Alternatives to Amazon

I admit it. Amazon is my primary source for e-books. And they are often my go-to source for print books I want to get in a hurry or can’t otherwise find. Yet Amazon’s dispute with Hachette has left many of us uneasy if for no other reason than Amazon can dictate terms and exclude titles simply because it can without fear of losing its competitive edge. There is simply no one like them.

A recent article in Publisher’s Weekly notes how Macmillan Publishers alerted me that many publishers are now making their frontlist titles available immediately to libraries in ebook form for lending. Many are doing this through the Overdrive app, forms of which exist for IPads and I phones, Android devices, Windows computers and phones (XP or newer) and newer Kindles and Nooks. You also need a library card with your local library, which is the license holder for each title (typical arrangements seem to be for 52 withdrawals per license per two years).

In many ways this makes sense since you do not really own the ebooks you download from Amazon. The money you pay rents the title from them. Frankly, if you are supporting your local library through taxes you might as well get your money’s worth and use this service. And the truth is, I often remove books from my device once I read them (the Amazon ones are stored in their ‘cloud’ so that I can download them again should I wish). With ebooks borrowed from the library, they are automatically returned on their due dates and removed from your device.

There are also a variety of other sources, particularly for free ebooks (usually public domain). Project Gutenberg is the granddaddy of these and has many books in a variety of eformats. There is also (the Internet Archive) and the Open Library, just to name a few. In some cases, you may need to learn to download books to a computer and then transfer files to an e-reader. If you care about keeping your books or not facing DRM restrictions in moving them from one device to another, some publishers are also making DRM-free books available for purchase. InterVarsity Press, the publisher associated with the campus ministry organization I work with is one of these.

Of course the question always arises of print vs. ebook. Having used both formats for a couple years now I am coming to the conclusion that the easiest way to think about this is that ebook is best if I know I don’t want to keep a book after I’ve read it. If it is something I want to keep and particularly to reference, then a print book seems better. This raises the question of why, apart from urgent need, would I pay for a book I’m not going to keep and don’t really own? Library or free options of ebooks, or print books from the library just seem to make the most sense in this case.

What this also suggests to me is that, with some thought, I can then dedicate more of my book-buying budget to supporting brick and mortar stores for most of my purchases, particularly to those who actually care about developing relationships with their customers. Sure, it takes more time, but the delights of a good bookstore can never be equalled on a website, and the serendipitous finds one makes can never be duplicated by Amazon’s heuristics generating book recommendations for me.

(Some of you may be wondering about Amazon’s new $9.99 per month unlimited ebook borrowing program. My son wrote a good blog post on this that I would recommend. Enjoy!)


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