While Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple have been carving up the eBook pie, one might reasonably ask whether brick and mortar bookseller Borders had decided to just quietly fade away as books head to the digital domain. This week, Borders rolled out their new online bookstore and free reader apps supporting a number of platforms including iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, PC and Mac. The store is also selling a number of compatible dedicated readers such as Aluratek Libre, Kobo eReader, and Sony Reader Touch and Pocket models.
Borders is selling books in both the open EPUB format (the standard used by Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBookstore) and good old PDF. The store boasts the same one-million-plus title count as Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately, a great many of those books are free (that’s not the unfortunate part), and the performance of the free titles across platforms is inconsistent. Having heard reports about free books not working, I decided to try one randomly. I downloaded a free copy of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (there are also several paid versions at a variety of prices). On the iPhone it worked fine, but on the iPad (the device I used to choose and purchase the book), it came up encrypted and unreadable. A paid book that I purchased on the iPad (Richard Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer) is performing flawlessly.
The second shortcoming is lack of synching furthest page read across devices as seen in the Kindle, and more recently, Nook eReaders. Syncing is invaluable when reading the same book on more than one platform and its absence is a serious handicap.
Ultimately, increased competition in online bookstores and their accompanying reader platforms should be good for the market. But, at least so far, Borders doesn’t seem to be bringing anything to the table that others aren’t doing better already.