Choosing an ebook retailer can be as simple as choosing what is right in front of you or checking the prices and content selection across the ecosystem. It's up to you.
One of the amazing things about ebooks right now is the wealth of options available to users. Massive ebook libraries now exist from multiple sources, and these books range wildly from top-shelf best sellers to indie short stories written by folks in their free time. Impressively, each of these digital bookstores offer something significant that separates them from one another in a way that makes it so none of these services are going anywhere anytime soon.
If you've already settled into a preferred ebook retailer, you may be missing out on the features that make the competition special. With that in mind, lets take a quick look at the more popular apps in this space and see what service works best for you.
1. Play Books
Google's digital bookstore is relatively young when compared to some of the other platforms that are out there, but the company has made tremendous strides in making sure just about everything is available in their store, including a huge selection of indie titles. This has a lot to do with how easy Google makes it for writers to publish books to the Play Store, but massive content deals with major publishers probably don't hurt either. Google's biggest feature with Play Books as a retail services is the way it is baked into the Google Play Store and included on every Android phone. The books are front and center in the Play Store as a part of search results, and sales regularly make their way to the homepage.
Google also makes it possible for users to grab a free sample of most books on the Play Store, readable through both the Play Books app and the website. While the publishers often determine how many pages the user has access to in this free sample, it is almost always more than enough to determine whether or not this is a book that interests you. Like the rest of the Play Store, reviews for books are a part of your Google account, which means if your friends have left reviews for books they will float to the top of the review list so people you trust can give their opinions first.
Google Play Books is awesome because it's convenient, and if you're an Android user there's a good chance your friends will be there to tell you whether or not you're going to like a book. That assumes you aren't the book nerd in the group, in which case all of your friends rely on you for reviews.
2. Amazon Kindle
For physical and digital books alike, Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world. Publishers big and small go to Amazon because it's where so many people go for books, and with their dedicated hardware platform Amazon is able to offer everything you need to read for years and years. Being as big as they are, Amazon's proprietary book format is something most folks just sort of deal with, but if you know where to look there are ways to convert books you buy on Amazon to other formats. Since there's an Amazon Kindle app for almost everything, the service continues to be a dominant force in the ecosystem.
Amazon's huge feature for their books has always been WhisperSync, the ability to pick up from where you left off no matter what device you are using, but on the actual store the big benefit Amazon has over everyone else is the way books are organized. Amazon has organized their bookstore into hundreds of categories and subcategories, making it incredibly easy to find things that are somehow related to the book you just finished. These categories also make it easy to locate specific kinds of authors, as well as the obvious lists of things individual authors have accomplished.
The big lure for Amazon has always been convenience from a platform perspective. Your Amazon books go great in your Amazon app or on your Amazon Kindle, and as long as that's the environment you want you can rest assured that you won't be running out of books anytime soon.
3. Barnes & Noble
As one of the last major US bookstore chains, Barnes & Noble has spent the last couple of years trying to find a strategy that competes appropriately with the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google, and others without taking away from the act of going to the bookstore. Barnes & Noble has even tried their own Android-based hardware platform, but the Nook line has never seen tremendous success even after a partnership with Samsung. The Barnes & Noble online store is all about offering the same products you can get in the physical store, but making digital versions of everything through their Nook app. While the Nook app itself is a pleasure to use, its store often lacks the ease of use found elsewhere, something Barnes & Noble has attempted to capitalize on by offering tutorials and personal help in their physical stores for whatever technical needs may arise.
One very cool feature to come from the Nook service is Enhanced Nook books. These books offer audio and video clips alongside the relevant content in the book, everything from interviews with the author to video demonstrations of a tutorial you're reading about. For some, it's the natural evolution of ebooks and feels almost like Director's Commentary. For others, it's an unnecessary and often more expensive version of the book. The regular Barnes & Noble ebook selection is still quite good and their prices are almost always the same or lower than the other major players out there. The only real concern is whether or not the Nook platform will be around in a couple of years, but that's a thought for another day.
4. Kobo Bookstore
You won't find a more direct attempt to compete with the folks at Amazon and their Kindle lineup than Kobo, and that's a good thing. Instead of existing as an Amazon clone, the folks at Kobo have worked hard to be as platform-inclusive as possible. Kobo apps and Kobo hardware support a ton of different file types, and the focus on being the best possible bookstore for everyone is clear throughout.
While prices are usually competitive with the other services, Kobo's organization methods lean heavily towards age brackets and generic organization formats. The end result is a fantastic kids section that does an amazing job breaking down book types for every age. It's very easy to get a child using Kobo and looking through books they might be interested in, where on most of the other retail platforms the design is clearly focused on adults either picking books for kids or being in command of the computer or ereader when navigating the store.
It's easy to get sucked into one of the larger platforms for book sales, but Kobo is one of those platforms that truly stands out when you use it, especially if you care about things like DRM-free books and a generally user-focused experience.
And now, something completely different. Smashwords places a direct focus on self-published content, and does so in a way that encourages contributions and feedback on a massive scale. It's an open, honest platform with little focus on looks and functionality, but contained within those spartan pages is an incredible wealth of stores written by people who aren't the bestsellers the other stores will fill your screen with every time you login.
The best part of Smashwords is the deliberate focus on supporting anything and everything. Any book can be published in every format, and users can submit regular reviews and video reviews for everything. It's a unique experience when compared to the other stores, but it's an invaluable resource for anyone looking for something new, especially when you can just download the book from Smashwords and read on your app of choice.
6. All about choice
As you can see, there's a little something different everywhere you look. As ebook retailers, these companies want to offer you a compelling reason to keep buying through them. Sometimes that happens with a hardware and software lock in, sometimes it's just being the store you see every time you turn the phone on, and sometimes the compelling lock-in is being as open and friendly as possible. Whichever is your favorite, for whatever reason, the end result is reading more books.