Not all e-books on same page

YOUR mission, should you choose to accept it, is to track down a cross-section of five e-books from five different digital sources. In this case - four e-readers (a Kindle, a Kobo, a Sony, an iPad) and an e-bookstore that any reading device with a modern browser can access.

Australia is leading the way as one of the world's top-four e-book adopters, alongside the US, Britain and India, according to Bowker Market Research's Global e-book Monitor 2012.

The report showed 20 per cent of Australian respondents bought e-books in the past six months, with buying rates highest in the 18 to 24-year-old category and for adult fiction.

Right, so a fair slice of us are out there clicking, not flicking, through books. But is it quick and easy? Can you get the books you want? And how much cheaper is it than print?


Kindle

Amazon's Kindle catalogue offers more than 1.5 million titles but try tracking down an Australian author. The big ''A'' apparently only opens up 60 per cent of its e-book catalogue to international customers because of the agreements it has in place with publishers. What you can get at bargain-basement prices are popular fiction such as bestseller The Hunger Games, which goes for $4.76. Downloading speed on the Kindle 2 and 3 is incomparable, especially the 3G version with its wireless Whispernet connection, which gives you access anywhere, any time. Most e-books hit your home page in less than a minute, which is terrible news if you're a late-night impulse buyer. The Kindle universal app also syncs between your e-reader and your iPhone or iPad, lining you up with the page you're at.


Kobo

The new Kobo Touch comes with a textured, rounded back, which looks like a quilt and feels quite comforting in the hand.

To set up, you'll have to download the Kobo Desktop Software from kobosetup.com, which, at 154 megabytes, takes a few minutes. Then connect your e-reader cable to your computer and create an account. While touchscreen feels great on a tablet, on an e-reader it comes off as clumsy.

You can buy e-books on your Kobo desktop or straight from your device, and because Kobo supports several formats - EPUB, PDF and MOBI - you can buy e-books from other digital bookstores or direct from publishers. Not that you'd need to, as Kobo has 2 million titles available - double the size of the Kindle store - but Australian content is equally erratic.


iBooks

Surprisingly, mainstream e-book content is lacking; only one of our five books was available on iBooks - Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Oh, and The Hunger Games - but only in Italian. Apple plans to reinvent textbooks with iBooks 2, which will let students watch videos and take notes inside virtual books.

Also, if you're a bookworm, you might be disappointed with having to charge the iPad every day when the e-ink screen Kindle and Kobo can last for two to three weeks or 7000 to 8000 page turns; and the Sony Reader for five weeks with 14,000 page turns (wi-fi disabled).


Sony Reader

Yes, you look darling in metallic red, but I'm afraid it's a case of style over substance.

The sign-up process to buy e-books is complicated. Not only do you have to install Adobe Digital Editions, but you also have to install the Reader app for your PC, Mac, Tablet or Android, connect the USB cable and tap the Data Transfer Mode icon to transfer e-books to your e-reader.

Given it's a branded reader, you might think you could buy books from the Sony Reader store in the US. Nope. You'll have to choose a local e-book supplier such as Borders or Angus & Robertson. Once you make a selection you'll get a security key, which you need to double-click on to start the download process. Then double-click the icon again in your Reader app and click ''sync now''. Frustrated yet?


Booki.sh

Bring your device, and we'll supply the e-books from the cloud. Nice premise. But only one of our five chosen books was on Australia's new digital book store Booki.sh - the 2012 Vogel winner Eleven Seasons. Not even The Hunger Games was available, just its parody, The Hunger Pains.

Booki.sh, which launched last year in conjunction with Australian independent booksellers such as Readings, was recently acquired by OverDrive, the world's leading distributor of e-books and audio books. OverDrive business development executive Peter Haasz told Livewire they planned to expand the range of titles available to Australian readers - not only via Booki.sh but also via OverDrive's retail, public library and school platforms.

''Availability is a complex topic - it is contingent on having agreements in place with the relevant divisions of the relevant publishers, and those divisions granting rights to sell in the relevant region,'' he says.

''We've established an office in Australia and will be using it as a launch pad to strengthen our relationships with Australian publishers [so] more Australian content can be distributed.''


The verdict

Kindle still has the goods for content, price, ease of use and reading pleasure, with Kobo not far behind. Kindle and Kobo's e-books are dramatically cheaper than print. Good news for new publications is that they're e-book-ready. Local publisher Black Inc., which has made Quarterly Essay 46: Great Expectations: Government, Entitlement and an Angry Nation by Laura Tingle available at Booki.sh, the iBookstore, Kindle and Kobo.

Still, there are a lot of empty shelves in the digital bookstores, so don't ditch those vintage hard copies yet.

E-book prices

An international classic on the VCE English syllabus

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Kindle: $13.05

Kobo: $12.99

iBooks: $12.99

Booki.sh: N/A

Borders: $13.95

Print price: $13.95 to $22.95


An Australian classic

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Kindle: N/A

Kobo: N/A

iBooks: N/A

Booki.sh: N/A

Borders: N/A

Print price: $24.95


A breakthrough novel by an Australian author

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Thomas Kenneally

Kindle: N/A

Kobo: N/A

iBooks: N/A

Booki.sh: N/A

Borders: N/A

Print price: $25.95


A recent award-winner

Eleven Seasons by Paul D. Carter (2012 Vogel winner)

Kindle: $14.99

Kobo: $19.99

iBooks: N/A

Booki.sh: $14.99 to $29.99

Borders: $22.95

Print price: $26.99


A bestseller

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Kindle: $4.76

Kobo: $7.72

iBooks: N/A

Booki.sh: N/A

Borders: $12.95

Print price: $14.24

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