I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Informal e-reader library comparison

In the past, I’ve always recommended the Kindle over other e-ink readers, and buying Kindle books instead of iBooks on iOS, because Amazon had the biggest library of relevant titles and strongest content ecosystem.

But Amazon’s advantage is no longer as clear in my casual searching.

This isn’t anything like a formal study, so take this with a grain of salt. I think searches like this are the best way to decide which e-reader ecosystem to buy into: search for a bunch of things you might want to read, plus the last few books you bought, and see which platform has the best availability for you.

Here are some books, newspapers, and magazines I’ve searched for recently in the four biggest ebook stores, plus a few new and old bestsellers for some diversity:

Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs$16.99$16.99$16.99$16.99
Stephen King: On Writing$12.99$12.99$12.99$12.99
Nicholas Sparks: The Best of Me$12.99$12.99$12.99$12.99
Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex$9.99$9.99$9.99$9.99
David Simon: Homicide$9.99$9.99$9.99$9.99
Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore$11.99$11.99$11.99$11.99
George Carlin: Last Words$9.99$9.99$9.99$9.99
Thomas Sowell: Basic Economics (4th Ed.)$17.68$31.96$28.79$19.99
Scott Berkun: Confessions of a Public Speaker$9.99$9.99$16.39$19.99
Michael Lopp: Being Geek$9.99$9.99$16.39X
Steve Hagen: Buddhism Plain and Simple$9.99$9.99XX
Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin: TwitteratureXX$10.99$10.99
Don Norman: Living with Complexity$14.72XXX

(Prices in yellow are noticeably higher than the others.)

Kobo and iBooks both appear to suffer with back-catalog and niche-publisher availability, and Kobo often has higher pricing on the less popular titles, but availability and pricing of current popular titles is even across the board.

I’m particularly impressed by Kobo here: they’re much bigger than I expected.

Periodicals are a little different, since iBooks doesn’t include them directly: they must have iOS apps. Assuming that most people don’t consider the iPhone an e-reader, I limited this to iPad apps.

All periodical prices are the per-month subscription price. Where a monthly subscription wasn’t available, I used the smallest time increment available above single issues and divided accordingly:

 KindleNookKoboiPad app
The New York Times$19.98$19.99$19.99$19.99
The Wall Street Journal$14.99$14.99$14.99$17.29
The Los Angeles Times$9.99$9.99Xfree
The Columbus Dispatch$6.99$6.99$6.99$28.99
The New Yorker$2.99$2.99X$5.99
The Economist$9.99$10.49X$13.33
The Atlantic$1.99$1.99X$1.83
The Nation$1.99$1.99$1.99$1.99
Car and DriverX$0.99X$1.99
Reader’s Digest$1.49$1.49X$1.99

Kobo suffered badly here: its periodical selection is very poor. (This is it.)

Kindle and Nook both did very well. I’m impressed with how much the Nook periodical selection has improved since my Nook Simple Touch review — at the time, the selection was very sad, but now it seems competitive with the Kindle’s.

Magazines that are mostly graphical or richly formatted, such as Martha Stewart’s Living, are better on tablets, not e-ink readers. I didn’t include them here, but if you primarily read them, you probably want an iPad or a Nook Color.

The newspaper and magazine experience on the iPad is very different from traditional e-readers, since they’re all individual apps instead of being built into the system reading environment. This can be good and bad: some of these publications, like the L.A. Times, TIME, Newsweek, and The Atlantic, have pretty poor iPad apps. Others, like The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Economist, are much better experiences than any other e-reader provides.

The iPad’s color screen helps periodicals a lot, but the Nook Color and upcoming Kindle Fire have color screens, too. What helps most is the iPad’s fast and responsive navigation and interaction, and the highly advanced software components that the magazine apps can all easily use. You can read books well on any e-reader, but periodicals truly shine on the iPad. (And if your favorite periodical isn’t available, you can always go to their website — an option not usually present and usable on e-readers.)

If you’re going to primarily read periodicals, get the iPad. If you’re going to read books, all of these platforms look like safe options.

The Kindle still looks like the best ecosystem for the titles I searched for, but just barely — its advantage is much smaller than it used to be.