Monday, May 14, 2012

How Compatible Are Rival E-Readers?

May 10, 2012 - New York Times


The Times’s technology columnist, David Pogue, keeps you on top of the industry in his free, weekly e-mail newsletter.
The mail is still coming in about my review of Barnes & Noble’s latest e-book reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight.
Very little of the mail is actually about the reader, though. Most of it challenges the statements I made when I characterized the state of the e-book world right now.

Here’s a summary — and a few clarifications.
• What I wrote: “When you buy an e-reader, you’re committing to that one company’s catalog of books forever, because their book formats are mutually incompatible.”
Sample reader pushback: “Why do you write about things you don’t know anything about? Apparently, you haven’t heard of the free app called Calibre. It converts any e-book format into any other format. If I want to switch from a Kindle to a Nook, I just let Calibre convert my current Kindle library. It’s that simple.”
My reply: It’s actually not, for one towering reason: Calibre can’t convert copy-protected books. It doesn’t even try. And that rules out most of the books people want to read these days: best sellers. Current, commercial fiction and nonfiction. Books by people who are still alive.
I mean, if all you want to read is old, expired-copyright books like “Moby Dick” and “Little Women,” then — great! You don’t need Calibre at all, because these books are available free online in any format you like (or in formats that any reader can display, like text files or PDF files).
But when it comes to more recent books, my statement still stands. If you buy a bunch of modern books for the Nook and then one day switch to the Kindle, you’ll have to kiss your entire investment goodbye.

• What I wrote: “You can’t read a Kindle book on a Nook, or a Nook book on a Sony Reader, or a Sony book on an iPad.”
Sample reader pushback: “Your remark about not being able to read various book types on rival readers is disingenuous at best. I can read all of my Kindle books and all of my Nook books on my laptop or my iPad, thanks to reader apps made by those companies.”
My reply: Yes, that’s true. There are Kindle and Nook reading apps for tablets, phones and computers, so that you can read your purchased books without actually owning an e-book reader at all!
To be technically complete, therefore, I could have written this: “You can’t read a Kindle book on a Nook or Sony Reader, or a Nook book on a Sony Reader or Kindle, or a Sony book on an iPad, Kindle or Nook, or an iBooks book on a Nook, Kindle or Sony Reader. With a special app, you can read a Kindle book or Nook book on an iPad, laptop, iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone.”
But my point was not to create a Wikipedia entry on e-book compatibility. I was just trying to make the point that if you are thinking of buying a dedicated e-book reader — and since this was a review of an e-book reader, I think that’s a reasonable assumption — then you’ll be locked into books from its manufacturer.
David Pogue's full column 

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