The eReader marketplace has reached the point where, in terms of hardware, there simply isn’t a bad option anymore. Both the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook give amazing value for the money, serve their purposes well, and generally are forced to emphasize trivial differences to keep customers aware that there are performance differences at all(1 month of battery life? 2 months? Is this really important enough to advertise?). So, how do you decide which way to go? Unless you’re a gadget collector, chances are you won’t be grabbing both. The problem is that choosing one makes it impressively difficult to move to the other later.
When you buy an eBook from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble, it generally comes with DRM locking you in to their system. You can’t just swap your books back and forth. Sure, there are ways to remove this protection, but it’s probably best to just choose a long term favorite rather than going through the effort or moral ambiguity of illegally removing it. On the plus side, this isn’t nearly as restrictive as it sounds on a day to day basis no matter which option you choose. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble will let you read your books on pretty much anything with a screen these days. Even if you find, several years down the line, that your eReader has broken and the product has been discontinued, you will still be able to load your entire library on your computer, cell phone, tablet, etc.
What should really be driving choice for consumers right now is the library that a particular platform brings to the table. Really, in an ideal world, this would always have been what drove choices but I’m being realistic. Thanks to the publishing industry’s Agency Model pricing, how much you spend on professionally published eBooks is going to be pretty universal. The same is true, though for different reasons, of most self-publishers. There’s just no real incentive in place to favor one system over another and risk ostracizing a potential set of customers.
In most situations, the selection isn’t even particularly different. While I’ve found several eBooks in the Kindle Store that I could not find in its B&N counterpart, this is a fairly rare event and will almost never come up in normal use. I would say that Amazon has a slight advantage in terms of selection right now simply by virtue of running several of their own publishing imprints to push, but it is a minor point.
What I think you have to weigh is the permanence of the system you are buying into. Your purchases will always be yours. That is pretty much a given. No matter what you buy from whom these days, you’re fine with regard to long term accessibility. Do you really want to have to switch platforms, and in doing so maintain two libraries because who wants to lose all of their old book purchases? This is why things like iBooks are out. If Apple gives up and folds on eBooks or gets so restrictive that their selection suffers even more, the idea of being stuck with them for new purchases is unpleasant.
Both the Kindle and the Nook platforms give their customers the kind of functionality and long term commitment that they need to, I think. In one form or another, they’re going to stick around for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying that it’s a plus to be locked into a single platform, or that it’s fair, or that life wouldn’t be better without DRM, I’m just pointing out the current equivalencies in the marketplace. Maybe at some point we’ll reach a place where it isn’t in a company’s interest to keep their customers shopping specifically in their stores, but for now we might as well make the best of it. There isn’t too much real ground for complaints from what I can tell.