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Adventures in E-Book Shopping

by Wendy J. Woudstra   


I have read over one hundred books on my Palm PDA. On the other hand, I have purchased precisely zero ebooks for that device. Up until now I was quite content to read public domain ebooks from Project Gutenberg, and other free ebooks distributed in text format that I could easily convert to Palm Doc formats.

But after noticing that Barnes & Noble had stopped selling e-books, I began to think that perhaps I should throw some money at this new publishing segment lest it disappear entirely. After all, even though I haven't purchased any ebooks, I like the idea that I could if I wanted to.

I started out at PerfectBound.ca (the HarperCollins ebookstore), thinking that I might find the best buy at a Canadian e-book retailer. I did, in fact, find some good prices, and even a book I wanted to buy. I made it all the way to the checkout before I discovered that the store only accepts Visa. I only use MasterCard.

Not yet deterred, I found another Canadian e-book retailer in PerfectBound's link section and headed over to Campus eBookstore (http://www.campusebookstore.com). They did have the book I wanted to buy, but they had marked it up so much I was no longer interested.

If HarperCollins has an e-book marketplace, surely some of the other large publishing houses do as well, I thought, and so I discovered Random House's ContentLink website. Again, it didn't take me long to find a book I wanted to read at a price I was willing to pay, but on registering to use the site, I discovered to my dismay that they cannot serve non-US customers.

I decided to find a smaller publisher to see if smaller meant more ebook savvy. I Googled until I found a Taylor & Francis (http://www.ebookstore.tandf.co.uk/) ebookstore with US prices. I found a non-fiction title I was interested in for $7.50, but discovered it was only available for MobiPocket reader. I'm willing to pay for an ebook this time around, but there's no way I'm going to pay for the reader software too.

By this time I was getting discouraged. Had I decided to use a peer-to-peer program and steal a book or two, I could have downloaded a dozen and be halfway through the first by this time.

Still, I was determined that someone would get my money today. I found myself surfing through the great selection at FictionWise (www.fictionwise.com). They too missed out on my purchase because they sell in MobiPocket format.

Finally, I surfed over to Palm's ebook store, and found an ebook I wanted for under $8.00 USD (my self-imposed spending limit). I held my breath as I filled out the checkout information at PalmDigitalMedia.com. To my astonishment, the transaction went smoothly, and I'm syncing the new book to my PDA as I write this. Mission Successful!

What lessons are there to be learned from this shopping excursion? Ebook retailers and publishers MUST make it easier to to purchase ebooks in the reader's preferred format -- whatever that format may be. As long as it's easier to steal an ebook from a file sharing network than it is to buy it from a bookstore, the publishing industry will be in the same hot water as the recording industry has been for the last several years.