Top Shelf: An eBook reader round-up

Electronic books have been around almost as long as electronic text in one form or another, but with the imminent launch of Apple’s iPad, the category is undergoing something of a renaissance. With that in mind, we’ve cast a broad glance over the available ebook readers in the Australian marketplace to give you an overview of what’s possible.

The appeal of ebook readers comes down largely to convenience. Most ebook readers aren’t much larger than the average single tome, but can carry (and often download) thousands of titles, giving you plenty of choice. Book prices are competitive with print book costs, especially given the often inflated prices in Australian book stores, and even if you get your reader itself wet, you won’t destroy the electronic files themselves!

One format for all – not!

There is a number of competing electronic book formats, which can make picking devices tricky, as there is no “standard” for electronic books as yet. Instead, the ebook universe divides between Apple, which uses a DRM variant of the EPUB standard, and Amazon with its Kindle-DRM solution. An iPad essentially locks you into the Apple ebook ecosystem, while the Kindle format binds you to Amazon’s huge content offering. The bottom line is that you can’t buy ebooks from any source and expect universal compatibility any e-reader you choose.

Electronic publication isn’t just limited to books, either, with many devices supporting magazine and newspaper subscriptions and automatic downloads. Most devices will require some kind of computer connection for transferring books, although the higher end units such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad can handle that side of things via Wi-Fi or 3G networks, depending on available connections.

Ebook bummers

That said, there are some downsides to electronic books. Most are protected with digital rights management (DRM) software, ensuring that you can’t just copy them endlessly and hand them around to your mates. This means that if you do want to lend your friend the latest blockbuster novel, you’ve got to lend them the entire e-reader, not just a file, and you can’t sell them on at all if you grow tired of them.

Paper-based books themselves don’t require power sources to speak of either.

Still, if you’re a voracious book reader tired of lugging around lots of volumes made from dead trees, ebook readers can be exceptionally good value.