E-Readers and the Economy

Ereaders
Photo Credit: cnet.com

We’ve read lots of posts about whether or not to get an e-reader and we’ve seen lots of posts commenting on the various features each device offers but have we talked about what happens when the bookstore supporting it goes belly up? I mean, what would happen if B&N or Amazon ceased to exist?

The book group that I participate in meets in the community room of the public library. We are going through a bit of a transition now, because the city has decided to take over the library system. The transition period is expected to be about four months long and although there will be services available…how we get books, request books, and pick-up books is sort of unknown at this time.

In addition to that, our local Borders is closing, which was our back-up meeting place, and it’s left us feeling sort of insecure about the availability of books in general.

As I drove home, I was comforted by the fact that I can still download what I need to my Kindle. Yeah, there is security in that, but then I got to wondering what would happen if Amazon crashed and burned. My device would be useless, right? Even though you might have content on it, you wouldn’t have support for it and you wouldn’t be able to download anything.

With B&N, the Nook allows you to download other formats, so even if B&N went belly up, you could in theory still download other formats, but you wouldn’t have the support of B&N.

Am I right to think this, or would the device just not work anymore because of Wi-Fi/3G contracts being canceled? Both Amazon and B&N say they can suspend the service at any time. My guess is that the device would become a lovely paperweight at that point.

I’m curious if any of you who recently bought an e-reader considered the stability of the company before making your purchase. As most of you know I bought the Kindle for the design of the device, not so much for Amazon (as I am not a fan) but now that Amazon is screwing over the Kindle 2 owners by not providing the same software upgrades that they do for Kindle 3 owners, my feelings towards Amazon have soured even more. But, is Amazon more stable?  Not sure. What do you think?

Oh, and for those of you who say go with the iPad (and you will), I probably won’t only because I work on a computer all day long. I don’t think I could look at a computer screen to read, too.

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36 Responses

  1. Hello :)
    I have a Sony PS-300 and I have thus far been able to get books from all platforms I’ve tried–Amazon, Borders, Google books, Barnes & Noble and a couple of free classic book sites as well.
    The simplicity is wonderful too– just connect to computer via USB cord and get books. Personally, when I’m reading a book I don’t want Internet access, I don’t want Facebook updates, to play music…etc.

    • The Sony Reader never appealed to me but after what you wrote here, I can certainly see the advantages to having one.

  2. To be honest Ti I never thought about the stability of Amazon and what that would mean to all the books I’ve downloaded until you mentioned it. In my mind I guess I assumed Amazon will always be around. It is kind of scary to think about what would happen though as Amazon only supports their own format. I do have a Sony reader though that supports other formats but if Amazon did go under, would we still have access to the books we bought. I think the smart thing to do would be to download the Amazon books to your computer as well so you’ll always have them there at least. Hmmmm, good question to think about though.

  3. Excellent questions! I don’t own an e-reader at this point due to these sorts of concerns (plus my undying love affair with the physical book!) The thing I love about books is once you have purchased it, the solid thing is in your hand. I love technology but…

  4. I don’t think people are really thinking about that now that the cost of the device has come down. They’re not thinking about the cost of all the books they’ve downloaded on them. I won my Kindle, but find that I rarely use it.

  5. Even if B&N cut the WiFi/3G service you could still very easily buy from other places, because you don’t buy from those places wirelessly, you download to your computer and move them over via ADE. It could very well mean that you lose the books you bought from them, though, or at least the ability to put them anywhere else. Although you already can’t put them anywhere else but another Nook.

  6. You have raised tons of great points…I have no clue what would happen if Amazon died…but I don’t think it will. Is it possible that Kindle 2 does not support the new upgrade? I had problems with mine on my Kindle 3 and it is not that different. By the time all of the books are numbered…it will be years and years away…Amazon is starting with the first 100 top sellers…the only thing the new download does is allow you to tweet or put on facebook your thoughts about the book.

    • I was able to download the upgrade manually for the FB / Twitter stuff, but the ability to share and the page #s option are not currently available for the Kindle 2. They aren’t that much different (Kindle 2 vs. Kindle 3)except the Kindle 2 cost me more than twice as much. Makes me mad that they don’t tailor the software for all versions.

  7. I think I would buy an e-reader not connected to a website or store. One where I have to upload the e-books through my computer and not directly onto the device itself.
    Safer IMO, relating to sudden changes in the market.

    I’ve decided to get the new Archos e-reader, very low in price and it’s getting good reviews. Well, I’ll have to wait for my birthday :) I feel 16 again, all of a sudden.

    • I wasn’t even aware of the Archos and I work in technology :) I hope you get it. Let me know what you think of it once you do.

  8. I have an IPad and it does not feel like a computer book screen to me. It looks like a book and the images are crystal clear. I love it. My son has a Nook which he likes but we both agree the IPad is better.
    Have you checked it out. It is more expensive if you just want it to read books.

    • I tested one for work and didn’t like it as a reader, but I guess one could get used to anything. I know Apple is rock solid right now. All my other products are Apple products. Love ‘em.

  9. I have an e-reader as well (as you know) but I don’t download many books onto it unless I am absolutely ok not having a permanent copy of the book. (In fact, now I am starting to use it for reading Galleys from Net Galley, so they are free). I also download a lot of the classics on there, which are free from B&N often.

    Not that I am a techy, but you should still be able to use (at least ) Wi-FI even if the company went out of business. Since it’s not like a phone, you are not paying the company anything each month for their service…. and the books that you’ve bought should stay on your account (I imagine they would see one heck of a legal battle if they erased everyone’s content without refunding some money).

    Also, even though Borders is bankrupt, I don’t think they are completely closing down, and I think people who have their e-reader (the Kobo is it?) are still abel to use it.

  10. I never thought of this before. Always just think of the bookstores going away because people aren’t buying “real” books anymore; never stopped to consider that if there were no more bookstore company, there might not be books of any kind. Now that is really scary!

  11. Excellent points Ti. I never really considered that Amazon could go belly-up when buying my Kindle. I just felt it was the best eReader for me, and even if I on;y got a few years pleasure out of it for some reason, I would be happy with my purchase.

  12. It is hard to know what will happen. I guess I would try to load up on books if I got a hint that Amazon was in trouble. I don’t mind about the 3G because I just have the wifi only version right now anyway. I guess you just have to take your chances. It is sad about Borders though.

  13. My hubby bought me an eReader for Christmas and he decided on a Sony Reader. I love that it supports several formats and that I’m not limited to purchasing from Sony. I can even get library books!!! I didn’t consider what would happen if Sony ever shut it’s eReader dept. down, but it is a noodle scratcher!

    • It wouldhave beennice to be able to get library books on my Kindle. I didn’t think of that before I got one. I wouldn’t say I made an impulse purchase but I obviously didn’t compare devices very well.

    • My husband chose the Sony for me, too–his main reason being the ability to check out library books, as I am an avid library fan.
      That was my main reason for not considering eReaders initially, that I don’t buy a lot of books unless I really want to keep them–I’m a library junkie!

      ~

  14. Love your ipad comment, I feel the same way but for slightly different reasons. I have an iphone and can’t stand the keyboard for typoing, I never email from my phone because I’m a one finger typer! I like a keyboard. I have a netbook so problem solved… for a while.

    I have the Nook and I believe the Wi-FI works like the wi-fi in my laptop, it’s not dependent on BN. I could be wrong but this is my understanding.

    I am dependent on BN for software upgrades though (they haven’t had one since I bought it last summer).

    So… question for you: don’t you feel like you are in front of a computer screen when reading your Kindle? I struggle with this, if only because it’s an electronic (no issues with the screen).

    • The e-ink technology on the Kindle really feels like a book. It does not feel like an electronic device at all.

      Sent from my BlackBerry

    • Wanted to second Ti’s comment, reading on the Kindle is nothing like reading on a backlite computer or iPhone screen. It’s actually so close to reading a book that people tend to freak out when I show it to them.

  15. I have to thank you for making this post. These days, I often wonder what drove people to choose the e-reading device they have. I don’t think most people gave their choice enough thought. The ad was good, and everyone else was getting one. How much thought have they given to the reality of brick and mortar stores going out of business. I work in a brick and mortar store and love my job. Never would I have predicted what is happening in the book industry today. I know customers still want to be able to come inside a real store and sit around and read “real” books; they want to drink coffee and use the stores to find titles to load their devices with. But they have given little thought to the reality of this situation. If they do not buy books, sooner than later, there will be no more places to enjoy what they enjoy now. And I must say that Amazon is benefiting totally from all the “real” stores. People come in an browse with paper and pen in hand, taking down titles as the see them. If it gets to the place where people no longer have this option, books in general will suffer tremendously. People are lazy or just don’t have the time to surf for new books online. It is very time consuming to say the least. And what of the people who chose to buy a reader from Amazon? They can only buy from Amazon online. They come in and window shop the stores and say “No thanks, I’ll order it on my Kindle, when asked if they can be helped.”

    Once again, thanks for the post.

    • I’m sure people don’t realize the impacttheir purchases have until it’s too late. If I visit a brick and mortar bookstore, and I see something I want, I buy it and I never feel guilty about it because I know how important that purchase is. It would irk me to work in a bookstore and have people tell me that they are “just browsing” only to buy it for their Kindle later. What’s happened to Borders breaks my heart.

  16. I love handling the paper version of books–the textures and smells. However, my eReader brings me a different kind of enjoyable reading experience. It lies flat so I can read whilst eating or typing or stirring, just to name one perk.
    As for the screen versus a computer screen, not even close in similarity. My Sony screen is matte, flat with zero glare, shine or even slick feeling whatsoever. I can clearly read the screen at any angle whatsoever as well as in sunshine or various lighting.

    • I totally agree… my ereader has allowed me to read more because of the ease with which I can hold it. I read while I cook too! It’s sort of filled in the gaps for me.

  17. e-books have been around in one format or another for 40 years now. Even with my kindle, I can convert books from other places to work, so I never had any fears of not having access to books. (I would say that half of the books on my kindle came from places other than Amazon)

    That being said, one of the multitude of reasons that I chose the Kindle over other readers was my confidence that they would be around for a while. The Sony was attractive too, but I felt that it was in Amazon’s best interest to keep up their library to serve the Kindle, where as it wasn’t necessarily the case for Sony.

  18. I am a lover of the physical book as well and it never even crossed my mind when buying our e-readers that the companies might go out of business. I just naively figured everyone loved books as much as we do! I have an ipad that belongs to my work, a kindle that is mine and one of my daughters has a Nook.

    I have the ipad bc I was given it. Period. I do like it as a reader…especially of magazines and newspapers, but I would much rather type on a laptop. My kindle is for reading…and reading only. There are no distractions at all and my eyes appreciate the soft screen. At night, however, you have to have a clip on light to see the screen…my husband complains that it’s like having a train light coming through the bedroom or having a miner’s hat on :/ Anyhoo, the Nook has the backlight as well and color…but it’s heavy to me. I have my Kindle and Ipad synced with my Blackberry so depending on the situation, I’m ready to read :) I hope that if one of these companies went belly up, I would be able to switch my content over?

    None of the devices, however, will ever replace the real live book to me.

    • My husband complains about my Kindle/Book Light combination at night too. I sort of don’t like it either because it’s the one time I have to deal with glare, but when a book is too good to put down, you learn to deal with it :) I wanted to add the Kindle reader to my Blackberry but my Curve is not compatible with the software.

  19. Ti, what a great post. There are a million posts out there about e-books, but I don’t think I have come across one that raises this topic. Several years ago I read an article about how data storage in general keeps moving to less and less stable platforms. From stone tablets to parchment to books to computer tapes, to floppies, to CDs, and so on. Hard to beat the stability of the printed word.

  20. Very interesting post Ti. I posted a link last Tuesday to an article found on The Guardian regarding HarperCollins restricting how many times a library will be allowed to loan an e-book to an e-reader! My personal feeling is that this whole world of electronic media has grown so fast that some of these issues were not anticipated a head of time. I have a Kindle 3, not a 2, and I don’t know how ours differ in all their capabilities, but I do there are are other sites you can get ebooks for a Kindle. I haven’t done it yet, but I think you download the book to your pc then load it onto the Kindle with your usb cord. Amazon is not in the picture what-so-ever in this kind of download. One site that offers these kind of downloads is Smash Words. Right now it offers mostly Indie authors, but who knows what or how all that might change in the future? Maybe if Amazon were to crash, there will be even more of these books site available? I view the e-reader market like I do the gaming market. We have 4 kids, with an age span between the oldest and youngest being 12 years. Do you know how many game systems we own? Oh my gosh–I have lost count. There will always be newer and better coming out–and I know that my Kindle 3 will be eclipsed by something “bigger and better” before I know it. I think it is just the nature of the beast that then the older generation devices lose technical support. I sure understand your frustration.
    *smiles*

  21. Until this post it never occurred to me that my Kindle might not be there for me. When did I become so naive? I think I’ve become so used to the digital world that I can’t imagine it not being there in some form. Amazon and the other companies certainly could go under. After all, they are just a business. In the case of the Kindle/Amazon, there are so many of them that I’m sure something else will step in to take over the Kindle side of the business. By the way, it was not all of the Borders who went belly up. The company is still in business and our store in Santa Rosa is still doing fine. They are just in Chapter 11. They are not dead yet.

  22. Very interesting discussion, Ti!

    I bought a nook last May because I wanted to avoid Amazon. When they deleted purchased “1984” and “Animal Farm” from users’ Kindles (June 2009), I knew I wanted to stay away from their technology.

    iPads were still new-ish and I didn’t have the big bucks to plunk down for one. The Sony was my preferred reader (because it wasn’t tied to a bookstore), but, the price of the nook won me over.

    I haven’t purchased many books for it, so I’m not alarmed at the thought of “what if B&N goes under?!”, but you raise an excellent point. Maybe these “unknowns” have driven me to subconsciously avoid adding to my e-book library (?!)

  23. interesting! i never considered amazon crashing and burning but if it did, i supposed i would frame my kindle in a shadow box frame and display it with my collection of other anachronistic devices (1950s typewriter, 1980s walkman, 1960s princess phone). Presto! Kindle as ART!

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