Don't Buy That eBook Reader - Yet

by Randy Murray on November 2, 2009

We have one more big name entering the market to produce and sell an eBook reader: Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

Like Amazon’s Kindle, we have a not so bad device produced by a company that is primarily interested in selling books.  In its favor, the Nook has no physical keyboard, which I think is a good thing. Physical keys take up valuable space and aren’t needed most of the time. The Nook devotes space at the bottom for a small color screen, primarily used for navigation. Not bad, but it’s not a full color screen for the entire unit, which would be much better.

But the Nook has the same deficiencies as the Kindle. The Nook is locked to the B&N store, just as the Kindle is locked to the Amazon store. Books are wrapped in Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, which makes them tricky to deal with. You can’t buy books from Amazon with your Nook. And although B&N claims to allow you to “lend” a book to a friend, the fine print makes it pretty unlikely. Your friend would need their own Nook, of course, and the publisher for the specific book title has to decide if they’ll let you. And if you do lend it, it’s only for 14 days and, during that time, you don’t have access to it.

Once again, a manufacturer is trying to limit the usage of digital items to their physical equivalents. And this takes all of the value out of the digital item. I can’t give away an ebook I bought and read. I can’t acquire ebooks from just anywhere, only from the single approved source. In addition to this, we’ve already seen one instance of Amazon deleting books from Kindles without the owner’s permission. Imagine if you bought a book, and the bookstore sent thugs to your house to remove it physically from your shelf and burn it on your front lawn. Amazon received a hailstorm of criticism and has since apologized, but the precedent’s been set. It’s disturbing, and if companies really want ebooks to take off, they need to demonstrate to customers that they have no remote deletion or control capabilities by making a strong and legally binding agreement with users to never, under any circumstances remove content from their personal devices. Better yet, drop the DRM altogether and be done with it.

And then we’re back to the price. B&N will sell the Nook for $259. The books themselves will be around $10. I am still unclear how any of these vendors will convince consumers to purchase an expensive, single use device, one that will age and become obsolete, just like a laptop computer. If they were giving them away or selling them for a very low price, that might work. Say $50. But if you purchase one now at full price and begin buying books, you’re essentially signing on for life, committing to that particular selected device to be the ultimate winner. And there will be only one. When that happens, just like VHS over BETA, and you’re on the losing device, all of the purchases you made will be abandoned and unreadable when your reader finally breaks down. In technological terms, there’s no migration path.

So I’m waiting. No eBook readers for me, yet. I’ll sit on the sidelines a bit longer. Although I’m a true gadget lover, I don’t like to get caught with a dead-end device. I did buy a Blu-Ray player just this year and I’m not sure it was a good idea. I’ve sent it in for service once already. I’ve only bought a few movies for it and frankly, it’s not that much better in my setup (granted, I have a pretty good setup). Beyond that, I’m fairly certain we’ll see an Apple device very soon, probably early next year. It will likely be more expensive, probably between $700 and $1,000, but it won’t be a dedicated eBook reader - it will be a multi-purpose device. And it will likely read Kindle books (the iPhone and iPod Touch already do), and if B&N is smart, you’ll be able to read Nook books on it as well.

Don't Buy That eBook Reader - Yet by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Riddle November 2, 2009 at 10:31 am

Dear Randy,

I’ve never understood the claim that any e-book is “locked” to a particular bookstore. I have nearly 4,000 e-books on my Kindle and only about 8 of them come from Amazon. I have made most of them from Gutenberg or other freely available e-files with only slightly more trouble than it takes to buy a book from Amazon.

Also, committing for life is something of an exaggeration (depending on use). So long as I have an RTF, HTML, or sometimes even a PDF, I can convert to the new format, often using a batch file. Second of work-a new library.

Admittedly, I’m an unusual reader in that I don’t have a profound interest in a lot of the more recent material pouring out in fountains; but, I can’t agree with your points here. Being able to go to Dublin and walk through the streets with a copy of Ulysses in hand that weighs almost nothing, and then being able to read a great deal of Joyce scholarship from the web on something larger than the screen size of PDA was sheer joy. Add to that that I can carry 3,000 different books, so when I want to turn off _Ulysses_ and read something else-Orwell’s essays, H. Riger Haggard, Ronald Knox, R. H. Benson, or others, I can do so with ease and with no real problem so far as my weight-luggage allowance.

So, I would advise otherwise-but then, I think it depends on one’s purpose in getting an E-Book. I had been reading books on my PDA for years, so for me Kindle finally represented a breakthrough that has not been considerably advanced by the Nook.

But that’s just the view from another country.




cptnrandy November 2, 2009 at 10:38 am

Ah, but you are an unusual customer, aren’t you?

Those Kindle books you’ve bought are only readable with the device itself or within Kindle software - which is now available for both the iPhone and a PC version (Mac version promised soon). You cannot transport them to another eBook reader. Nor can you purchase books from Amazon with a Nook or buy books from B&N with a Kindle. If you should decide to purchase a different device in the future, you’ll have to decide if you’re going to purchase another Kindle, or abandon the Kindle bookstore purchases you’ve made. That’s the lock-in.

I’m highly in favor of open, DRM free books like you’ve filled your device with - that’s phenomenal. And I’m looking for a more versatile device.


Steven Riddle November 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Dear Randy,

Given that what drives these devices is the ability to profit from them and given that that ability is not tied directly to the prices of the devices (unlike say, an iPod) there is too much vested interest in single seller for anything other than a very generic device to be sold. But Sony has already shown the folly of that. (Although again, Sony was brilliant at doing it first and extremely well-the real clincher is the real-time purchase of additional books, which Sony did not make particularly easy in earlier versions of its reader.)

But, it may happen in time. I know that I am not the customer Amazon was looking for. I make and format my own e-books as required-and I don’t really need much of the Petabyte flow of “literature” that threatens to overwhelm us. Not what you’d call profitable for Amazon.




Steven Riddle November 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm


Oops, boy was that previous comment a mess. I meant to say that there is no real interest in selling a generic-I can get to it anywhere device. You’d have to charge too much for the device to start (people are willing to pay that for music and film-not so much for books.)

Ah well. Chalk it up to a series of very long weeks in a year that will never end.




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