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Posted on June 11th, 2014 by Nicole Kobie

Amazon vs Kobo: how much to make the ebook switch?

kindlewithbooks

Amazon has been locked in an epic battle with publishers for control of ebook prices for years now, and the fight has lately taken a nasty turn. Among other things, the retail giant has recently banned pre-orders of Hachette titles, including JK Rowling’s next mystery novel, and today it appears that it’s done the same to Warner Bros movies, refusing to take pre-orders of The Lego Movie.

This is obviously irritating for publishers — and authors, as Stephen Colbert’s amusingly rage-filled reaction highlights — and it has implications for readers too. I expound my thoughts on this in next month’s PC Pro (I’m sure you can’t wait), but the fact that I’m considering switching to a different ebook seller probably gives away the punchline.

Switching is a lot easier than it used to be. When I first started reading ebooks, the Kindle was the obvious first choice, because Amazon had the best devices, the best ebook store, and the best prices.

Today, there’s a host of hardware to choose from, and I do most of my reading on my Moto G smartphone. Why carry and charge a second device for my 20-minute commute when I can read on my phone?

Competing ebook stores have also now popped up and filled their digital shelves, and many libraries “stock” ebooks. None of them uses Amazon’s proprietary format, so my Kindle is useless here, but I can read them on my phone via free apps.

If I want to switch to a rival bookstore, therefore, the only remaining consideration is price. The specific store I have in mind is Kobo; it’s good enough that Sony has recently started using Kobo’s book store instead of propping up its own, and the Kobo devices look perfectly decent, should I decide I need a dedicated device again. Plus, it’s called Kobo, and that’s a great name.

So I’ve gone through the last ten ebooks I bought, all in the past six months, and looked up what it would have cost me to buy them from Kobo instead of Amazon. (The list has been edited slightly to remove some embarrassments, but feel free to mock my reading tastes and make suggestions below.)

Amazon vs Kobo ebook prices | Create Infographics

(If the chart’s not working, the Google Drive spreadsheet is here.)

You’ll notice that I’ve given prices for only nine books; Christopher Moore’s Sacre Blue wasn’t available from Kobo. Some of his other books, including the much better Lamb, are however listed, at similar or slightly higher prices than Amazon.

The upshot: my reading would have cost me £25.96 at Amazon or £35.06 at Kobo — a third more, or nearly £10 — and I would have missed out on one book altogether.

So what now? Am I willing to pay a £10 premium every six months to vote against Amazon’s behaviour? More than likely, I’ll end up compromising by shopping around and checking which book store has the best price, which is how I already buy music, TV shows and movies.

If I were still using my Kindle, Amazon’s DRM would prevent me from doing this, but my Moto G can happily house both Kobo and Kindle books. Here’s hoping Amazon doesn’t decide to punish disloyal shoppers such as myself by yanking its Kindle app from smartphones. It may seem unlikely, but so did banning preorders of JK Rowling.

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20 Responses to “ Amazon vs Kobo: how much to make the ebook switch? ”

  1. Paul Goldstraw Says:
    June 11th, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Don’t you mean Kindle vs Kobo Prices?

     
  2. Andrew Jones Says:
    June 11th, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Would it be foolish to mention how easily one can strip the DRM from an Amazon Kindle ebook? Then this conversation becomes very simply “which vendor sells it cheapest” ?

     
  3. Tim Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 7:47 am

    If your local library service provides ebooks, they probably don’t play nicely with kindle, but will work fine with Kobo (or other ereaders).

    You could factor that into the cost of different ereaders (I did, and got a Nook)

     
  4. Bill Maslen Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 8:51 am

    There are many other options that have nothing to do with eReaders, too. I find Kobo rather expensive (clearly you do, too), but publishing platforms like Lulu and Tor are offering authors very good deals that are not necessarily bound to proprietary DRMs. It’s well worth reading Cory Doctorow’s blog for more ideas on this – he’s the arch-pioneer of giving stuff away in order to build a loyal client base (as is Seth Godin, in fact). Other people worth reading on the subject are Barry Eisler and JA Konrath.

     
  5. Surefire Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 9:03 am

    @Quillon
    -
    “Try checking things”.
    -
    LOL, this is PC Pro you’re talking to.

     
  6. Bill Maslen Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 10:38 am

    @Surefire
    As for reading on phones – I’m a voracious reader, and use any device that happens to be around, including Kindles, tablets, smartphones etc., as well as books. So please, stop being nasty for the sake of it. If you don’t rate PC Pro, don’t read it. Otherwise all you’re doing is being an unpleasant troll.

     
  7. Surefire Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 11:47 am

    @Bill Maslen
    Sorry if I’ve hit a nerve but I maintain that I cannot give much credence to anyone who claims to be a serious reader and then says they read on a phone (except in an emergency).
    .
    As for being nasty about PC Pro, I’ve been reading the mag for nearly a quarter of a century and they deserve some sort of a kick. The quality has diminished dreadfully. I don’t think it’s fair to just dump things without at least giving the provider some feedback.
    .
    Of course, there are so many things wrong with PC Pro now: (lost focus, apple obsession, poor fact checking, lazy (and uncritical) posting of releases, clcikbait headings), that it may well be past saving.

     
  8. Any Device Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I was originally sceptical about reading books on my iPhone, but after trying it I found books very easy and convenient to read. The page is about the size of a single column of newsprint in a daily paper so size is not an issue. I generally have the phone with me, so have ready access to a wide library of books to read.
    I believe your opinions of any book should be based on the book itself, not the method you choose to read it.

     
  9. Nicole Kobie Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    @Surefire — Just because you don’t like reading on a smartphone doesn’t mean someone isn’t “a serious reader” if they do. To me, novels are about the words, not the font choice and the paper. You’re of course welcome to disagree, and I’m actually looking into a service that prints web articles onto newsprint at the moment – hope to have something up about it in the next few days. Might interest you.

    Regarding the Lego movie, fair point that it’s available for pre-order here in the UK, but the point I was trying to make (and clearly failing to) is that Amazon is willing to pick fights with content suppliers, and that might hurt consumers.

    As to whether I have the right to just “dump things” without talking to the provider — of course I do. This is a personal blog post; if I don’t want to use Amazon for books anymore, I don’t need to ask Amazon for permission first.

    All that said, I’m always happy to hear any complaints you have — specifically about inaccuracies, but I do pass more general complaints on to the editor. I’m at nicole@pcpro.co.uk. Drop me a line whenever any of you see something you don’t think is right, and I will happily look into it.

    Thanks for reading,
    Nicole Kobie
    News and features editor

     
  10. Nicole Kobie Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    And Paul Goldstraw, I stared at this post for several minutes before seeing what you mean. Well spotted. I think it’s time for a cup of tea…

     
  11. Ian Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    >> I’ve been reading the mag for nearly a quarter of a century and they deserve some sort of a kick.
    @SureFire

    Not bad considering it’s approaching the 20th anniversary issue.

    :)

     
  12. SteveE Says:
    June 13th, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I just use Calibre software on my PC, buy the cheapest version then convert to the required platform (My wife has a Nook, I have a Kindle)

     
  13. Kevin Partner Says:
    June 13th, 2014 at 10:42 am

    @nicole – I, for one, prefer blog posts that come from a personal perspective whether it’s a point of view on book publishing or a legendary invective by Barry Collins. This is an interesting debate – you might want to read “The Everything Store” for a fascinating, though sometimes disturbing, look at how Amazon operates. This current spat fits perfectly with their behaviour since the beginning. The book is available on Kobo but it’s £3 cheaper on Amazon!

    On this specific topic – doesn’t Kobo have DRM too? I don’t think it’s entirely fair to pin that only on the Kindle platform as commercial titles usually have some form of DRM, whichever format they’re in. Non-DRM epubs can be converted in a moment using Calibre (as @SteveE says) to .mobi and emailed to your Kindle.

    As you say, @nicole, there’s nothing stopping people with tablets or smartphones from shopping around – I buy my music from whichever is the cheapest between Amazon and Google Play – and it’s only the slightest inconvenience to have to remember where it is when I come to listen.

    I think it’s fine to take a principled stand against bully-boy tactics from big corporates like Amazon. Their argument would be that they want to free up their ability to sell ebooks at whatever price they like without publishers having the right to set minimum prices. You could argue that Kobo doesn’t do this because it doesn’t have the muscle, not because it’s the good guy.

    In practice I buy most of my ebooks from Amazon because 1) they’re generally cheaper 2) their devices and software are the best and 3) I can buy with a single click. It’s nice to see, however, that with the consolidation of the alternative bookstores, readers do have at least some choice. My second choice is Google Play Books.

    By the way, http://www.luzme.com allows you to search for ebooks and find which store has them cheapest.

     
  14. Mike Walsh Says:
    June 13th, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Only slightly off-topic is that Amazon UK have recently removed a “free-postage-if-you-buy-for-over-25-pounds” option for many European destinations AND have coupled that with making their standard postage options for us both much more complicated (order charge + delivery charge + weight charge) and much more expensive. [Amazon Germany have also added a weight charge for non-German orders while sticking to (only) the order charge.]

    The common theme is that Amazon seems to have decided to start screwing people and companies who have little choice than to do business with them. [Prices of books here in Finland being *after* any discounts* typically more than the UK list price.]

     
  15. Jon Says:
    June 13th, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    I have a Kobo, but I use calibre to manage my library.

    Stripping out DRM and converting between formats is simple.

     
  16. Tim Turner Says:
    June 18th, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    There are other problems! I’m in Spain, and I’ve been trying to buy an Aura HD all day – can’t be done. Pixmania (official suppliers) are “out of stock”. So are WHSmith in the UK. Ditto Argos.

     
  17. John Chapman Says:
    June 18th, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    To be fair on Amazon – it’s the author who decides whether to leave the DRM box unchecked or not. You’ll often find inexperienced authors leaving it checked but later on choosing not to use DRM on their later books when they realise it doesn’t protect their books from pirating and simply penalises the genuine purchaser.
    Lots of talk about ‘Kindles’ but there are now lots of different Kindles. The newer Fire and Fire HDX are customised Android machines and it is possible to sideload Nook and Kobo readers on them. Obviously you are not going to find the apps in the Kindle Store.
    As to me – I use the Moonreader Pro app on my Nexus (at least I did until the darn thing got stuck in the boot screen). I also have the Kindle, Nook and Kobo app on it but Moonreader Pro has a text to speech option, missing from the other apps, which is very useful when proofreading.

     
  18. JohnAHind Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    @Kevin Partner.

    I think Nicole’s objection to Amazon (which I share) is not that they use DRM but that they use propitiatory DRM and do not support anyone else’s on their devices. Kobo use ePub DRM which is supported by almost all publishers except Amazon (including as has been pointed out, public libraries).

    Amazon are clearly trying to become a de-facto publishing monopoly and that is not healthy for the future of literature.

     
  19. Ben Cowell Says:
    July 8th, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    My automatic choice is to go with ‘the little guy, but my experience after 16 years is Amazon’s CRM is just faultless, and we publish on it. But we don’t want monopolies, it creates complacency, and everyone loses out it the long run, just look at Microsoft! In the long run all empires fail, it’s just a matter of time and OUR money!

     
  20. Richard Fox Says:
    July 14th, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Amazon hasn’t banned pre-orders of Hachette books. There is no agreement between Amazon and Hachette beyond a certain date for Amazon to stock Hachette books. It isn’t a ban if Amazon might not stock the books.

    What, exactly, is the author’s objection to Amazon and the Kindle? Other than jumping on the Colbert bus.

     

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