Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Google Books: How to choose the best eBook store
A digital bookstore's features and available titles matter just as much as the device you're reading on
by Samuel Axon on January 27, 2011
Just a few years ago, digital books and e-readers were virtually unheard of, but now there are multiple stores and devices competing for your dollars. Most comparisons focus on the devices themselves, but the case can be made that what really matters is the store ? its selection, pricing, convenience, and other features.
Here's a quick comparison between Amazon's Kindle, Apple's iBooks, and Barnes & Noble's Nook stores for e-readers and other digital devices. They're all solid services with their own strengths and weaknesses, and one might be better for your circumstances than the others. Additionally, we have some info on Google Books, a web-based service that archives tons of public domain works and just recently began selling commercial works.
If you have any thoughts on the subject that we missed, let us know in the comments!
Selection of available titles
Kindle and Nook appear to trounce Apple in this category. As of August 2010, Kindle reportedly had 670,000 books under copyright and an additional 1.8 million in the public domain. However, Amazon allows almost anyone to self-publish in the Kindle store, and not all of those self-published books may be of interest to you.
Barnes & Noble claims that Nook has 1,000,000 works under copyright but only 500,000 in the public domain. In addition to the standard fare, Barnes & Noble has a dedicated online store for kids' books in full color, for devices that support it. Google Books offers 3 million e-books in the public domain, but it only claims to have "hundreds of thousands" of books for sale.
Generally, books released in recent decades are under copyright, while classics such as The Odyssey and the works of Charles Dickens are in the public domain, but there are a handful of recent books that were made public by their authors. Those are usually not the same books you'd find in your local chain bookstore, though.
When it launched in early 2010, Apple's iBooks store for the iPad and iPhone claimed to have "tens of thousands," but specific numbers have never been released, nor have any updates been made since the store's initial debut.
Winner: Tie, excluding iBooks
Everyone in the e-bookstore world had agreed that $9.99 was an appropriate price for a digital-only copy of a new commercial book release ? until Apple and Google entered the market, that is.
Books sold on the iBooks and Google Books stores often appear as high as $12.99 and $14.99, respectively ? sometimes more, in rare cases. Both Apple and Google probably hope that being more flexible on the maximum price will attract publishers that have been wary of signing on with Amazon or Barnes & Noble. We don't know if the strategy was successful, yet.
Books are usually the same price in Amazon and Barnes & Noble's stores: $9.99 for the most popular titles, less for quite a few others, and much more for textbooks and some rarities.
Winner: Kindle or Nook
Each store has some special features that its host company likes to highlight. None of them are necessary for a basic reading experience, but they're worth mentioning.
The Nook store has a feature that iBooks and the Kindle store once did not: book lending. You can give a book to one of your friends or family members for a limited period of time, allowing them to read it on their own Nooks. There are several restrictions on this, as well as time limits, but it's a neat feature. Kindle recently got the same feature, though, so it's no longer unique.
Kindle uses a technology called "Whispersync," which in addition to automatically pushing new purchases to all your devices, periodically tells online servers where you are in a book so you can pick up in exactly the same place when you read on another device.
Google Books has a unique program that enables independent bookstores to sell scans of its books to Google users.
iBooks apps let you search the contents of a book, check dictionary definitions, record notes, and sync them to the other devices that you read on, in addition to the page-saving feature that Kindle offers.
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