E-reader and tablet prices are getting amazingly low

If you’re looking for a cheap device on which to read those cheap e-books Amazon and others have on sale today, and $50 is still too much for you to pay, Amazon has a couple of used 7” Fire tablets available for about $30 each, with free Prime shipping. One of the least expensive e-readers you can get can now be had for even less. And a used Fire HD 6 can be had for about the same $50 price as a new 7” (or you can get a new one for just $20 more). And those are far from the only used Amazon devices available. (Add $20 to these prices to get rid of Special Offers, of course.) I don’t think these are one-day rates like the e-book listings, but they’re listed under the same “Gold Box deals” section.

When you get right down to it, Amazon has some great used and refurb deals even on its own competitors, such as the Nook Glowlight deal I mentioned yesterday. There are plenty of deals on Kobo readers, too—a $35 used N905, a $34 used Kobo Mini. I suppose it makes sense, since Borders isn’t around to sell them anymore. And I’ve discussed all the cheap non-Fire Android tablets you can find there in another post, though not all of them are necessarily any good.

There are plenty of other sources for cheap tablets, too. Groupon puts the Nexus 7 on sale from time to time. Ebay has some good prices on used kit, though you have to be careful and read the descriptions closely. Surplus and salvage places like GearXS have possible bargains, though they’re another caveat emptor case. Wal-Mart, Fry’s Electronics, Best Buy—there are lots of possibilities.

It honestly amazes me when I look at these prices just how cheap e-reader and tablet technology has gotten in just a few years. Even leaving aside all the off-brand and competitor stuff available, a $30 used Fire tablet might not be much of a tablet compared to more expensive Android devices, especially when you take into account the annoying restrictions on what software you can run. But it’s still a major-brand-name product that I’ve found to be pretty reliable.

It can still access the Internet, send or receive email, socially network, and so on. And, of course, it can read plenty of e-books and other material. (More so if you finagle the Google Play applications onto it.) Is an end to the digital divide just around the corner?

The post E-reader and tablet prices are getting amazingly low appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

Original URL: http://www.teleread.com/e-reader-and-tablet-prices-are-getting-amazingly-low/

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Barnes & Noble, Kobo shut down their web e-reading apps

html5When I was going through my hassle with Barnes & Noble over its “stealing” (and then eventually returning) the first e-book I ever bought, one thing I noticed (and that briefly contributed to confusion while I was discussing the matter with tech support) is that Barnes & Noble no longer seems to offer any way to let you read your e-books online.

I didn’t think any more of it than that at the time—just another brick in the wall of how Barnes & Noble was failing at e-books—but Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader suggests it might be part of a larger trend. It turns out that both Barnes & Noble and Kobo have shut down their HTML5 e-reader apps.

We reported on Kobo’s development of an HTML5 app back in 2011. These apps were developed in response to Apple’s demands for a chunk of revenue from any media sales made on their platform. If Apple wouldn’t let them sell e-books natively, a web app might work just as well without having to go through that platform directly. But now both Barnes & Noble and Kobo have closed those apps down. Perhaps people just weren’t using them anymore?

With the departure of other web e-book apps such as Ibis Reader, the number of e-reading-via-the-web solutions has been declining. As Nate points out, the only major companies still offering web-based e-reading apps are Google Play, Amazon, and Overdrive.

On a related note, it’s an interesting experience looking at Amazon’s iOS Kindle app. There’s basically no way to buy a book in it, nor is there even a link to Amazon’s web store. There is a tab that lets you browse the selection of Kindle Unlimited titles available, though. Perhaps Kindle Unlimited has proven to be an even better way of getting around Apple’s purchase restrictions than a web-based reader—though Amazon is one of few who still has one of those, all the same.

The post Barnes & Noble, Kobo shut down their web e-reading apps appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

Original URL: http://www.teleread.com/barnes-noble-kobo-shut-down-their-web-e-reading-apps/

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Windows 10 e-reader app review: Nook reader

nook-starting-screenGiven that we’re now in the age of Windows 10, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the Nook universal Windows app. The last time I reviewed the Nook e-reader apps was all the way back in 2011, and a remarkable amount has changed since then.

I’ve had mixed luck with Barnes & Noble’s e-books through the years, but I used to be a regular customer—early on I figured I might as well keep buying from Nook, since it already had (most of) the books I’d bought from eReader and Fictionwise. As a result, I still have nearly 200 titles in my Barnes & Noble library, and I might as well be able to keep reading them.

Downloading the app is simple enough: just click or tap on the Windows logo shopping bag on your status bar to open the Windows Store, then type “Nook” in the search box and it pops right up. (It calls itself “Nook for Windows 8 v1.9,” but it works just fine on Windows 10.) Downloading and installing it is just as simple as installing any Windows universal app.

As with any universal Windows app, Nook will work with both PCs and Windows mobile devices, though since I don’t have a Windows mobile device I can only review how it looks on my desktop.

Launching the app brings up a multi-paned page with access to your library, or you can scroll the screen to the right (with your finger, or your mouse scroll wheel) to access several panes of Nook Store shopping options. Clicking on the title to any of these panes drills down into another screen with more options. For example, clicking on “My Library: View All” opens a broader view of your library, where you can click on “All,” “Books,” or “My Files” to view different sections. You can also sideload your own EPUB files from directories on your computer.

nook-textOnce you’ve chosen a book, it opens up a view of the text. You can page forward and back using the scroll wheel, or right-click on it to bring up the menu bars with options to access various bookmarking, annotation, or formatting functions. You can also left-click on words to highlight or annotate them. If you compare the photo here to the ones of the old PC app in my earlier review, you’ll note it looks a lot more polished by comparison. It might not be Google’s Material Design, but it nonetheless does look like it belongs in Windows 10.

nook-menu-barsOn a related note, it looks like I might owe the old Nook PC app an apology. In my earlier review, I complained that the Nook reader put blank lines between the paragraphs as well as the indentation—but now that I check again, I find the Young Wizards book I reviewed at the time still opens with the excess blank lines, whereas other books don’t. It turns out that was the fault of the e-book file, not the software itself.

nook-fontsThe formatting options available in the “Text” menu are pretty good. The menu is a lot more like those on mobile apps rather than Windows apps now—you no longer choose font size by point, but from a row of different-sized letters. There are options for line spacing, margin width, number of columns (from 1 to 4, or automatic based on font size), font, and theme. There aren’t too many fonts available, but it has my favorite reading font of “Georgia,” so I’m happy.

One area where the formatting options have backslid is that there is no longer any way to disable full justification, and there’s no automatic hyphenation. The books don’t look too bad on a desktop-sized screen all the same, though.

Turning pages is swift and responsive; the text slides left or right to move to the next or previous set of pages. The text find function is fast and snappy, too. I could see using this to read my Nook titles or my own EPUBs and not feeling too boxed-in by a lack of choices. In fact, it actually has more formatting options than the Adobe Digital Editions I normally use for reading EPUBs on my desktop—and unlike ADE, its user-interface gets out of the way when I don’t need it.

That said, it does have one more annoying aspect. The Nook app is full-screen-mode only. You can’t restore it down to take up only part of the screen, and you can’t move it from one monitor to another—not even using the shortcut of Windows key plus arrow that works on just about everything else. It remains stuck to your primary display. If you right-click at the top of the screen where the title bar should be to bring up the movement options, everything but “Minimize” and “Close” is greyed out.

There’s no particular reason why this should have to be the case. I’d guess it was because the app has to work on both tablets and desktops, but other Windows universal apps such as Netflix and Hulu restore down and move from screen to screen just fine. Maybe it’s because it’s a Windows 8 app rather than Windows 10?

Finally, it’s worth noting that this app will still let you get around Barnes & Noble’s annoying decision to disallow downloading its e-book files. Finding where it actually puts them took some doing. It turns out to keep them in the hidden directory C:Users[Username]appdatalocalpackagesBarnesNoble.Nook_ahnzqzva31encLocalState, and it names them by seemingly-random series of letters and numbers. (So if you’re looking for a specific one, you have to go by the date and time you downloaded it.) Also, if the titles had DRM on them on the Nook store, they’ll still have it after you download them. But if you have some reason for wanting to have access to those files all the same, well, there they are. (Just be sure not to do anything illegal with them!)

In the end, the Barnes & Noble Nook Windows app offers a reasonable EPUB-reading experience, especially if you’re one of the Fictionwise/eReader early adopters who ended up with titles in your Nook library that you never bought from Barnes & Noble. And given that it’s free, if you’re running Windows 10 you might as well install it and try it out. Some of the reviews on the Windows Store note it has problems running on Microsoft Surface tablets, but it works fine on the desktop for me.

The post Windows 10 e-reader app review: Nook reader appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

Original URL: http://www.teleread.com/windows-10-e-reader-app-review-nook-reader/

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What can you do with a first-gen iPad?


It’s tempting to scan that question to the sea chanty “What can you do with a drunken sailor?” When you get right down to it, a first-gen iPad is just about as useful as a drunken sailor.

I actually happen to have a first-gen iPad myself—sent to me in April, 2010, by NAPCO, shortly after they bought TeleRead. I’m just a couple weeks away from my six-year anniversary with the device, in fact.

Though I haven’t used the tablet regularly in a while, Nate Hoffelder reminded me of it the other day. He called my attention to a Washington Post story on the problems the government’s new Open eBooks program is running into in poorer school districts:

When librarian Jennifer Nelson arrives at the tiny library at Crewe Primary School each morning, she is confronted with a cart of first-generation iPads. The detritus of attempts to infuse technology into one of the poorest and most rural schools in Virginia, the tablets are hopelessly obsolete, worth little more than the cart on which they reside.

Is it really as bad as all that? I dug up my old iPad, plugged it in, and took another look.

By today’s standards, the first-generation iPad seems ridiculously clunky. That big old brushed-aluminum case is pretty heavy by comparison to the models that came after, but at the time there wasn’t anything like it to compare it to.

ibooks-fiveIt’s funny to consider in this era of cheap and plentiful Android tablets, but at the time this iPad came out, there wasn’t anything else in its league. Tablet-makers had tried for years to cram Windows, Linux, or whatever else they could fit into a tablet form factor, but the iPad was the first ever tablet that was actually any good. It was also the impetus for Apple and the Agency Five publishers to illegally impose agency pricing on Amazon—and, Steve Jobs expected, the key to a new Apple-driven domination of the e-book market.

I will admit, iBooks was one of the best EPUB readers I had ever used at the time, and it’s still pretty darned good by my lights. But Apple never did anything more with e-books than put a store of its own out there for iOS devices. It never pressed its advantage, nor did it even try to expand to other platforms. By now, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court declining to hear Apple’s appeal, the idea of Apple dominating the e-book market with this expensive tablet seems ridiculously quaint.

nook-dilemmaSix years on, the iPad still works. It has a decent display (though nothing on the order of Apple’s later Retina models) and it can still run apps and show videos. The fundamental problem with it is Apple’s usual planned obsolescence. The first-generation iPad never got any version of iOS later than iOS 6, whereas Apple’s current devices are up to iOS 9.

As I understand it, the iOS app development process is not built with backward compatibility in mind. Apple requires new apps to be submitted using the latest version of the iOS software development kit, which will only make apps compatible with current versions of iOS.

However, Apple did come out with a feature that lets devices running iOS 4 or later download the most recent compatible version of a given app. So, my first-gen iPad isn’t necessarily as useful as a more recent tablet, but it’s not entirely useless. It’s got a sort of zombie-like undead quality to it.

imageI can go to the iOS app store and download the most recent compatible version of any app that’s been around for a long time—e-reader apps like iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Kobo; social network apps like Facebook and Twitter, and so on.

The apps seem to work all right, for the most part. The Facebook app doesn’t have Facebook’s new emoticon reaction feature, but it still displays current Facebook posts just fine apart from that.

kindle-ipadAs for e-readers, I tested both Kindle and Nook, downloading e-books from my online libraries. The Kindle app doesn’t have the Bookerly font, but Georgia looks just fine and is perfectly readable. It doesn’t have X-Ray, either, but then, what do you really need that for anyway if you’re just interested in reading?

ibooks-mozartI checked out iBooks, too. It still reads sideloaded EPUBs as well as ever, and it will even download some of the fancy multimedia e-books from the iBooks store—the Beatles Yellow Submarine book, or that Mozart e-book I mentioned in December.

But that only goes so far. For apps that don’t have versions that old, such as Google Hangouts—or, apropos of that Washington post article, Open eBooks—you’re effectively out of luck. Likewise, if the cloud backend for the old app has changed enough that the old app no longer talks to the online version of the new app, you’re out of luck.

As far as I know there’s no way any new apps could be developed for an older version of iOS—as I already mentioned, they have to be developed using the latest SDK, which isn’t backward compatible. Hence, there will never be a version of Open eBooks that runs on iOS 6, so librarian Jennifer Nelson is out of luck in that respect.

But with as many older e-reading apps as still do work with it, she could find other uses for them. iBooks could still open EPUBs from Project Gutenberg, the Baen Free Library, or other free sources. The web browser could still access cloud-based resources like Wikipedia. They aren’t completely useless; they’d be a lot better than nothing, used properly.

And one aspect of the digital divide that Washington Post article didn’t mention is that, thanks to Android, there are now a lot of cheap device options for Open eBooks out there. As I mentioned earlier this month:

Speaking of cheap hardware, the Open eBooks app will absolutely install and run on both my $10 LG Sunrise Tracfone (no longer available for $10, unfortunately, though the Straight Talk variant of it is currently $20 on Walmart.com) and the $40 RCA Voyager II tablet. The Open eBooks app isn’t available on the Amazon Fire store, but I just checked my $50 Fire that I’d patched to include the Google Play store and it didn’t object to installing the app either. Of course, I can’t get any use out of the app without an access code, but it’s gratifying to know it would run on one of these cheap devices for kids who had one.

Open eBooks will run on devices that cost a tenth or even a fiftieth as much as a new iPad. They may not be very fancy or look very great, but they’ll absolutely work. Perhaps these low-income schools should look into ways of obtaining some inexpensive tablets and phones for such a use. They could apply for grants, run fund drives, ask for donations, and so on. Even a small amount of money would be sufficient to obtain a good number of cheap devices.

The post What can you do with a first-gen iPad? appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

Original URL: http://www.teleread.com/can-first-gen-ipad/

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Seeking Alpha contributor: Barnes & Noble not doomed after all

Barnes-NobleJust how much trouble is Barnes & Noble really in?

It seems to be in a good deal of it. We haven’t covered it that much lately on TeleRead, but Nate mentioned on The Digital Reader in the last couple of weeks that its revenues and losses were down last quarter, and that while it claims it’s still “considering” closing stores, it actually is closing stores.

But not so fast. An article on investor-advice site Seeking Alpha suggests that looks can be deceiving. The author, who goes by the handle “12 Quarters,” states that he is long on Barnes & Noble (that is to say, he invests in favor of B&N gaining rather than losing money), and proceeds to explain why. (The article is behind a free-registration wall, but I’ve found Seeking Alpha to be worth the registration.)

The explanation is a bit overfull of financial jargon, but given that it’s used mainly in supporting his contentions, you can get the gist from context without worrying too much about it. If there’s some term you want to know more about, I suggest checking a financial encyclopedia like Investopedia for definitions.

12 Quarters thinks that the profitability of the B&N stores is still very good. B&N has closed some of its weaker stores, which has served to cut into revenue, but it’s also increased its cash flow, which is what really matters. And 12 Quarters notes that the number of all brick and mortar bookstores has actually increased over the last 5 years, suggesting that people aren’t through with paper books just yet. This bodes well for B&N’s future, as it’s basically the only major nationwide bookstore chain left. Amazon might be king of the hill digitally, but B&N still has the real-world catbird seat.

The weaker part of the B&N business is the Nook division, which has been a money sink over the last few years. But B&N has been acting to rationalize that division—that is, reorganize it to increase efficiency and cut the money loss—with moves such as shifting Nook from a hardware to a software business and outsourcing it to third parties rather than try to make tablets itself. But 12 Quarters’s more interesting contention is still to come.

Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there is no reason to be in the e-book business at all.

For example, as mentioned previously, independent bookstores have been growing in recent years, and they don’t have digital platforms. Secondly, consumer research indicates that popularity of e-books peaked several years ago and has been trending down. People are simply over-screened, and they prefer a physical book during their leisure time.

I think Mr. or Ms. Quarters is oversimplifying the point here. It’s not that e-books’ popularity has been “trending down.” It’s that the amount of popularity they’re gaining has slowed. Their popularity isn’t increasing as fast as it was, but it’s still increasing. More people are still adopting e-books every day, it’s just that not as many more of them are doing so as before. Even if some publishers reported a percentage point or two decrease in e-book revenue last year, that doesn’t necessarily bespeak a downward trend. There’s certainly no sign that there’s a mass movement to give e-books up, which is what would be necessary for their popularity to “trend down” even if no new users were picking them up!

But we can let that pass. Whether more or fewer people are adopting e-books is largely beside the point, because if more of them are, most of them are doing it via Amazon, and Barnes & Noble’s best attempts to compete for e-book share with Amazon have obviously not been good enough. (And its weird decisions on matters like changing up its DRM and cutting off downloading and sideloading e-books haven’t helped.) So it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other, and we’ll cede 12 the points that the Nook division’s performance has been rotten so far, and people are still interested enough in paper books to come out to the paper bookstores.

It’s interesting to contrast this with Mike Shatzkin’s recent discussion of the problems with Barnes & Noble and the Nook. Shatzkin thinks the biggest problem is that B&N simply hasn’t been using its dot-com and Nook knowledge to benefit the stores the way it could have. For example, it could use its customer database to look up and email customers who’ve bought books by a given author and let them know the author will be doing a signing in their area, and perhaps get some promotional money from the publisher in return for doing that kind of thing.

12 Quarters thinks that, as an ostensibly “rational actor,” B&N owner Len Riggio will not continue to throw bad money after good, especially after he just bought another million shares in the open market. Therefore, 12 Quarters predicts, the Nook division will either find some way to break even or be eliminated altogether within the next couple of years.

The rest of 12 Quarters’s arguments don’t have as much to do with e-books. He brings up various opportunities members of B&N’s board have had to be influenced by investors who make copious use of stock buybacks, and thinks that such a buyback could be a recipe for recovery for the bookstore side of B&N’s business if it can deal with the Nook money pit. He notes that such buybacks have rescued companies such as Best Buy, GameStop, and Outerwall that were previously thought to be goners but have since doubled in price.

12 Quarters concludes with several paragraphs of financial jargon to suggest that a buyback would be relatively easy and could drive stock price as high as $30 a share. He sums up:

If that seems aggressive, that is fine. The point here is that the margin of safety is HUGE for patient investors. At this point, an investment in BKS is not an investment in a struggling bookstore chain, but rather an investment in human nature. All that needs to happen is that the owner operator wants to maximize his own wealth through buybacks. That is a bet that I make with a smile.

Now, sometimes these investment sites’ advice articles aren’t worth the electrons they’re printed on. If I had a nickel for every “short Amazon and sooner or later you’ll be right” article I’ve seen on Seeking Alpha, I would be independently wealthy. And I lack the financial expertise necessary to evaluate 12 Quarters’s contentions with the fullness they deserve. Still, the non-jargonistic sides of his arguments make some sense. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do with the Nook division in years to come.

Original URL: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/teleread/KHnj/~3/t5tGt5Vzesw/

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