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This article was published on October 8, 2013

20 of the best ways to buy ebooks, digital comics and etextbooks

20 of the best ways to buy ebooks, digital comics and etextbooks
Josh Ong
Story by

Josh Ong

Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].

It’s only fitting that numerous ebookstore services emerge for us to read on all the different devices we have. With the increase in ebook adoption, a new batch of services has also arrived with unique business models for reading. Now you can subscribe to Netflix-style unlimited reading plans, pay on a per-page basis and even rent etextbooks by the semester or year.

Here are 20 of the best destinations for buying, downloading and renting digital books, comics and textbooks:

Subscription plans



Oyster launched its subscription ebook service for the iPhone last month. For $9.95 a month, users get unlimited access to a collection of over 100,000 books. Similar to Netflix, you won’t have access to all the latest titles, but it’s still a great value if you’re an avid reader. Participating publishers include HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman, Melville House, Rodale, Open Road Media, RosettaBooks and Smashwords.

I gave the service a spin when it first launched and found a pleasant reading experience and plenty of titles that I’d been meaning to read. Searching for the last couple ebooks I’d bought turned up empty, though.

Oyster’s just starting out, so it’s not a cross-platform experience just yet, but the company could gradually bring it to other devices if it picks up traction. An iPad version is set to arrive later this fall.

Web | App Store



Scribd is also going for a subscription ebook model. Its plan costs $8.99 a month and includes a partnership with major publisher HarperCollins. The company says the majority of the backlist catalogue from HarperCollins US and HarperCollins Christian is available on the subscription plan, while the entirety of the publisher’s works are available for retail purchase from Scribd.

Scribd built up 80 million users for its document sharing service, and is now trying to parlay that reach into a mainstream ebook platform. While Scribd is touting its database of more than 40 million books and documents as a plus for its subscription service, I’m skeptical of how many of those the average consumer would pick up and read. Still, Scribd has built up a strong brand in the ebook space, so its subscription offering could do well if it manages to ink deals with more publishing houses.

Web | App Store | Google Play



eReatah acts as a subscription book club. A monthly fee allows you to download a set number of books at a discount from retail prices. $14.99 a month will net you two books, $22.50 gets you three and $29.99 includes four downloads. The model’s a bit confusing, but it’s a better fit for regular readers since it lets subscribers amass a collection at a discount.

Most of eReatah’s catalogue retails for over $8.99 per title, so customers can save between 25-50 percent off cover price on average. You’ll own the books even if you stop subscribing to eReatah, but you’ll have to read them from within the company’s app. The service, which is currently in public beta with over 90,000 books on offer, offers one free download during its 15-day trial period.

Web | App Store | Google Play

Total Boox


Total Boox takes an interesting approach to ebook sales by charging per page (prorated from the list price). There’s something strangely appealing about this model, especially for readers that have a habit of not finishing books. However, if you’re the type of person that finds adding an incremental cost per page actually discourages you from reading, you’ll probably be happier with Oyster or Scribd.

One use case where Total Boox does come in handy is for resources like computer books, textbooks and manuals, where you might only have to look up a few pages.

Web | Google Play

Next page: Comics and Indie stores




Narr8 takes ebooks a step further by adding extra layers of interactivity and animation to create a “motion comic”. It’s a proprietary platform, so you’ll only be able to open your Narr8 titles from within the company’s own apps. You also won’t find the big name comics publishers here.

You’ll get a couple episodes of each series free, but additional titles must be purchased using the company’s NARR virtual currency. The app will award you a few NARRs every day, but more can be had as an in-app purchase.

WebApp Store | Google Play | Windows 8



Comixology has done fantastic job building up a strong selection of comics from top publishers like Marvel, DC and Image Comics. The company says it has over 40,000 titles on offer. There’s currently no better place to buy digital comics.

In a testament to the strength of what Comixology has built, DC’s own mobile apps are powered by the platform. DC recently expanded its digital distribution by bringing dozens of titles, including Watchmen and V for Vendetta, to both Comixology and Google Play.

Web | App Store | Google Play | Windows 8



One of the older kids on the block, WOWIO has had its share of troubles after being acquired and then shuffled around. However, it’s still in business offering sponsored free ebooks, comics, and graphic novels. WOWIO works by finding companies to sponsor your purchases and dropping an ad into the ebook.

You won’t find the biggest comics publishers at WOWIO, but it does have properties like Darkchylde and Star Trek.

➤ Web




Paris-based Feedbooks was the first ebookstore to support EPUB when it launched in 2007. It has a large collection on offer, with hundreds of thousands of titles in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. In addition to some of the big-name publishers, it also includes a large selection of public domain and self-published works.

Much of Feedbooks’ selection comes DRM-free, so you’ll have an easier time loading its independent books onto your devices.




Smashwords is an independent publishing platform that helps authors place their books with many of the top ebookstores while also maintaining its own store. The site boasts a whopping 8.8 billion words published from more than 70,000 authors.

You can find Smashwords titles on iBooks, Oyster, Nook, Kobo and other places, but buying directly from the indie publisher ensures that authors will get a bigger chunk of the money.

➤ Web

Next page: Etextbooks




If you’re looking for digital textbooks, rental service CourseSmart is a good bet. It claims to have 90 percent of “core higher education titles used today”.  The company touts savings as much as 60 percent off traditional paper textbooks, and it also offers a $200 subscription plan for accessing six textbooks for 150 days.

Etextbook purchases can be returned within 14 days, provided you’ve read less than 20 percent of the title.

Web | App Store | Google Play



Chegg also offers etextbook rentals. You can choose from multiple rental periods, ranging from 60 to 360 days. When we checked pricing on a Chemistry book, Chegg’s 180-day rental pricing was $107.30, compared to CourseSmart’s $98.99 for 360 days.

Chegg provides premium guided solutions and 24/7 academic help to go with its textbooks, so you have somewhere to turn when you get stuck on a problem set.

Web | App Store | Google Play



Inkling’s speciality is interactive iPad books, so its catalogue contains travel guides, photography books, cookbooks and textbooks. You can find Lonely Planet, the For Dummies series, the Missing Manual, and textbooks from McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Inkling sets the standard for the industry by taking a fresh approach to the move to digital. Rather than just reading a scan of the physical book, you’ll get interactive features like video and 3D models.

Web | App Store



Though most of Kno’s titles are labeled as etextbooks, the company offers a broader selection of children’s books, reference works and popular classics that you might have to read for school. The store carries 200,000 titles from 80 publishers. Kno also adds interactive educational features to its textbooks like videos, models and simulations. Additional Kno features include automatically generated flash cards and quizzes and integration with Dropbox on iPad and Android.

Books, which you can purchase either outright or as rentals depending on the publisher, can be returned within 15 days. Buying from Kno does a little bit of good, as $1 from every purchase goes toward classes in need.

Web | App Store | Google Play | Windows 8

Next page: Device platforms

Device platforms



Kobo, which makes e-readers to go with its bookstore, says it has over 3.5 million titles, including ebooks, newspapers and magazines, on offer. Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten owns Kobo after picking it up for $315 million in 2011.

One of Kobo’s strengths has been building grassroots support for its platform. The company is partnering with local independent bookstores to share revenue with stores that put a Kobo ebook search bar on their websites.

Kobo’s ereaders provide a solid alternative to the Kindle lineup. We recently reviewed the Aura and found it to be a great device for reading with a few extra features you won’t find on the Kindle Paperwhite.

Web | App Store | Google Play | Mac/PC

Sony Reader


Sony gets credit for creating the first e-ink reading device, but its Reader ebook store has since been eclipsed by Amazon. While Sony only vaguely says it has thousands of books on offer, the Reader Store’s selection is roughly on par with the Nook and Kindle stores.

There isn’t anything majorly wrong with Sony’s ereader offerings, but the company has failed to capture the market’s attention. With Amazon and Barnes & Noble taking up most of the spotlight, Sony is in danger of becoming an also-ran.

App Store | Google Play | PC/Mac



Barnes & Noble tried to make the jump from physical books to digital with its Nook store, tablets and e-readers. However, the company decide to stop making its own tablets in-house in June. The retailer does plan to continue producing black-and-white ereaders even as it explores new tablet partners.

Among ereader platforms, Nook has risen in brand recognition to take second behind Amazon. The Nook Simple Touch e-ink devices cost $79 and $99.

Nook owners enjoy synergy with Barnes & Nobles retail chain through offers like free in-store reading for an hour a day. The company says it has millions of titles available on the Nook store.

➤ App Store | Google Play | Windows 8



Most of you probably already make ample use of Amazon’s Kindle store, but leaving the market leader off this list felt neglectful. There’s a good reason that Amazon is on top, as its e-readers, particularly the Kindle Paperwhite, are unparalleled.

The new Kindle Matchbook service adds yet another reason to stick with Amazon for your book buying. With the program, publishers can offer discounts on the digital versions of physical books that customers have bought on Amazon. Now you can have your book and e-read it too.

Amazon says it has over 1 million Kindle titles available.

➤ Web | App Store | Google Play | Mac/PC



Apple’s iBooks has been in the headlines lately, but mostly because of the US government’s antitrust lawsuit against it. Buying from iBooks will keep you locked in to your iOS devices, but the upcoming OS X Mavericks will bring support for reading iBooks from your Mac. The iBookstore boasts over 2 million titles.

The iBooks Author tool has made it easier for publishers to create attractive, native ebooks, but iBooks still feels more like a side product intended to keep users on Apple hardware than it does a full-fledged store.

App Store

Google Play Books


Not to be outdone by Apple, Google also has its own bookstore for Android. Unlike iBooks, however, Google Play Books is cross-platform, so you’ll be able to access your purchases on iOS.

Google has invested heavily in its books offering, boasting a selection of over 5 million titles. Content deals like the recent DC Comics expansion make it a better place to find comics than some of the ereader stores that have focused more on plain-text books.

➤ Web | Google Play | App Store



I couldn’t decide where this fit, but claims to be the “world’s leading source of ebooks”. Amazon probably deserves that title, but at least has an SEO-friendly domain.

➤ Web | App Store | Google Play

Header image credit: Shutterstock / jorisvo