Apres Kindle Le Deluge. A Guide for the Perplexed

Scorecard here! Can’t tell yer e-book readers without a scorecard!

That seems to be the consensus of bloggers covering the recent Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas. Inspired by the success of the Kindle, Sony eReader, and Nook, a host of would-be Kindle-killers and Nookslayers has flooded the marketplace with lookalikes, playalikes and costalikes. Consumers who’ve been sitting on the sidelines waiting for a second generation of e-readers are now shaking their heads in confusion. Huffington Post has produced a handy-dandy guide for the perplexed with photos and thumbnail descriptions of each device. Just click here, then go the red navigation bar and click “Next” to view a complete array of current e-book reader choices. It may answer your questions. Or it may leave you as mixed up as ever.

So…with so many gadgets to choose among and factors to compare, is there a simple single decisive criterion to guide us home? In fact there is: Content. All things being more or less equal, you can’t go too wrong selecting a reader with a rich library or store of books, magazines, newspapers and other publications.

A case in point is a device displayed at the Consumer Electronic Show called the Skiff Reader. Dan Nosowitz, Gizmodo’s reviewer, gave it high marks for beauty, slimness, weight, screen size and functionality: “I just got a chance to play with the big-screened, touchscreened Skiff Reader, which is targeted at periodicals. It’s incredibly thin, incredibly light, and they’ve even got a color screen prototype—Kindle and Nook should be scared.”

They should be scared but they won’t be for one simple reason: Skiff does not have a store or library of content behind it. “Kindle and Nook waltzed into this world with massive and well-known stores behind them,” says Gizmodo, “and the Skiff is creating one from scratch. They’ve got a lot of publishers behind them, but the store right now is pretty bare. Of course, since it’s not out yet, this may all be a moot point—but I wonder if their scrappy little store can compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wilson Rothman, blogging for Gawker, states the case for content even more bluntly in a posting titled There Are Officially Too Many E-Book Readers. A lot of consumers, he writes, “will buy some $100 reader, then wonder why they can’t borrow books from their friend who has a Nook, or can’t get the same stuff that’s sold on the Kindle.”

Rothman also raises a very important point: if the new breed of cheap e-book readers doesn’t carry legitimate content, customers might turn to file-sharing pirates for it. “Cheap e-ink readers will essentially be targeted at people with libraries of pirated books,” he says.

What’s a consumer to do? Rothman seems to be urging us to wait a little longer until full color, multitouch tablets reach the marketplace. “E-ink is an interim technology, a stopgap measure to keep our attention till we have full-color video tablets (slates?) whose batteries last for ‘days’.”

Rothman’s bottom line? “Go Kindle, wait for a cheap-as-hell reader, pray for a slate, or buy a book. A real paper-and-ink book.

Richard Curtis

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