Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Frugal eReader

If you didn't get an eReader for a holiday gift this year, odds are you've been hearing about them more and more. As a librarian, I hear about eReaders constantly, and I always forget that some people don't think about them as much as I do. Here are my suggestions for those considering picking up this gadget. These are based on my own personal experience, and what I've learned over the past year.

The biggest eReaders are the Kindle from Amazon, the Nook from Barnes & Noble and the Sony Reader. Kindle and the Reader have been around the longest, but the Nook is fast becoming the new eReader to buy. To use, they're all pretty similar. The Kindle has a number of different versions (it seems like every year there's a new one), and two different screen sizes --6" and 9.7". The Sony Reader has three different versions and three screen sizes--5", 6" and 7" all with touch screens. The Nook has a 5" screen and comes in standard (black and white, no touch screen) and full color touch screen.

They all work basically the same, but as far as frugality is concerned, there is one huge difference-- on all eReaders except Kindle, you can download library books. Kindle uses a proprietary digital format that you can only get from Amazon, whereas the others are compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, which is free. In my mind, this is a no-brainer, I bought a Nook, and have spent about $15 on books for it whereas if I had a Kindle, I would either never use it, or go broke buying books.

There are cheap ways to get Kindle books, and they give you some free ones too, but from where I'm standing, I'm a little broke from shelling out $150 for the device, I don't really want to spend any more on books. The cheapest way to get books will always be to borrow them.

In addition to borrowing books for free from the library, you can also get free classics on any digital device via Project Gutenburg. This means you can search from thousands of texts on which the copyright date has passed, and the works are now in the public domain. In lieu going into a lengthy breakdown of copyright law, I will instead use an example: You know when you go into a bookstore, and you can get a really nice copy of something like Treasure Island or Wuthering Heights for about $5 whereas a new bestseller retails for $25? It's because the authors of Treasure Island and Wuthering Heights have been dead so long that their estates no longer receive royalties from sales of their books. It's also how people get away with writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Project Gutenberg is awesome. Yes, there are a lot of stinkers in the collection, but I am now the proud owner of the digital works of the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott, which makes me quite happy-- and I don't have to return them.

There are other eReaders on the market that I know nothing about, like the Borders Kobo, or the Sharper Image Literati, but I do know that these too can borrow books from the library.

I certainly don't know everything about every eReader, but if you are considering buying one, please make the decision with your eyes open. Do some research, visit them in the store, learn the pros and cons and figure out what really works for you. There are a few caveats that go along with borrowing books from the library as well:
  1. You have to plug in your device in order to borrow library books. You can purchase anything wirelessly on every device, but in order to borrow, you have to be plugged into your computer and manually drag the book file to your device.
  2. Not every book the library owns is available digitally. I had to tell this to a girl recently who was under the mistaken impression that every book we buy for the library comes with a digital version as well (no idea where she got this idea). The library buys eBooks just like it buys regular books. When you check out the digital copy, it means that someone has to wait until you're done reading it and return it before they can borrow it--just like a physical book. Many people have the mistaken impression that digital means it's like a website that anyone can look at. Authors and publishers still own the work, you're just buying or borrowing the right to use one copy. So...
  3. Make sure your library owns books you want to read. Because of copyright protection, and because of the run on eReaders this year, my library system is scrambling to pump up the eBook collection. For most libraries, this is a fairly new collection, and may be a bit spare i.e. they won't have everything you want. I would recommend seeing what's available to you before buying the device. There's no point in buying the device, finding out after the fact that your library doesn't have anything you want, and then blowing a bunch of money buying books just because you really, really want to use it.
Also Consider the size and weight of the device you're purchasing. It's meant to be portable, but if it weighs five pounds and requires a special case to cart around, is it really convenient? I bought the Nook because it is slightly larger that a mass market size (smallest size) paperback. This means that it fits quite easily into my purse, but also that the screen is quite small, and I do a lot of page turning, which gets annoying at times.

I wrote another post for my library blog detailing a few of the other drawbacks of eReaders. Convenient though they are, they still aren't books, and just like anything, there are pros and cons. I certainly don't regret my decision, and I'm pretty proud of myself for doing as much research as I did (I almost never do research before buying things), but I still prefer a good, old-fashioned book.


  1. I am a big fan of gadgets (kind of a geek in that way), and the ereaders do intrigue me since I'm always running out of books when I travel (even if it is rare), but when it comes down to it, I don't need one, and I'm not sure I would enjoy reading on a digital device. After all, I teach only online now and spend enough time staring at a screen. ;)

    I do appreciate this post though, because I may change my mind!

  2. Yeah, I could never read exclusively on this thing-- I still need a book every now and then. After an eight-hour day of staring at a computer screen, I really notice my eyes aching when I use the nook. Plus, it's harder to get really engrossed in what I'm reading, which is something I didn't expect.

    That said, my library has the entire Shopaholic series available as eBooks, and it's quite satisfying to check one out and have it immediately without even having to put on shoes or leave the house.