which eReaders or tablets made it onto your Christmas lists this year?

Were you lucky enough to order a Kindle Paperwhite in back in September? Did you brave the confusion of the Kobo Glo release and track one down at Powell’s? Did the overall versatility of a tablet outweigh your desire to get the latest E Ink device?

What really motivated your purchase?

2012 was a great year for tablets and eReaders. The retina display, the frontlit E Ink screen, the quad-core processor; all of these hardware upgrades turned good devices into great ones. Who really wants to go back to their iPad 2 or Kindle 1? If you are giving a new tablet or eReader as a gift this year, you can feel confident knowing that you are offering your loved one the best that technology has to offer at this point (I can’t say I felt the same way last year).

Giving the gift of an eReader might not seem as personal as giving a book. There is no title page for you to inscribe, no dust jacket image for its recipient to look over. Even so, I am reminded of a commercial that Amazon ran for the Kindle 3 a couple of seasons ago. I think it helps to show how this loss can be compensated for:

An eReader might have a more positive effect on the person you give it to than a regular old book would, especially in the case of a someone who doesn’t consider him or herself to be a ‘book reader.’ Technology has a unique way of making everything more interesting, and when it comes to reading, you can’t go wrong with an eReader or a tablet. I have always felt that I am a better reader today because of the devices that I use to aid me in this process. I highlight, I take notes, and I read things more closely now than I ever have before.

All I needed was the allure of technology to get me motivated. Soon after that, the books took over.

Happy holidays from E Ink / E Read.

Free image from: graphicsfairy.blogspot.com

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Tablets Erode Dedicated eReader Sales

Here is an interesting article I read today:

“The Tablet is Killing the eBook Reader: Study says shipments to fall 36% this year” – GeekWire

Worldwide shipments of dedicated ebook readers such as the E-Ink Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook will fall by 36 percent to 14.9 million units this year, and plummet to just 7.1 million units by 2016 . . . [continue]

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The $79 Nook: Sale

Screen shot 2012-12-09 at 6.27.28 AM

The Nook Simple Touch Reader, released in June 2011, was one of the first really good touchscreen E Ink devices on the market. Sony started selling touch eReaders way back in 2009, but models like the PRS-600 had a capacitive touch layer placed over the display which caused extreme text fading and glare. The PRS-650, released in August 2010, was the first of the big brand eReaders to use infrared sensors to detect touch gestures, introducing the technology that would eventually be used on the Kobo Touch, Kindle Touch, and Nook Simple Touch (hereafter referred to by the acronym NST). Kobo and B&N chose to release their first touchscreen eReaders in the summer of 2011, while Amazon announced the Kindle Touch later in the year, during their usual September press conference.

B&N really led the way for touchscreen E Ink devices though; the NST’s popularity among Nook users was widespread, and it attracted a lot of new customers (did anyone really love their Nook 1st gen all that much?). Best of all, developers were able to hack the NST, turning this standard eReader into an E Ink Android tablet. This went a long way to help boost NST sales among techies, but I think the eReading public at large responded very well to the Nook. All of the blogs and forums were suddenly filled with swear-by NST users, and B&N made inroads into the Amazon dominated marketplace.

I purchased a NST shortly after it came out, and I loved reading on it. When comparing the NST to its Kobo and Amazon competition, it was definitely the best of the three. It had a much better feel and design; physical page turn buttons, Best Text font rendering technology, and a rich, dark, matte finish. The contours on the back made it very comfortable to hold. Its an all-around great device.

A few days ago, B&N announced that they would be permanently dropping the price of the NST from $99 to $79. A few bloggers have suggested that this price reduction is the result of slacking Nook eReader sales, which is very possible. Amazon has undercut the NST with their $79 Kindle since last September, and now with the release of the new $69 Kindle, they’ve made it look even less appealing to first-time buyers. If you have never bought into an eReader ecosystem before, that $30 difference between the two can’t be ignored.

Hopefully, the new price is a smart move; the NST probably costs much more to build than what B&N is selling it for. I really wish they would reconsider their summer release time for new E Ink devices. This will always put them a step behind the holiday competition, even though B&N is a step ahead in the summer. The Nook Glo is now horribly outdated after the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo release, and the NST is long overdue for an upgrade.

Image: screenshot of bn.com

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Tony Bennett Endorses Nook HD—or Does He?

Barnes & Noble has been using a lot of celebrities to ‘boost their street cred’ lately. Unfortunately for me, there is nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a video of Justin Bieber—being played over and over again on a loop—blasting out from a big screen TV behind my local Barnes & Noble’s Nook display. “Yo what’s up ‘yall! Check out my [second] memoir [even though I am only 16] on the new Nook HD!”

I wonder: is B&N really trying to make the Nook hip by pairing it with famous faces? Is there a sound reason for them to be going the celebrity endorsement route?

Nook executives have always knocked Amazon for their subtle banner and sleep-screen advertisements, but don’t think that they haven’t found “annoying” ways to mix in their own brand of special offers with the Nook experience, just not on their device’s lock-screens.

While Amazon has chosen to go with credit card ads, discount coupons, and upcoming movie announcements, B&N has gotten a few actors, authors, and musicians to take part in promotional videos and TV spots. As a side note, one thing I’ve noticed is that they have totally forgotten that they even sell E Ink eReaders anymore. All of their star power (including James Patterson) is now being used to promote their latest tablets. Perhaps this is the reason why the Nook Simple Touch has been reported as selling so badly.

In my opinion, these resulting advertisements haven’t turned out too well.

A number of people, including Nate Hoffelder at The-Digital-Reader.com, have been ripping on Microsoft’s Surface video ads for being high on flash low on content, but I would like to shine a light on some of the lackluster—even cheesy—B&N videos that have been released over the past year. I’m not sure that this is a direction that will really bolster the the Nook brand. All of the videos I have seen, while they tend to be a bit more informative than those done by Microsoft, really fall flat. Microsoft recently bought into B&N, so perhaps their bad TV commercial ideas have carried over as a part of the merge.

I first noticed the Nook/celebrity connection when Jane Lynch (aka the menacing coach Sue Sylvester from the popular television series Glee) made a couple of very Glee-esque song-and-dance TV ads for the Nook Tablet shortly after it was launched in fall 2011. This commercial must have aired thousands of times between Thanksgiving and Christmas; it seemed like every time I turned on the tube, there she was, spinning a Nook Tablet on the end of her finger like a basketball while being hurled into the air by a contingent of male cheerleaders. Unlike the new Surface ads, Jane Lynch did go into some detail about the functionality of the tablet itself and its available content. Most prominently featured was the line about in-store Nook customer support being “allllwayyys freeeeee!” Practical, catchy, but just a little annoying. Here is an ad that didn’t make it onto TV. It’s two minutes and thirteen seconds of bad acting and camp that looks like it was shot on a cellphone. Really B&N? “No annoying ads”?

Since then, a variety of stars have come forward to promote the Nook line, mostly appearing in advertisements like the Bieber pitch I mentioned above. Showing on a large TV behind the Nook desk, these ads usually consist of short vignettes where the chosen celeb talks about their third-rate, ghostwritten memoir or cookbook that they easily got a Big Six publisher to print, along with a quick mention of how the hapless viewer should pick up the device in front of them and give it a try. The Nook usually ends up being a barely-mentioned part of the promotion.

The nookBN YouTube account just released the above Tony Bennett video on December 7th, and I thought I shouldn’t be the only one to suffer through its failed mix of Nook technology and celebrity commercialism. The 86-year-old crooner is filmed with someone who appears to be a standard Nook desk representative who introduces him (for the first time?) to the Nook HD. He is shown how his new memoir, Life is a Gift, looks on the latest B&N tablet offering; he swipes through a few pages, he makes a few wizened-elder remarks like:

It’s a whole new world. I think it’s unbelievable what’s goin’ on. I can’t get over how much it does, actually. This is such a great instrument (?). They really came up with something on this. I love it. Beautiful! It’s very entertaining and very educational for everybody . . .

Then he confusingly seems to offer a criticism of the whole concept of eReading when he proclaims:

It’s never going to stop people just reading books.

From that statement, I assume he is talking about real, made-out-of-paper physical books. Perhaps he heard that the hardback book was dead, or that eBook prices and tablets were undercutting physical book sales to the point of extinction. After being given a chance to try out the Nook HD in person, it looks like he was unimpressed. He certainly wasn’t going to stop reading physical books just because of this shiny new toy.

What kind of imprimatur did Bennett’s celebrity really lend this new device? He had obviously never even laid eyes on a Nook HD before, so B&N can’t really trot him out as a dedicated, card-carrying Nook user. When Amazon.com had Steven King (who had just put out a novella exclusively through the Kindle Store) announce at the Kinde 2 release conference that he would be signing on to do Kindle-only eBooks, you could tell that he really enjoyed using the device and that he was knowledgeable about the new technology. In this ad, the great Tony Bennett might as well have just stumbled upon a Nook display when he walked through the doors of Barnes & Noble, made a few stereotypical older person remarks about technology, and bid them farewell.

Just showing a bunch of random celebrities holding your new tablet isn’t going to put the Nook on the trophy shelf of popular culture. I don’t begrudge B&N for trying to stay relevant with a few celebrity endorsements, but from all of the ads I’ve seen, I don’t think it is really helping their cause.


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From $0.99 to $999.00

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 6.17.43 PM

Have you ever kept an Amazon Marketplace book in your ‘shopping cart’ for a long period of time, only to see that the price varies erratically from day to day? Amazon graciously posts a list of price changes (if any occur) at the top of your cart page each time you open it. A highlighted box shows you which items have increased or decreased in the intervening time since you last logged in. This feature has been invaluable to me, especially when it comes to tracking items that occasionally plummet far below their typical list prices.

Amazon Marketplace sellers can log in to change the prices of their third-party wares, and, occasionally, a few mistakes are made. Take this copy of Salman Rushide’s collection of short storeis, East-West. I have been watching it for the past few days, and in that time the price has gone up from $0.99 to $2.27. Then suddenly today, it soared from its humble dollar bin origins all the way up to a very elite $999.00. That is quite the markup.

Now, this book isn’t particularly rare or valuable, it is just a standard trade hardback in like new condition. There was probably a very large number of print runs for this title as Mr. Rusdie is a famous (and infamous) author. So why has the asking price climbed through the stratosphere?

There are a few other books that I could buy for this sum that are actually worth a thousand bucks, and they would most likely accrue much more in value than this relatively common short story collection. In fact, since the holiday is coming up, I think I could buy an 1891 vintage copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol instead. I really hope that no one stumbles across this listing, thinks that it is of great value, and recklessly makes a purchase.

I’m sure that this is some sort of mistake on the seller’s part. Perhaps he or she meant to reduce the price back down to $0.99 and accidentally rearranged the decimal point. I’m not sure if you can use an automated program to set your marketplace prices, but this could be the cause of the problem.


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