Wow. If you saw this headline anywhere other than on The Travel Insider, you’d probably expect some sort of scam and hurry past it. But, please do trust us again, because this is no scam, and we’ve trialed the concept ourselves with marvelous results.
First, however, if you aren’t yet an enthusiastic eBook reader, it is well past time to become one. As travelers, one of our weapons against boredom on the journeys has long been the book, and one of our tools for relaxing and indulging ourselves at the destination has also been the book.
But books are bulky and heavy (and possibly expensive, too), and with the ever greater obsession by airlines on charging us for the luggage we take with us – and, in some cases, even for our carry-on items too – being able to shove two or four or more books into our carry-on or suitcase is becoming less practical. Hence the enormous appeal of eBooks.
The eBook Revolution
eBooks are no longer a special high-end niche product appealing only to a small segment of travelers. They truly are something for everyone to take advantage of. Any possibly objection against eBooks has long since been countered by improvements in how eBooks are distributed and sold and read, and these days it seems that probably one out of every three books sold is in eBook form, with that share steadily increasing. Out of a breakdown of books into fourteen main categories, only four show any remaining preference for print format – How To guides and Manuals, Travel books, Comics and ‘Graphic Novels’, and Cookbooks.
eBooks have been around for a long time, but all thanks are due to Amazon for revolutionizing the eBook market and making it truly relevant to all of us. Not only did their Kindle eBook reader and their underlying massive corporate commitment validate the concept of eBooks, right from its launch in November 2007, but since that time their eBook readers have successively dropped in price, weight, and size (while also offering steady improvements in the eReading experience).
The first Kindle cost $400, measured 8″ x 5.3″ x 0.8″ and weighed 10.2 ounces. Today, you can get a Kindle that costs $69, measures 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.3″ and weighs just under 6 ounces (but still has the same size screen as the original Kindle).
Although the original Kindle sold out in less than half a day and supply couldn’t keep up with demand for six months, it was clearly an appreciably expensive device. The new range of Kindles, with prices as low as $69, are extremely affordable.
Furthermore, these days, Amazon’s Kindle reading program can also run on any iOS or Android tablet, and on smartphones and computers, too. No matter what sort of device you have, you can read Amazon’s eBooks on it, and there’s no charge for downloading the software.
Choosing an eBook Reader
So, go ahead and either treat yourself to an eBook reader or simply download the Kindle app to your tablet, computer, or phone. If you’re getting an eBook reader, your two main choices – we suggest – should be either the entry-level Kindle with Special Offers for $69 , or the Kindle Paperwhite with Special Offers for $119.
Of the two, we prefer the Paperwhite and think it worth the extra $50. It has a backlight for the screen which makes it easier to read in some lighting conditions, it has a higher resolution screen (212 ppi instead of 167 ppi) making for better formed characters, and it has twice the battery life, more than enough for even the longest journey.
The ‘Special Offers’ concept is interesting, and misunderstood by many people. It doesn’t add advertisements to the books you read, but instead simply displays an ad for a book (usually at an attractive discount) on the home page when you’re not reading. So it is fully unobtrusive, and in our case, we’ve sometimes responded to the offers and been introduced to good new authors, giving us new ranges of titles to read. You can choose a slightly more expensive option to avoid the special offers, but we see the offers as being an advantage and would keep them, even if they didn’t also reduce the purchase price of the Kindle.
Both these Kindles have black and white screens, not color. If you wanted a color screen, you could get one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, but there are pluses and minuses of such an action. The Kindle Fire tablets are certainly great eBook readers, and can cost only $20 more than a Paperwhite Kindle (ie prices starting from $139 for an 8GB Fire) but they are lousy tablets, because Amazon does not allow the wonderful full world of all Android apps to be loaded onto them.
This restriction cripples the universality of the Fire, and with other tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 at a very affordable price ($229 for a 16GB unit, $269 for a 32 GB unit), and allowing access to the entire ecosystem of Android apps, why would you choose a Fire instead?
The other thing to consider is that the Kindle Fire (and all tablets) has a considerably shorter battery life than the Kindle eInk type black and white readers, which last twice as long between charges, maybe even more.
In our case, we have an eBook reader (a Paperwhite) as well as a tablet. That way, we never run out of battery life when traveling, and with the wonderful combination of small size, light weight and affordable price, it seems to make sense to do this. If we’re reading a picture book, then we’ll do it on a color tablet, but otherwise, we generally read fiction on the Paperwhite.
You can download your eBooks onto multiple devices, and they automatically ‘talk to each other’ so every device knows what you have been reading on other devices, without you ‘losing your place’ in the book.
Getting eBooks for Free
Okay, now for the part you may have quickly skipped down to!
Amazon does have quite a lot of books for free, on its site, to start with. Indeed, a quick check just now shows 59,336 free books available. Many of these are, ahem, worth what you pay for, and some of them are long out of copyright older books.
There’s plenty to like about having a selection of 60,000 free books right from the get-go, but the problem is finding stories that you actually might like and enjoy within this vast expanse of free books. Plus it would be nice to have list of free books pushed out to you on a regular basis, rather than having to go looking.
There’s a wonderful service which does exactly that. It is entirely free (they make their money from the authors and publishers), and it works very well. The service is called BookBub, and you simply give them your email address and tell them the types of book you like, then each day you get a short list of books that are on special that day – some are heavily discounted, and others are reduced all the way down to zero.
Best of all, the book titles are somewhat filtered and quality controlled, so that there’s more chance of getting good books to read rather than junk. Even brand name authors such as Dan Brown have sometimes appeared in their lists of daily free books. It is reasonably common to find books from good ‘B list’ authors – perhaps the author wants to push one of their titles up Amazon’s lists of best sellers, so gives it away for free for a while, or perhaps they want to give you the first title in a series so you’ll then be hooked and buy subsequent titles in the series, or who knows what other reasons might apply.
I’ve been subscribing for a while now, and most days have been able to find a free title to download. Indeed, I’m delighted to be filling my Kindles with new titles and new authors, I never now have any problem about ‘what will I read next’ – other than choosing from an abundance of unread titles!
More Free Books – Amazon Prime Rentals
There are other ways you can get free books to read as well. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can get one free book each month to read on your Kindle (this does require a specific Kindle device to access your free read), and you can keep it as long as you like before ‘returning’ it and then getting another free rental book.
The free rental titles are often true best sellers (like the Harry Potter series).
More Free Books – Sharing Books with Friends
Most eBooks allow you to lend your book to a friend, once.
On the basis of what goes round, comes round, this hopefully means that sometimes you can share your books, and other times, their books will be shared with you.
Almost Free Books
There’s another concept which has a lot to recommend itself, particularly to very frequent readers. This is a flat rate, ‘all you can read’, arrangement, a bit like Netflix, but applying to books rather than movies, and you can have up to ten books ‘checked out’ at any one time.
This is offered by Oyster. They have over 200,000 different book titles available, and you simply pay $9.95/month, for as little or as much reading as you choose. They also have a free one month introduction offer, so there’s no downside to perhaps signing up for it shortly before your next trip.
Another major player with an almost identical service is Scribd, with 300,000 different book titles, and $8.95/month. It also offers a free trial subscription, so perhaps try both and see which you prefer.
If you choose wisely, you’ll be able to fill your eBook reader with great books to read, and not pay anything for the books. At the worst, you might find yourself buying books for $1 or $2 each, or renting books for $10/month (less than the cost of one paperback).
eBooks never get lost, chewed by the dog, and don’t take up any space, either in your suitcase or on your shelves at home. If you don’t already enjoy eBook reading, now’s a great time to start.