What's the best way to buy and store ebooks on a budget?
November 15, 2009 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm drastically downsizing and cannot take my beloved books with me. I think the best solution for my new living arrangement would be to find a way to buy and store ebooks. But how and with what?

I love to read. Reading is the way I de-stress and unwind. I can't live without reading. I also move a lot and right now the town I live in has a dismal library with no selection. I used to have a room full of books and now it's a bookcase full of books, but even that is too many. I have to go down to a shelf full by next January - if that - and those would be the ones with sentimental value.

As I see it, I can either download books to my computer and read them from here, and risk more migraines. Or I can find the better ebook reader (for example a Kindle or a Nook). Or I can get a smartphone like an iPhone or a blackberry - which I understand have applications for ebooks.

But my budget is tight, and I'm not very savvy about these things. I've been all over Google and compared the ebook readers and I've looked at some friends' smartphones, but I just don't know what would be the better choice. I don't know if I can get the books I want here on my computer, or if I have to have an ebook reader to download them. I think a smartphone might be overkill, but maybe not since some of them have other applications that might be useful. But I don't want to be tied into a contract with a smartphone if it's not the best way.

Anyway, any suggestions would be great.
posted by patheral to Technology (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I read ebooks on a Sonly Clie (Palm OS) PDA which is ancient as a PDA but great for reading ebooks. Not many books are published & sold in Palm format, nevertheless there are huge amounts of books to read. The Clie is fairly inexpensive (used) on EBay. It fits easily in my pocket and carries a big library.
posted by airplain at 9:41 PM on November 15, 2009

If you don't like reading on the computer screen for eye-strain reasons, I don't think a phone would be an improvement (I spend a lot of time on both). I definitely wouldn't get a phone for ebooks.
I don't know much about the differences between ereaders so I'll let others cover that :)
posted by jacalata at 9:45 PM on November 15, 2009

I bought a kindle recently and find it much easier to read on than a computer screen. Not everything's available though, so I'd definitely check the selection for books you're interested in before buying something.
posted by kbuxton at 9:57 PM on November 15, 2009

Put it off until January, at the very least. Next year, they're promising all kinds of ebook readers.

I have a Sony Pocket Reader and like it (it's the cheapest of the current readers), but the lack of an MP3 player and a way to make notes is annoying.

Don't get anything that doesn't read epub files.
posted by shetterly at 10:21 PM on November 15, 2009

P.S. I've seen Stanza on the iPod touch, and it looks great. (I share your dislike of phone contracts.)
posted by shetterly at 10:23 PM on November 15, 2009

I would go back to that library and look around. Ask about loans from other libraries. Tell them the books you want to read and ask them to get them. Donate your library to them. Are you saying that the library is so dismal that they have no books you can read? Wow. Are there any used books stores or thrift stores or garage sales that might have some books that might interest you? It seems to me that finding a source of books would easily be more affordable than e-books and more enjoyable to someone who loves reading as much as you do.
posted by snowjoe at 10:41 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another option is subscribing to an online library if you can find one that has the books you want. For instance, if you read a lot of books about technology, then Safari is awesome.
posted by giggleknickers at 10:42 PM on November 15, 2009

Paperbackswap isn't free, but it's been working out for me. I can see it getting expensive if you go through books quickly.

Still, probably cheaper than the Kindle + price of the ebook (if the titles aren't in the public domain or otherwise free).

If you get headaches on the computer, I really don't know that moving to a tiny cellphone (even an iPhone/iPod touch) would be much better.

And ask the library about interlibrary loans!

What kinds of books are you interested in? Fiction? Mostly recent? Nonfiction?
posted by barnone at 10:49 PM on November 15, 2009

I have one of the Sony Readers. I got it because I was making a trans-pacific move and wanted to be able to not worry about lugging books around (also the internet is an easier way for me to buy books then looking through the meager selections in bookstores here). I like it, but the battery seems to die on me even if I'm not using it, so I have to remember to charge it. Mine can play mp3s, but I don't use it for that, I'd rather just use a computer or an iPod or whatever.

Romance novel publishers seem to be the most gung-ho about the eBook trend, and sometimes books you want don't come in the eBook format. For me it hasn't been that Amazon has it but Sony doesn't, it's that they both do or neither do. Right now I am really wanting the Aubrey/Maturin series but they are not available, and so I am sad! So look up Amazon's Kindle Store and Sony's eBook Store and see if they have what you want.
posted by that girl at 11:05 PM on November 15, 2009

I got a Bebook and find it's a lot easier on my eyes than my iPhone.
posted by PatoPata at 11:20 PM on November 15, 2009

I have a Kindle. Like you, I cannot live without reading, and storage of books was becoming an increasing problem, so the Kindle was my solution. I was apprehensive when I got it (I got the first generation, and had not seen on in person yet), but I would never go back now. Reading from a device with eInk is a wonderful thing -- really, it's like reading from a book. This blog has lots of comparisons of ereaders (scroll to the Explore pane on the right side).

Amazon says that there are more than 360,000 Kindle books available. You can also put any PDF or TXT file on your Kindle, for free (so, all Gutenberg books are available to your Kindle). I'll be honest: There have definitely been books I wanted to read that are not available on Kindle yet. However, these are never popular books. It only happens for me when I want to read something that doesn't move off the shelves very quickly. (As an example, my two latest frustrations are Dream Story, by an Austrian playwright, and The Origin of Satan, by a Princeton religion professor -- there's not not a huge market for these books, honestly.) In those cases, I add them to my Amazon wishlist or LibraryThing list, and periodically check for Kindle availability. My "to read" list is always long enough that this hasn't become a problem yet.

I recommend deciding if you want a device that uses eInk or one that has a backlight (like an iPhone). After making that decision, then narrow down the selection based on other features. In my area, we have a Fry's electronics store, and I noticed they had eInk readers out and on display in the store. Check your local electronics store to see if they have eInk readers for you to look at. That will give you a point of comparison between eInk and backlit devices.

Or, if you see someone with a Kindle or other eInk device, ask them about it -- that happens all the time, as people are curious to see them. Top questions I'm asked by strangers:
  • Let me see a page.
  • How do you turn the page? (Click the button on the edge.)
  • How many books can it hold? (Hundreds, and you can always store more on a computer.)
  • How do you put books in the device? (Via Whispernet, which is free Internet access, or via a USB connection to your computer.)
  • What else can it do? (Read to you - in newer models, look up words in the dictionary, access Wikipedia, collect subscriptions to magazines and newspapers.)

posted by Houstonian at 4:29 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the advice guys!

@snowjoe - I've *been* to the library over and over. I've lived here for two years, and I've read through their selection. This is a very small town with very conservative tastes and the library reflects that to a T.

I can get non-fiction books from the college library, but even their books are rather dated, it's amazing really. I've pulled books from their shelves from the 1800's, which were actually pretty interesting reads. Anyway, the problem with library books is I have to give them back. I like to read my books over and over again, write in the margins, and underline things. You just can't do that with library books.

I don't have a favorite genre, but the things I seem to read most fall into the sci-fi/fantasy or the suspense/horror arena. I also read non-fiction about everything under the sun - or whatever happens to be interesting to me right now. I also read manga, which I know I can read online, so I'm not worried about those.

Thanks again for your thoughts everyone, I appreciate everyone's insight and hope to hear more.
posted by patheral at 6:08 AM on November 16, 2009

I was given a Kindle as a gift. It's as good for reading as a book: I don't have to hold it open, and I can change the font size whenever I need to, or switch to having it read aloud to me. It's great for reading MetaFilter and other web sites while waiting in line or in the doctor's office without paying any monthly connection fees. However, I would never consider replacing my collection of books with it.

The books sold for the Kindle are in a proprietary format that cannot be read on another eReader. You do not own the Kindle books you buy from Amazon, only a license which can be retroactively changed without your consent. The battery will die in a few years, and it's not user-replaceable. All small electronics become outdated in a few years, and you do not always like the replacement provided by the same company. At some point, in five or ten years at best, I will be faced with the need to buy a new eReader, or else I will lose access to all of the books I've bought for the Kindle from Amazon.

eBooks acquired elsewhere are no problem, though. I read sf/fantasy books from Baen, which allow you to download and save them in any of several formats without copy protection. They have a lot of free books that are not in the public domain, and they sell new ones as well, for better prices than Amazon's prices on Kindle books.
posted by Ery at 6:33 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that on November 30, the Nook will be available to try out in Barnes & Noble stores, so you can see whether it suits you.
posted by tdismukes at 7:07 AM on November 16, 2009

I recently purchased a Kindle, because I'm living abroad and couldn't wait the 2-3 months for the Nook to be released, reviewed, and shipped. I'm also concerned that the Kindle's battery will die in a few years and that I'll be forced to stick with another Kindle to keep my books. However, Amazon recently released a Windows program to read books and they're coming out with a Mac version soon. So, even if you decide to go with a different e-reader several years down the line, you'll still have some (albeit not portable) access to your purchased books.

Also, you should look up the books in your own library to get a sense of the selection at Amazon or any other store. I was a bit disappointed, and I have fairly mainstream literary tastes. For example, less than half of Haruki Murakami's novels were available, if I recall correctly. That said, the selection is more than enough for anyone and I'm delighted with my Kindle.

Two more things: definitely, obviously, wait until November 30. Also, Amazon has a "see a kindle in your town" program that hooks you up with satisfied customers who will show you their device.
posted by acidic at 7:46 AM on November 16, 2009

I have a Kindle and I love it. I've always been in love with my (extensive) book collection, and decided the Kindle was a good move to start slowly replacing my paper books with ebooks.

Something I did that really helped my decision: I went through my bookshelves with google at my side and checked every book (or the books that I really cared for, more like) to see its availability on the Kindle and in public domain if it was a classic. Then I attached a sticky note strip (like a post-it torn into strips) on its spine perpendicularly. Stepping back and looking at all the little flags was a good visual reinforcement that many, many of those books could be "replaced" electronically.
posted by fantine at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2009

I am holding out for Nook, which looks awesome as hell.
Until then, I use my G1 for ebook reading. It's not so bad, but it's definitely not a permanent solution.
posted by caveat at 10:23 AM on November 16, 2009

Fantine, I wish I could go through my previous library and do what you did with the post-it notes! Unfortunately, those books are lost to me forever (it's a long story).

I haven't run an extensive search over what is available through Amazon or B&N yet because I haven't decided which way to go (I guess that's one way to decide?), and I've been busy with studies. I'll probably do that after finals, as I'm sure it will take some time.

I'm still considering downloading ebooks to my computer and seeing if I can play with the brightness or background to make it easier on my eyes. I have an EEE 8-inch laptop so it's not much to carry around, and I have it with me all of the time (for school). The things a Kindle or Nook have over this computer is battery time and 3g internet...

I really appreciate everyone's input.
posted by patheral at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2009

Patheral, did you know that both the Kindle and Nook have desktop software for reading purchased books? (sorry if I missed this in the discussion) B&N has released a desktop app for PC and Mac and Amazon has released a desktop app for PC (mac version forthcoming).

So, you can muck about in each device's store and read books without buying a Kindle or a Nook, technically speaking.
posted by fantine at 8:39 PM on November 16, 2009

Fantine, I didn't know that! I wonder how I missed it on their websites? I'll look into that tomorrow, and thanks for the info...
posted by patheral at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2009

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