How do people decide which eReader to buy?

There’s obviously a precursor step where people decide they want to get an eReader.

Let’s say that involves one or more of the following – a friend talking about how good it is to read on a Kindle, seeing someone reading on a Kindle or Nook, seeing a TV ad for the Sony Reader or the Kindle, seeing someone reading on an iPad or iPhone, reading on a cellphone or iPad and deciding it might be worth trying a dedicated eReader, reading about how bad or how good eReaders are, hearing complaints about how eReaders will be the death of books and wondering if you should get one.

For this post we’ll just assume that a person has decided that they want to get an eReader.

How do they decide which eReader/reading device to buy?

Choosing between Dedicated eReaders and do-everything devices

The first step perhaps involves establishing a broad set of guidelines and needs –

  1. Want something for reading.  
  2. Have a particular budget. 
  3. Want something focused on reading or want something that’s decent for reading and also does other things.  
  4. It should look cool or it should disappear or it should not be flashy or it should be new and shiny.  
  5. How strong is my impression of the device that got me interested in the first place – Is that impression so strong that it’s the only device I want?
  6. Does it make me look serious, flippant, too serious, like a poser, clueless, lacking taste, careless about money, rich?
  7. Does it make me a target? Will people try to steal it? Can a cover hide it effectively?

Of course, this is all random and unorganized for most people. It’s all feelings and emotions and while some of the points might get written out explicitly (price, features) a lot of the factors that play into the decision (what image the device portrays, how much attention it attracts, how much it suits your needs) are often left out and not really discussed.

Choosing Criteria

We basically get positives (attractors) and negatives (limiters) for dedicated eReaders and for multi-purpose devices –

  1. Dedicated eReader attractors include – absolutely great for reading, no distractions, eInk screen, the device focuses on reading, reading related features, usually lighter and more portable, great battery life, low price, free wireless, if Amazon or B&N customer then it feels right.
  2. Dedicated eReader limiters include – looks either boring or barely passable, isn’t new and shiny, doesn’t do things other than reading, eInk page turns take .6 to 1 second (based on which eReader you get), no color screens, isn’t really the latest technology in terms of being able to show it off, the device isn’t tailored to be a status indicator.
  3. Multi-Purpose Device (iWhatever) attractors include – status indicator, pretty and great design aesthetic, does lots of things, decent for reading, availability of Kindle and Nook books on it, if Apple fan then it strengthens the bond and feels right, might make you more attractive (isn’t the TV always right), in tune with ‘a device should do more than just reading’ mentality, convenient (only for iPhone), back-lit display, large 10″ screen (for iPad).
  4. Multi-Purpose Device (iWhatever) limiters include – certain people are anti-Apple or put off by the hysteria, people who want only a device to read on, size concerns (iPad too big, iPhone too small), portability and weight concerns (only iPad), high price, high cost of ownership for wireless, closed eco-system, not readable in sunlight.
  5. Multi-Purpose Device (Android devices) attractors include – open system, makes sense for people who feel loyalty to Google, lots of features, very anti-Apple, focus on speed and power, works across lots of devices, can soon use Kindle app on it, rapid rate of progress.
  6. Multi-Purpose Device (Android devices) limiters include – too many distractions, apps aren’t as good as Apple, people might not like the Open ecosystem, lack of quality control, devices aren’t as polished as Apple.

The example of Android is just to highlight that it isn’t always ‘dedicated eReader vs Apple’.

It basically becomes a pretty interesting decision. People like to fixate on the reading aspect i.e. focus on reading vs do more than just reading – However, there are a huge number of factors that play a role and we often consider things subconsciously without realizing it.

There are a lot of things that make it to the Top 10 list that might surprise you – openness, prettiness, keeping up with the Joneses, personal feelings about a company, ease of use, working with existing devices and situation, portability, desire to fit in or stand out.

Let’s assume the person makes a decision and decides to go with a dedicated reading device.

How do people choose a particular dedicated eReader?

This is the part that would be absolutely fascinating to see.

Often there’ll a post on the official kindle forum asking about Kindle vs Nook or Kindle DX vs Kindle – However, it’s either a person looking for the last data points to make a decision or they’re just asking for a general comparison and we get no idea of what parts of the answers they factor into their decision.

No one ever writes – The Kindle appeals to me because it’s Amazon and the eInk is good and there are more books available and there are lots of software upgrades but the Nook also appeals because it’s got a 2nd color screen and I’m a B&N Rewards member and I want to go into the store and sit and read books for free and it just seems more advanced because it has a LCD screen.

At least they hardly ever do.

So how do people actually choose?

Let’s start by writing down the main strengths and weaknesses of each eReader.

Kindle Strengths + Weaknesses

Kindle strengths – laser focus on reading, no distractions, cheap price, cheaply priced ebooks, great range of books, Amazon customer service, Amazon brand, constant software improvements, Kindle WhisperNet, lots of features, free wireless delivery, free Internet, free delivery and Internet in 100+ countries (for US owners only), international availability, very easy to use, disappears in the background when you’re reading, Kindle Apps for most platforms, syncing across all devices, share it amongst family members, very cheap refurbished Kindles are available, lots of free book offers, Folders, Kindle DX 2 has the best screen contrast of all available eReaders, best range of font sizes. 

Kindle weaknesses – only excellent at reading, no color, doesn’t focus on looks at all, not flashy and you buy a device that you can’t really show off except to people who read, Publishers have begun to force the Agency Model (higher prices) and sometimes turn off text to speech, no lending or resale, closed format that doesn’t work outside of Kindle and Kindle Apps, closed ecosystem and other ebook retailers can’t sell their ebooks for Kindle, DRM, no touchscreen, only 1 font.

Nook Strengths + Weaknesses

Nook Strengths – dual screens, pretty, LendMe feature, ePub support, B&N eReader apps so you can read Nook ebooks across a variety of platforms, great browser, WiFi, focused on reading, 3 fonts, replaceable battery, SD card slot, low price and there’s a $150 model available, disappears in the background when reading, you can read any ePub books with Adobe DRM or without DRM on it, free WiFi in B&N stores (and perhaps Starbucks too), read any book for free for up to an hour in B&N stores, slightly better screen contrast than Kindle (not as good as Kindle DX 2), Android so if they ever open it up there will be lots of apps.

Nook Weaknesses – bugs, slow page turns, unintuitive user interface, eInk and LCD screen combination isn’t integrated well, customer service not as good as Amazon, book range not as good as Kindle Store, Non-Agency Model books are sometimes slightly more expensive, slower than Kindle when it comes to addition of new features, no Collections or Folders feature, there is no large-sized model.

Sony Reader Strengths + Weaknesses

Note: We’re talking primarily about the Sony Reader Touch Edition as it’s the model most comparable to Kindle and Nook.

Sony Reader Strengths – touch screen, free hand drawing, looks very pretty, very compact, decent range of font sizes, supports ePub, supports DRMed ePub books that use Adobe DRM, Sony Reader Store books work on any eReader that supports Adobe DRMed ePub, apps for various platforms.  

Sony Reader Weaknesses – Doesn’t have wireless (except Sony Reader Daily Edition), largest screen size is 7″ (Daily Edition), prices are higher than Kindle and Nook, book prices for non-Agency Model books are usually higher, range of books is very low, there’s not really an eco-system or a service (it’s just the device), no lending, no text to speech.

There’s not as much to write because Sony Reader hasn’t really improved much since it came out nearly a year ago.

People choosing between Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader

We now know (thanks to the last 3 sections) the best points and worst points of the 3 main eReaders.

The question is  – What happens after a reader has decided they want to get a dedicated reading device?

How do users go from ‘dedicated reading device’ to the point where they’ve decided which eReader to buy and bought it?

Perhaps they figure out what features are most important to them. Perhaps they start exploring what’s available. Perhaps they have already decided and are just looking for data points to support their decision. All we know is that they go from a decision to buy a dedicated reading device to a decision on which dedicated eReader to buy.

Let’s assume there are two stages –

  1. Collecting data points to make or to support a decision. 
  2. Making a decision.

They aren’t necessarily in that order. It’s more of a decision being made somewhere in the process and all the data collection before that point (if any) being used as help to figure out a decision and all the data collection after that point (if any) being used to support the decision and feel good about it.

Guessing what the process looks like

User decides to buy a dedicated reading device. In part this was because he first saw his co-worker reading on a Kindle. Chooses to go with a dedicated reading device because he doesn’t want distractions.

What happens next?

Searches for information on the Kindle and reads the Amazon product page. Searches more and finds a post that talks about Kindle vs Sony Reader.

Finds out Sony Reader has touch. Asks friends and family if anyone has a touch and finds his cousin has one. Talks on the phone about it and finds out that Kindle has cheaper books but his cousin thinks the Sony Reader is better.

His co-worker who has the Kindle mentions Kindle DX.

Goes and compares features and decides Kindle fits his needs and budget better.

Searches for ‘best eReader’. Finds some other eReaders  but none appeal to him. Is about to buy Kindle and then decides to sleep on it.

Next day passes a B&N store and sees Nook advertisement. Walks in and listens to sales guy bad-mouth the Kindle. A bit annoyed at sales man being so aggressive but intrigued by Nook.

Compares Kindle and Nook – looks at comparison chart at B&N. Thinking about getting the Nook now and then sees Nook WiFi for $150.

Completely confused. Reads some reviews and draws up a list of 5 most important features for his needs – low price, lots of books, lending, reading PDFs, text to speech. Realizes Kindle and Nook are neck to neck.

Flips a coin and then wonders if he should try a best of three. Thinks about it a bit more and decides to go with Nook WiFi even though it doesn’t have text to speech.

There are so many parts of this decision-making process that are completely invisible to everyone else. Even a search engine only knows part of it. Even the user’s clicking around only paints a partial picture. 

In this example we haven’t even fully considered a person’s emotions and feelings and things like pressure from a friend/relative to get a particular eReader or reading device. It’s a pretty complicated process with things going on at both the conscious and subconscious level and you have to wonder how we could get better insight.

A reader’s decision making process for which eReader to buy is a pretty involved process – most of it is invisible to others and some of it is invisible to the person making the decision. Yet figuring it out lets us better understand what to build for readers, how to let readers find out about it, and how to help them make the best eReader purchase decision.


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