Some Thoughts on eBook Readers

Posted by Scott on Oct 12th, 2011

I recently became the owner of an e-ink ebook reader, the Sony PRS-T1. Inevitably the first question someone asks me when they see me with it is, “why’d you choose the Sony instead of a Kindle or Nook?” So here I’ll share my thoughts on that, and follow-up with another post reviewing the Sony model itself. Forgive me, this is a bit of a rant…

So, why go with this Sony model? To some extent it was a process of elimination. Let me first explain why buying a Kindle is out of the question for me. While it’s true that Amazon’s store offers the largest selection of ebooks, and their ereader hardware is of good quality, what most people don’t realize is that Amazon has made some very strategic choices to try to entrench their own proprietary format at the expense of open standards.

When you buy a Kindle, you’re locked into using a Kindle (or Kindle app) forever if you want to read the ebooks you bought using it. This is because the Kindle supports Amazon’s proprietary ebook format, and nothing else.

There does exist an open file format for ebooks, called ePub. Books in the ePub format are generally much more portable, and can be bought from multiple sources, such as Google Books. These ebooks can be read on pretty much any ebook reader platform (including Android tablets and phones), with one exception. Amazon has to date deliberately left out support for the ePub format in their hardware ereaders.

Amazon’s motivations for doing this are pretty clear – they are the indisputable market leader in selling books and they want to support their own proprietary format, and have no interest in seeing an open ebook format succeed, even if it has been adopted by the rest of the industry. Heaven forbid you buy an ebook from Barnes and Noble to read on their device. Amazon’s omission of ePub support is a blatant middle finger to the concept that a common standard can exist to allow people to buy ebooks from their store of choice and read it on their device of choice.

My friend Jason once said to me something to the effect of: “Amazon settled on MP3 [an open standard without DRM] as their file format for their music store when it was their chance to ‘stick it’ to Apple [which was using a format that locked users into their iTunes player and iPod devices]. But now that they’re the market leader in books, they won’t dare to support an open ebook standard.” I thought this was pretty insightful.

Now whether you care about ePub succeeding as a common format or not, when you buy a Kindle you are placing your book purchases at the mercy of Amazon for the forseeable future. You’ll be dancing to Amazon’s tune for whatever business decisions they make down the road, or risk losing the ability to read your ebook collection. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in submitting to this form of vendor lock-in. As such, I have no intention to buy ebooks in a proprietary format, whether it be Amazon’s or anyone else’s.

Unlike the Kindle, the Nook Simple Touch supports ePub ebooks (in addition to Barnes & Noble’s proprietary format, which is being phased out), so the Nook was at least an option for me. A neighbor of mine recently bought one, and I had considered getting it after trying it out. The only feature I found missing was the ability to play music on the device. I often read on public transit, and can be easily distracted if I don’t have something to block out external noise or conversations. So I decided to wait it out a bit longer.

When I recently saw that this Sony model was released, it appeared to offer the right features – everything that the Nook could do and a bit more (like being able to annotate ebooks, and of course an MP3 player). The reviews were quite positive, and even touted integration with Google Books and Overdrive Media Console (for checking out ebooks from the library). Of course the included applications try to steer you to buy ebooks from Sony’s proprietary store, but I could ignore that and stick with my ePub formatted books from other bookstores. The device was priced reasonably (which was not the case with Sony’s previous ereader models), so I decided to pick one up.

I’ll follow up with a short review of the PRS-T1 soon.

2 Responses

  1. Algot Runeman Says:

    Did you consider the original Nook? I believe it does have a music player.

    Thanks, too, for your negative comments about walled gardens where proprietary formats are your only choice.

  2. Scott Says:

    Hi Algot. No, I hadn’t considered the first-generation Nook. You’re correct that it includes a music player app. That probably would have been the cheapest option that would have met my requirements.

    That said, I do have to say I like the Sony’s interface and touch support. I’ll try to write up something about the Sony PRS-T1 later this week.



Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

Blog Badges

[FSF Associate Member]