Kindle, Nook Color, and value for money

The Kindle at $189 is great value for money – you get free 3G Internet, 3G and WiFi, the new eInk Pearl screen, free public domain books, cheap ebooks (sometimes), text to speech, and a lot more.

The Nook Color at $249 is also great value for money – you get an IPS LCD color touchscreen, you get a great browser, you get a cheap Android Tablet if you’re willing to root the Nook Color, you get ebook lending (which Kindle is supposed to add soon), and you get support for library books.

Let’s start by looking at the concept of value for money itself.

What is ‘value for money’ – as applied to eReaders and reading devices?

When we talk about the ‘value for money’ an eReader provides we instantly jump into a mixture of hard to quantify things -

  1. There’s a component of what we’re paying for the eReader, and what we feel the eReader is worth. The looks, the build, the features, the coolness, and the feeling of ownership. 
  2. There’s a component of whether or not we’ll save on books, because of the eReader.
  3. There are features that are core and add value – portability, similarity to reading a book, an ability to help us focus on reading.
  4. There are features that will provide additional value for money – features such as text to speech, and ebook lending.
  5. There are add-ons that might provide value – such as an in-built store, and the convenience it offers.
  6. There might be a big, huge bonus like free Internet access.
  7. There might be ‘the ability to do more than one thing’ which is generally assumed to provide extra value. It’s an interesting equation – Reading has x value, ‘things other than reading’ have y value. You add them up, and you get more value than a device that only allows reading – provided the price is similar.

There are a myriad of things that add up to one abstract quality – ‘value for money’.

How much value do we get for the money we spend? 

If the abstractness weren’t enough of a challenge, we also have the fact that different people ‘value’ different things, and come in with different expectations.

Value for Money is different for different people

Let’s say Harry reads mostly at home, and has WiFi, and reads mostly at night. Sally, on the other hand, reads mostly at lunch-time, on her commute, and at the beach, and almost always during the day.

Things that Harry will value, and Sally will probably find irrelevant include -

  1. WiFi support.
  2. Backlight or Reading Light.
  3. Ability to adjust the brightness of the screen easily.

Things that Sally will value, and Harry will find probably irrelevant, include -

  1. Readability in sunlight and bright light.
  2. Portability.
  3. Stability and steadiness.
  4. 3G support to get books anywhere.
  5. Free 3G Internet.
  6. Resistance to water and sand.
  7. A tracking feature in case the eReader gets lost.

If Harry met Sally, and they started having a rather inappropriate conversation in a cafe, about the value for money each eReader provides, they would find themselves quite lost.

For Harry, the ability to read in sunlight is completely worthless. Yet, he hears her say – This feature is priceless. He’s almost embarrassed Sally would claim such a thing in public.

For Sally, reading at night doesn’t really have any value. For her, an eReader that is great for reading at night, is providing zero additional value over one that can’t be read without external light.

So, we just took an intangible, hard to quantify thing like value for money, and added a little twist – Not only is it hard to quantify, the method of quantification varies from person to person.

What value for money does Kindle provide?

Well, these are all things that might or might not classify as value for you -

  1. You get an eReader with some good technology – the new eInk Pearl screen, fast page turns, etc.
  2. Portability, Compactness, and Lightness.
  3. Ability to carry thousands of books in one device.
  4. Ability to change the font size, and to have the book read to you.
  5. Ability to read in bright sunlight.
  6. Free 3G store browsing and 60 second book downloads in the US, and in 100 countries around the world.
  7. The Best eBook Store.
  8. Millions of public domain books for free from Internet Archive. 20,000 or so from Kindle Store.
  9. Free Internet browsing in the US and, for US Kindle owners, in 100+ countries around the world.
  10. Free Kindle Reading Apps so you can read your ebooks on a range of devices.
  11. WhisperNet services that sync your place in a book across all devices you read on.
  12. An experience very similar to reading a paper book.

There are definitely other features that add value – incredible battery life, customer service, a good return policy, liberal return policy on ebooks, and so forth.

Amazon does a very good job of taking 3 domains – the eReader, the eBook Store, infrastructure and supporting services – and delivering good, solid value across all three. It’s now exploring a fourth domain with the Kindle App store – Kindle apps might end up providing a lot of value for money too.

What value for money does Nook Color provide?

Nook Color also has quite a few value-add things going for it -

  1. It’s a reading-focused tablet, and is also pretty good for a few other things – surfing the net, looking at photos, reading magazines, children’s books, etc.
  2. Nook Color has a color touchscreen with resolution as good as the Kindle’s (i.e. much better than iPad’s screen resolution), and is IPS LCD. It’s a quality screen to get in a $249 device.
  3. It has a decent store to back it up.
  4. It has access to a lot of free public domain books – Google Books, Internet Archive, etc.
  5. It supports ePub and thus you can get books from any eBook store – except Kindle Store.
  6. Support for ePub also lets you use library books.
  7. It can be rooted to run as an Android Tablet. You can also set it up such that you can choose between operating systems – Your choice of Reading Tablet or Android Tablet.
  8. B&N has begun to catch up with Amazon in terms of providing reading apps for other devices, and services such as syncing.
  9. B&N provides a bunch of in-store benefits – real people to talk to in person, read any book for free for up to an hour per day, offers.
  10. Nook Color has a lending feature. It even has a LendMe app which lets you check what books your friends have available for lending.
  11. Nook Color has a very good music player that lets you create playlists and play music exactly how you want to.
  12. A LCD screen means benefits like reading at night, instantaneous page turns, and no ghosting.

On top of these, Nook Color provides additional benefits – password protection on purchases, Pandora music streaming in the US, a photo gallery app, and so forth.

Nook Color does a very good job on two critical dimensions – device and store. It’s beginning to add value in a third critical dimension – infrastructure and support services. Like Amazon, it’s trying to add value via a fourth dimension – apps. The Nook App Store hasn’t launched yet, so it’s a little behind Kindle in this area.

The competition to provide more value for money

The Kindle and the Nook Color are very different devices, that are trying to cater to two intersecting groups of customers.

The Kindle aims to be everyone’s reading device. It is, however, focused on reading.

The Kindle provides a lot of value to travellers, people who read a lot, people who read in long stretches, people who read everywhere, those without WiFi at home, those who like audiobooks or have low vision, it’s great for people with arthritis or weak hands. It’s a long, long list – you’ll have to figure out whether the value Kindle provides, is what you value.

Nook Color aims to be a reading tablet. A device that is great for reading, and can also be used for other things. It wants to expand reading from just books to websites, children’s books, magazines, and newspapers.

It’s perfect for people who like reading at night, or for those who have WiFi at home. It’s also great to have as your reading Tablet, provided you don’t care much about having 100,000 non-reading related apps. Nook Color is probably going to focus on reading, magazines, the Internet, and reading related apps.

The most pivotal customers might be those at the intersection of the Kindle and Nook Color’s target markets. People who read 1 or 2 books a month.

Kindle is trying, with the Kindle App Store and social features and reading apps, to become more of a Reading Plus Plus device. Nook Color is trying, with the help of its focus on reading related apps, to become more reading-oriented and less Tablet-oriented. B&N is trying to leverage software and apps to overcome the hardware advantages Kindle has for reading. At the same time, it’s leveraging the hardware advantages the Nook Color has to expand into all types of reading.

Readers who read 1 or 2 books a month will, in all likelihood, decide the future of eReaders. If they think Kindle provides more value for money, and pick it, then Kindle wins the eReader Wars. If not, the Reading Tablet gambit will have worked spectacularly.

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