As context, I've recently dusted off my original Nook e-reader, and have been trying to get as much of my e-book library on to it as possible. At the same time, I've been researching new e-readers because there have been a number of technology improvements since the release of the first edition Nook.
E-booksMy e-book purchases have come from a number of retailers:
- Pragmatic Programmers
- Manning Publications
- O'Reilly Books
- Barnes & Noble Nook store
- Google Play books
- Amazon Kindle books
Of course, the name of the game with e-books these days is DRM: some distributors apply strong DRM, some weak DRM, and some none.
Both Kindle and Nook e-books are useless except within their ecosystem.
Kindle books can be downloaded with a "Download & transfer via USB" option, but the AZW3 file is encrypted to a specific device. I see references that this wasn't always the case, but that was my experience.
Nook no longer offers a download option at all; books must be delivered via the cloud to their devices and mobile apps. I saw references to a Nook Study desktop app but couldn't locate a site to download it. I had also previously downloaded EPUB files, but Adobe Digital Editions asks for a username and "unlock code" to decrypt those. I see references online that the credentials are tied to the credit card used for the purchase (username is the name on the card, unlock code is the credit card number itself), but there's no way I have that information for books I purchased 6 years ago.
Google Play purchases have some books with DRM, but so far I've been able to open those in Adobe Digital Editions without trouble. I'll explain below, but if I can open it in ADE, I can remove the DRM and read the book on whatever device I please.
Other retailers generally don't use strong DRM. Pragmatic Programmers has a unique scheme where their books are completely DRM-free, but are generated with the purchaser's name and email address embedded in the content.
E-book library management
In this quest to organize everything, I ran across Calibre, and hands down it's the tool I always wanted for this sort of thing. It can track books across multiple retailers, filter by author, publisher, fetch metadata, import and organize vast unorganized collections of files, track one entry for multiple file formats; it's a lot like Plex for video media. Calibre will even convert between file formats, removing one of my big concerns about devices: the fact that Kindle doesn't support EPUB.
The one thing Calibre doesn't do out of the box is anything concerning DRM, but luckily there's a plugin by Apprentice Alf and Apprentice Harper that will read DRM files and when possible, remove it. Note: I paid for the content. I didn't get it from a pirate, and I'm not giving it to pirates. The author and publisher got their cut, so I feel no remorse in breaking DRM implemented by retailers trying to lock me into their ecosystem. Apprentice Alf's DeDRM Tools will remove any DRM if Adobe Digital Editions can decrypt it, but as noted earlier, I haven't found a way for ADE to access Nook or Kindle purchases, at least not yet.
In considering a new e-reader, I was at first committed to staying with Nook, primarily because of their EPUB compatibility and a bit of brand loyalty. However, Kindle's devices seem superior in terms of polish and variety of selection. With Calibre, EPUB compatibility is less of a problem since it's straightforward to convert to MOBI. And since Nook has locked down their walled garden, I'm less inclined by brand loyalty. I can look at Kobo as well, but really, Kindle's the big show.
Which retailer for the future?
After all of this research and testing, the other thing I have to decide is, given a choice, which e-book retailer should I prefer?
With e-books in particular, I feel like the freedom to move around should be a given; it seems like there should be fewer excuses for brand lock-in than any other type of media. For that reason, I'm less inclined to purchase books from Kindle or Nook. Sure, there's a bit of convenience from cloud delivery and last-read-page syncing or sharing/lending options, but it's not worth being stuck in a walled garden. However, if push comes to shove and I really want to purchase a recent, popular title, I think I prefer Kindle's current household sharing model; it's light years ahead of Nook's one-off lending feature.
In the end, I don't know if I'll stick by my guns and prefer Google Play books, or get comfortable with the walled garden and switch to Kindle books.
2018-04-04: I had luck today using Kindle for PC in conjunction with DeDRM Tools, so Kindle books appear to be a reasonable purchase right now. On the other hand, DRM is a game of cat and mouse, so I'll probably still lean toward more permissive retailers (Google Play Books) when possible.