Sunday, July 19, 2009

e--book readers: Amazon vs. open standards

The big story going around the blogosphere this weekend is Amazon's behavior in deleting books from other people's computers (link from Instapundit who has done a good job of covering this even though he must make a lot of money from Amazon). The Amazon Kindle is an e-book reader --a small device designed to let you read electronic books. E-book screens are e-paper (rather than LCD), a technology that gives better-quality reading and uses natural light rather than back lighting. It looks like a neat toy and I'm planning to buy an e-book reader sometime in the next couple of weeks.

If you have a Kindle, you can buy e-books from Amazon and download them into the device. What Amazon didn't tell you is that they have the ability to not only download books onto the device but also the ability to delete books from the device. And they recently did just that after complaints from a copyright holder, with no request for permission --they just deleted books that people had bought.

They claim that it's OK because they credited people's accounts for the money, but I don't think that covers it. First, if someone paid ten dollars for the book then it must be because they thought the book was worth more than ten dollars. So they haven't been repaid what they valued the book at. Second, some percentage of these people will never see that ten dollar credit, either because they lose their account information or because they never make another purchase from Amazon, or for some other reason. A ten-dollar credit is not the same a cash money and I'm pretty sure that it is not legal tender.

And besides that, when has it ever been acceptable for someone to sneak something away from you and give you back what you paid for it? Does it become not-theft if a pickpocket grabs your watch and leaves you money in your pocket? What about the people who were in the middle of reading one of the books? I don't know about you, but when I'm reading a good book I couldn't stand to lose it before I'm finished.

Allahpundit asks
Is this a dealbreaker for would-be Kindle purchasers?
It is for me. I was wavering between the Kindle with Amazon's leadership on-line content and an open-standards alternative, but now I'm going for open standards. In a way I'm glad this happened because letting one company control your library is a very bad idea and it would have come back to haunt me sooner or later.

So I've been doing my research and I'm leaning towards one of these:
HanLin eBook V3 supports more formats than the other two and has the longest batter life but is also the bulkiest and only has one content partner. However, it can be used with content from other e-book companies.

Sony PRS-505 has the fewest open formats that it supports and is the most likely, in my opinion, to have Kindle-like drawbacks --I'm not sure how open it is to other content providers-- but it is supported by a huge electronics company and three major publishers. And I've been able to see it myself at a local Target store. It has more gray shades than the others, but I'm not sure if I care. I'm not planning to use this for images.

Bookeen Cybook Gen3 is the smallest of the three (so the most likely to fit in a jacket pocket). It supports more formats than the Sony and is less likely to be tied to specific e-book providers.
None of these devices has wireless connectivity, but I'm wondering how big a deal that is. With all of the free e-books available I'm more likely to have a hundred books on the thing that I'll never get around to reading than I am to be caught with nothing to read.

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