Gripe du Jour: Palm eReader

I think I’ve figured out why eBooks are not more popular.

I’ve recently warmed up to the concept of reading books on my PDA. It’s actually a much more pleasant experience than I expected. The PDA came with a free eBook reader, and the books I’m reading are in the public domain, so my total outlay on this new hobby so far has been zilch. So, why am I complaining? Well, I refer to a dictionary fairly frequently when reading books. Currently, I use a printed dictionary even with my eBooks. It would be really cool, though, if I could just tap on a word, and see the definition. To do this I’d need an electronic dictionary on the PDA, and support for it in the software. Well, I can get this, but it’s not free. For $9.95, I can get the “full” version of the eBook reader, which includes a dictionary with software support. That’s a fair enough price for the dictionary and the functionality. I have no problem paying that. So, again, why am I complaining? The dictionary bundled with the $9.95 package is Merriam-Webster’s “Pocket” Dictionary, which has only 40,000 words. That means that most of the obscure words which I want to look up, probably aren’t going to be there. If I want a “real” dictionary comparable to my dead-tree version, I need to get the Merriam-Webster “Collegiate” Dictionary, which eReader.com is selling for $23. Now, what’s the problem here? Amazon.com sells the dead-tree version (Hardcover, no less) of this exact same dictionary for only $15!!!

So, let’s get this straight… The electronic version of this dictionary costs essentially nothing to reproduce and distribute, yet eReader.com is charging 50% more for it than the dead-tree, hardcover, much-more-expensive-to-produce version of the exact same dictionary. If I want the electronic lookup, I have to shell out $9.95 for the “full” eReader software, plus $23 more for the wildly-overpriced electronic dictionary, for a total of $32.95. For that price, I’ll stick with the dictionary I already have, thanks.

eReader.com isn’t the only bad guy here — I checked several other online sources for eBook-friendly dictionaries, and the prices were all similarly inflated.

There’s a lesson for the eBook vendors here — you need to price your products competitively (read “cheaper than the equivalent dead-tree copy of the book”), or people aren’t going to buy them. Let’s hope they figure this out soon, because it truly is a great format with lots of potential.

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