What You Need to Know About E-Reading
It's cheaper than ever to snuggle up with an e-reader. But finding bargain-bin books is a challenge.
1. Look for big deals on the big three. You can now buy an Amazon Kindle, a Barnes & Noble Nook or a Sony Reader for $150 or less. Plus, if you were going to buy a tablet computer anyway, the Apple iPad ($500) and Motorola Xoom ($600) make excellent e-readers.
2. Read the small print. Some low-cost smart phones, including the Apple iPhone 3GS and Samsung Continuum, make decent e-readers. But you'll need e-reading software. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer free apps to download for most major mobile devices. The iPad also comes with iBooks, a Kindle competitor. Want to read e-books on your PC? No problem: The leading e-reading apps are free for laptops and desktops, too.
3. No bargains on bestsellers. Most current titles cost $10 to $15 -- less than a hardcover edition and comparable to the cost of a trade paperback. You can find older titles that will set you back $5 or less, but to find free e-books, you'll have to work a little. Kindle users can browse the Top 100 Free eBooks list on Amazon.com or type "free Kindle books" in the Amazon search window. Barnes & Noble has a similar freebie page for Nook users on its Web site. Sony also has a free section for Reader fans, plus Sony has teamed up with Google to offer more than one million free e-books that are off copyright, which you can read on a PC as well. Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Free-eBooks.net and Mediabistro's free e-books page are also good resources.
4. Not all readers are created equal. You can't read Kindle books on competing devices or apps because Amazon's e-book format is proprietary. Most Kindle devices also support Adobe PDFs, however, while Apple, Barnes & Noble and Sony support ePub, an industry-standard format. (Unlike PDFs, the Kindle and ePub formats adjust text to fit different screen sizes.) The format matters if you plan to download e-books from Google eBooks' immense library (more than three million titles), which may be available in the ePub format or as PDF files.
5. Sharing e-books is tricky. You can't just pass along an e-book as you would a paperback. For example, you may lend a Kindle book only once, for 14 days, to another Kindle user, assuming the publisher permits the book to be borrowed. The Nook has a similar, one-time, two-week lending policy. New sites that let you borrow e-books from complete strangers are springing up, such as BookLending.com, eBookFling.com and Lendle. The 14-day restriction still applies to books borrowed through these sites.
6. Go to the virtual library. Many local libraries will let you check out e-books, usually in the ePub format -- good news for everyone but Kindle users. Sony has a great site called Library Finder, where you can enter your state, province or zip code to find e-book-lending libraries near you. To get started, you'll need a library card and a free software program, usually OverDrive Media Console, to download titles. If your local library is Internet-savvy, it will provide step-by-step instructions for beginners.