Still missing a market: Academics e-readers

It’s been a year since I first posted about my frustration that the e-reader market is missing an obvious demographic: academics. In that year, that has become the top-viewed post on my blog (not that hard to do!), with over 1000 pageviews. Yet, I am sad to say little has changed in the e-reader market for academics.

As I noted in my earlier post, I’m looking for a few simple requirements from an e-reader for work purposes: (1) it must be an e-ink display, because I already spend too much time looking at a computer screen, (2) it must support for PDFs, specifically offering easy highlighting and commenting, and (3) it must integrate back with my computer (e.g., I want to see those commented files!). Yet the two biggest mass-marketed e-ink readers are still not up to the task.

NOOK: I own a NOOK, which works well for “fun” reading but has two fatal flaws for PDFs: (1) it can’t handle two-column PDFs, which account for many of the academic articles I’m reading, and (2) it doesn’t allow for easy highlighting and commenting. You can try using a converter to deal with two-column PDFs – Calibre is highly recommended – but it doesn’t always work and can get really complicated. And even if you succeed in getting the PDF into a readable format, you still can’t highlight or add notes to the text easily. So, the NOOK doesn’t cut it as an academic e-reader.

KINDLE: I had high hopes for the Kindle Touch, which came out last fall. Before leaping in and buying it (as we did with the NOOK), I started watching the Amazon forums. Although the reviews claim the Kindle allows PDF reading and highlighting, the forums suggest users aren’t convinced, both in terms of PDF support itself and easy highlighting/annotating. Now, I haven’t had a chance to test the Kindle myself, but based on the reviews – and the fact searching these terms comes up with complaints more than praise – I’m unwilling to assume the Kindle works for me and thus won’t recommend it to any academic.

OTHER E-READERS: The Nook and the Kindle have been the focus of much of my research, given their popularity and their access to a wide range of fun and work books. That said, there are other potential e-readers to check out, and commenters on my previous post have pointed to some of them. The KOBO Touch seemed promising, given its low price point ($99 without ads), but fails to support highlighting/commenting on PDFs. The SONY PRS-650 is getting good reviews with regards to PDF flow, reading, highlighting and commenting, but has a higher price point at $229. More importantly, it lacks wireless connectivity, likely to prove a major annoyance. Many of the other suggestions that come up, including many from my blog readers, get even more expensive, pricing them out of the range of a grad student or even a newly minted assistant professor.

So, as best I can tell, the verdict one year later is the same as before: there isn’t a good, cheap e-ink reader that supports the needs of academics when it comes to PDFs. My own experience (anecdotal evidence, I’ll admit!) suggests this is a worthwhile audience to pursue. Yet e-readers remain oblivious to the desires of academics. Sadly, it may be time for me to compromise on my desire for e-ink and consider the options for tablets.


  1. Pingback: Missing a market: E-readers and academics « Emily K. Vraga, Ph.D.

  2. Thanks for saving me time – I was doing my annual check to see whether I’d yet be able to swap a kindle or nook for the photocopied articles I take on planes. I guess I’ll be carrying paper for awhile longer.

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