A comparison of eBook ecosystems for academics

Over the last month, I’ve struggled with my choice of eBook ecosystem. I’ve found that the price of academic eBooks on Amazon has increased to the point where eBooks aren’t really always cheaper than print books (Diffusion of Innovations 5th Edition by Rogers was my first example of this). However, I prefer eBooks to print books most of the time. eBooks that allow me to highlight and copy highlighted text work well with my system for keeping track of my readings (I’ll post a follow-up on my full eBook workflow sometime soon). So, when I noticed the high price in Amazon books, I did a little investigation.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been looking at three eBooks – Diffusion of Innovations 5th Ed. by Rogers, Actor-Network Theory in Education by Fenwick & Edwards, and Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching and learning in the professions by Schon.

Here is the price comparison:

Title Amazon (Kindle) Chapters (Kobo) Google Books
Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed) $35.11 USD $29.99 CAD $29.99 CAD
Actor-Network Theory in Education $17.23 USD $29.99 CAD $31.16 CAD
Educating the Reflective Practitioner $24.29 USD Not available Not available

Note that Google Books and Chapters are sold in Canada, and therefore HST (13%) is added to the selling price, this is something I didn’t realize until I purchased a book from Kobo. Amazon Kindle books are sold in American dollars, so no additional tax is charged (at least for those of us purchasing from Canada).

Now, even more important that the price (yes, there is something more important that price), is the usability of the eBooks. I read eBooks on my iPad and my Android phone. I’ve now tried (or at least tried to try, highlighting eBooks using the iPad apps for Kobo, Google, and Kindle.

I tried a non-academic book from Kobo and discovered that it doesn’t share your current page properly across devices, which meant that when I opened the book on my phone, I lost my place in the book (it reset to the page to the beginning) – but worse, when I opened the book on my iPad after having it open on my phone, it change the page back to the page that I last had open on my phone (without prompting me), such that I lost my page on both devices! Add to it, that the pages flip when you touch the side of the screen – that is you don’t need a “flip” gesture to change pages, but this meant anytime I put the iPad down, I often accidently flipped pages. The final straw is the inability to do anything useful with highlighted text. Sure, I can access the highlights within Kobo (at least theoretically, the user interface isn’t exactly intuitive), and I can share highlights with my Facebook friends (poor them!), but it doesn’t let me cut-and-paste highlighted text into Mendeley, which is the one thing I really need to do!

I tried highlighting with a free Google book on my iPad, using the Google Books app, but it didn’t let me highlight. That makes it pretty much useless to me.

That brought me right back to Kindle. I had thought that the prices were better elsewhere, but my analysis using the three books in the above chart indicates that Amazon is actually competitive, and has more books. What Kindle also does well (or at least good enough) is highlighting. I can highlight as I read my books, and the go to http://kindle.amazon.com and log in to view my highlights (note that this is NOT the same place you go to delivery your books to different devices – which would be the Kindle store). From there, I can copy-and-paste the highlighted text into Mendeley. One other feature that I like about Kindle highlighting is that I can see “popular highlights” for books – so if a particular passage is highlighted by several other Kindle users, it is underlined in my version (you can disable this feature if you don’t want it – but I find it useful).

I have a different strategy for margin notes – since the app doesn’t let me take margin notes, I use a notepad app and just write my notes there and email them to myself. Not exactly elegant, but better than nothing.

So, for now, Kindle is where I’ll be making my eBook purchases.

One response

  1. Eric Pool Avatar
    Eric Pool

    I am also a doctoral student and use eBooks.  I agree with your findings, however, I would add if you can find the book on iBooks the functionality is better than Kindle.  That being said I only use Apple products (iPad, iPhone, and MacBook) so integration is not an issue.

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