Sony Pocket Edition Discount Heads-Up

Today at Woot: refurbished Sony Pocket Edition ereaders for $115 including shipping. That is one helluva deal. The Pocket Edition is one of our recommended ereaders for book readers (as opposed to magazine or newspaper readers). More info in our ereader comparison.

If you were considering a Kobo, think seriously about this instead. Basic-model ereaders are more or less interchangeable, and Sony supports Adobe ePub, which means you can borrow library ebooks through your local library (Kobo supports Adobe, too—the difference is 35 bucks). Sony software is a headache, but if you’re reading books and loading up only once a month or so, it’s not so bad. And $115 is a great price.

Macmillan eBooks Still Available At Sony’s Reader Store For $9.99

[UPDATE: Amazon gave in, and will sell Macmillan books via the “agency model” Macmillan laid out. Which means Macmillan ebooks will cost $13-$15, even at Amazon. I’m putting the over/under on the date of Amazon’s next major Kindle screw-up at March 15.]

So Amazon has barred all Macmillan books (print and digital) from its U.S. website after the publisher insolently disagreed with Amazon’s stringent pricing policies. Macmillan asked for either a different pricing structure or “windowing,” i.e. delayed ebook releases (Macmillan CEO John Sargent claims Amazon will make more money, and Macmillan will make less under the new structure, which confuses me). Amazon responded with the Macmillan ban.

You can still find Macmillan books at the Sony Reader Store, however, and you can find many selling for the $9.99 price point that started all this. I’m assuming either higher Macmillan prices or windowing is coming to Sony, but at least you can buy the books.

For the record, I think the entire hardcover pricing system is greedy and predatory; it’s essentially publishers milking their biggest fans’ excitement to make a few extra bucks. I think Macmillan’s making a big mistake in trying to preserve hardcover pricing, and refusing to fully embrace ebooks.

However, this Amazon move is thuggery of the first order, and it doesn’t feel like the stalemate will be resolved very quickly [UPDATE: Or maybe it will, what do I know] (or that it will be the last of its kind). The Macmillan ban combined with Amazon’s continued refusal to allow library ebooks on the Kindle makes one thing clear: Kindle is simply not the best ereader for book readers. If you read mostly books, get a Sony Reader or an Astak Pocket Pro. If you read mostly newspapers or magazines, get an iPad. [UPDATE: Amazon’s cave-in brings the Kindle back to the realm of relevancy for book readers. But it still comes with too many questionable corporate decisions for my taste.]

I’m just not sure who the Kindle is for.

[More Macmillan/Amazon analysis by Edward Champion, E-Reads, Ars Technica, and the Guardian.]

iPad Reaction: In Which Apple Eats Plastic Logic’s Lunch, Glares Menacingly At Spring Design

[UPDATE: It’s confirmed that the iPad won’t be compatible with Adobe ePub books. That means no library books, and it takes a lot of the shine off the new iBooks. For some reason, Apple hates Adobe, and Adobe hates them back.]

A few short weeks ago, the Plastic Logic QUE ($650 WiFi/$800 3G) and the Spring Design Alex ($400 [EDIT--the Alex is now $360, I missed that]) debuted at CES, and immediately crushed my interest in them with exorbitant price points.

Today, Apple unveiled their new tablet computer, the “iPad,” (Gizmodo’s full coverage here) and made the QUE entirely irrelevant. The iPad is cheaper ($500 WiFi/$630 3G), faster, and more functional than the QUE, and it will actually be available earlier.

Not only does the iPad have a new, Apple-branded ereading program (iBooks), it can do video, internet, maps, and everything else that an iPhone can, on a grander scale. The only advantages the QUE has left are its ability to hand-write notes, and its E-Ink screen which makes for less eye strain and longer battery life. Still, the iPad has ten hours of battery life, so that last point is moot.

Basically, this spells doom for the $650 QUE, and if you were thinking about getting the Alex for $400 $360, or (God forbid) a $490 Kindle DX, how can you not scrape up a little extra for an iPad instead?

The iPad’s debut highlights the folly of “luxury” ereaders like the QUE and the Alex, which have gone in the wrong direction, trying to have an ereader that’s half laptop, with a price tag to match. Simple, affordable ereaders like the Kindle, Astak Pocket Pro, and Sony Pocket Edition are the only ones worth looking at now, at least until the Alex’s price drops by $150.

A few more tidbits, and links to more iPad coverage, after the jump.
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CES eReader Reaction: In Which My Excitement For the Alex and the QUE Is Crushed By Outrageous Price Points

So CES officially opened today and, sure enough, prices were announced for the Spring Design Alex and the Plastic Logic QUE. Up until today, I would’ve classified the Alex and the QUE as the two most exciting new ereaders. Then I saw how they’ll cost: The Alex is going for $399, and the QUE is $649 with WiFi, $800 (!!?) with 3G.

Yesterday, I guessed that the Alex would go for $350, and the QUE for $500. I considered those conservative estimates; i.e., I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. Eesh, was I ever wrong.

The big takeaway from these price announcements is simply that ereader manufacturers don’t care about the casual reader. These devices are getting more expensive, not less, and that’s not a trend that’s going to steal the Kindle’s thunder anytime soon.

But there’s more to glean from six digits and a couple dollar signs.

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Hands-On with the Sony Reader Pocket Edition

For nearly a year now, I’ve used a PRS-505, and I’ve recommended it without reservation for those who want to casually read books (i.e. won’t need to take notes) and don’t read newspapers. It has the best build quality and the best interface of any ereader I’ve used, and the most logical feature set for book readers.

So how does the newer PRS-300, Pocket Edition, stack up? Some critics have said the 300 is stripped down—it doesn’t have many of the extra features of ereaders like the Kindle.

Well, I got one for Christmas for my sister (and got a deal on it—TeleRead also found this deal), and after getting a chance to play around with it, I can tell you it’s every bit as good as the PRS-505 and might actually be better.

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Wednesday Links: 12-23-09

We’ll have some Christmas reading recos tomorrow, and then we’ll be back on the 28th with a new installment of our Best Books 2009 series.

In the meantime, here’s an extra-long installment of news about books and ebooks from around the web.

  • OverDrive released an Android audiobook app Monday (via). You can get it here. I’ve tried it, and it’s awesome. You can download mp3 audiobooks from you local library straight to your phone. Once you have the app installed, just check out the book from your library on your phone’s browser, and OverDrive automatically loads it. You can then download the audiobook in parts. Transferring audiobooks from your computer isn’t supported with Android devices (at least, on Macs)—it goes through iTunes for some reason—but it’s not necessary. This is still in beta, but I didn’t get so much as a hiccup in my few days using it. The Android app only works with mp3s—no WMA books (sadly, since the vast majority are WMAs, for now)—and an OverDrive smartphone app is also available for Windows Mobile.
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook is turning out to be more popular than they’d expected. More news of shipping delays has surfaced, along with customer service snafus. Although, if you don’t get your Nook by Christmas, you get $100, so things could be worse. Meanwhile, switch11 at the Kindle Review has posted a quick hands-on comparison of the Nook and the Kindle. If you can’t guess from the title of his blog, switch11 leans heavily toward the Kindle in ereader comparisons; however, he seemed to like the Nook, especially for its clearer font. Personally, the features and mixed reviews of the Nook, combined with the hamfistedness of its rollout, have me more excited for Spring Design’s Alex ereader, which—so far—seems a lot like the Nook, only better. Maybe this update will help. (Update: it didn’t help much.)
  • Macworld has reviewed seven major ereadersfind the roundup here. Surprisingly, their favorite was the Sony PRS-600, the Touch. They dinged the PRS-300—which you can get extra-cheap these days if you’re a student or teacher—for not having a dictionary or image support. If you don’t care about those things and you read mostly novels, the 300′s your best bet, in my opinion. Macworld finds the Kindle’s controls kludgy, and while whispernet’s great, you’re going to be spending most of your time reading, not downloading books.
  • Here’s a couple of anti-DRM pieces. One by Cory Doctorow (via), one by switch11 (see above). Also, David Pogue’s DRM experiment has found (unscientifically) that lack of DRM has no effect on sales. And, the scary Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement threatens to be a DMCA for the whole world (that’s bad).

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Wednesday Links 12-16-2009

Before we get to the links, a little site promotion: I was Christmas shopping for books today and I wanted to get a mystery novel for my grandfather. Where did I look? Why the C4 Book Reviews section of course. Give it another peek, maybe you’ll find some gift ideas of your own. Also, check out our Best Books of 2009 feature, which will be updated Mondays through January. Well, enough of that…

Sony’s eBook Library (Excuse Me, “Reader Library”) 3.1 Software: Are We Making Progress?

There hasn’t been much love lost between me and Sony’s ereader software—I wasn’t a fan, to put it lightly, of the original eBook Library for Windows or the more recent Mac version. Last Friday, Sony came out with a new version, 3.1, for both Mac and Windows. To commemorate the new software and the accompanying switch away from their old proprietary format and toward the more open Adobe ePub (DRMed), they’ve renamed their online store the “Reader Store,” and the eBook Library software has become “Reader Library,” and they’ve partnered with Borders for some reason. So far, so… meaningless.

So how does the rest of Reader Library 3.1 stack up to its forebears? The question isn’t “Is it good?”—I’ve given up on good software from Sony—the question is “Is it… like, a little bit better? Like maybe not crashing quite so much?”

The answer is surprising: the Sony software is more usable than ever. It’s nobody’s dream, but it no longer inspires nightmares.

The following brief review applies to the Mac version of the software, but Sony’s a Windows company, so presumably the Windows version is at least as good, if not better.
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Upcoming and Rumored eReaders

(You might have seen the outline for this post pop up in your RSS feed last week; my apologies for the oversight.)

A couple of weeks ago, I summarized new and recent ereader additions. This week, let’s look forward at some upcoming devices. If there’s a trend emerging, it’s that touchscreens and 3G access are quickly becoming standard features, which is great news.

A quick note before we start: take the information here with a grain of salt. I’ve tried to cite my sources when possible, but even cited information should be considered rumor until these devices actually come out.

The Plastic Logic Whatzamawhoozit

Even though it doesn’t have a name yet, this is the device I’m most excited about. Even the earliest videos of the PL in action (this one was posted a year ago) showed a slick touchscreen with no contrast compromise and a sleek form factor.

Barnes & Noble hopped on as the primary book provider, and AT&T’s involvement combined with the large screen suggests newspapers will be a big target.

It’ll be crucial to see exactly how the touchscreen works. Is it fast? Is the contrast still as good as it looks? Can you write freehand on it? If this video features the same screen used in the ereader, it looks pretty much unbreakable, so that’s nice.

The other big question is price. Some have reported that the PL will be competitive with the Kindle, which we’re hoping means a $300 price point. Realistically, I think that’s a little too good to be true. I’m guessing closer to $500, but I’d be happy to be wrong. I also heard a rumor about a smaller size somewhere, but I can’t find any evidence of that now.

Last, B&N is reportedly developing “their own flavor” of ePub for the PL. I’m not sure why. Incompatibility kind of defeats the purpose of using a universal file format.

Sign up for Plastic Logic updates at their website.

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Sony eBook Library 3.0 on Mac: Doesn’t Support Adobe Digital Editions, May Be Worse Than Ever

[UPDATE: In my reliance on Adobe Digital Editions, I overlooked the fact that Sony EBL nows does the Adobe DRM internally, so you will be able to use library ebooks and ebooks from non-Sony stores with your Mac-based Reader. That was my oversight, and I apologize for it.

There’s one little annoyance left: you’ll have to find a Windows machine and register your Reader with Adobe on it, and then you’ll need to install ADE along with eBook Library on your Mac. A helpful TeleRead commenter has posted a step-by-step guide on what to do. I’ve revised the post below to reflect this information.

Also, a commenter mentioned below that these steps aren’t necessary with the PRS-600 armed with a new firmware (I was using a PRS-505 for this test). I’m still trying to get Sony to specify what’s needed by which devices.]

When I first got my Sony Reader, I used Sony’s eBook Library software on my old laptop running Windows 7. The results were not good. In fact, it was pretty much unusable; in fact, the best part about eBook Library was how unnecessary it was to the Sony Reader. I introduced my Reader to Adobe Digital Editions and never look back.

In the 8 months between then and now, I’ve switched to a Mac laptop, and Sony’s had plenty of time to improve their software and finally, finally make a Mac version. So my first question is this: is it better? My second, more realistic question: is it even usable?

The short answers are no, and not really barely. Even worse, Adobe Digital Editions doesn’t recognize the Reader, so Sony’s newly hyped library ebooks won’t work on Macs. The long and the short of it is that Mac users should think long and hard about getting a Reader. so you’ll need to find a Windows machine to register your Reader with Adobe, and then you’ll need to install ADE on your Mac, even though you’ll never use it (a helpful TeleRead commenter has a step-by-step guide here). The long and the short of it is that Sony clearly doesn’t like Macs, but if you can put up with some hassle and confusion (as you can tell, this system confused me to no end), you can indeed get ebooks on your Reader through a Mac.

Let’s get into the details.

Library eBook support: B

Adobe Digital Editions, which enables the DRM on PDF and ePub library ebooks, doesn’t recognize the Reader at all. This isn’t a bug, or an oversight; this is a known issue, as Adobe said when I started a support thread on it.

This is slightly shocking, seeing as library ebook support was the issue of the day at Sony’s big announcement Tuesday. You’d think they’d at least mention somewhere that it won’t be available on Macs.

It also means that Sony’s vaunted content “relationships” are unavailable for Mac users. Without ADE, you can’t buy books from any store but Sony’s.

What Sony’s done instead is allow their eBook Library software to open and work with Adobe DRMed ebooks. But you’ll still to install ADE on your Mac to register your computer with your Adobe account and enable EBL to use Adobe DRM. And you’ll need to register your Reader with Adobe on a Windows machine before you can use it on your Mac. Sound confusing? It is.

[UPDATE: Once again, a commenter mentioned below that these steps aren’t necessary with the PRS-600 (or presumably the 300) armed with a new firmware (I was using a PRS-505 for this test). I’m still trying to get Sony to specify what’s needed by which devices.]

Stability: F

EBL for Mac crashes. A lot. Like half a dozen times in just my first session using it. I’ve never used a Mac program that crashes this much―granted I’m relatively new to Macs, but I’ve still tried at least 100 programs.

Also, if you use Camino and you click the download link directly from Sony’s page, it tries to open the .dmg file in a browser window and crashes Camino. It works in Safari, but that wasn’t a good introduction to the program.

It doesn’t get much better from here.
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