This section provides resources for reading digital content – both reading devices/applications and sources for books. If you are interested in creating your own digital content, check the Digital Publishing page for those resources.


There are dozens of e-reader device and apps. In addition to dedicated readers, the growing number of smart phones and tablets can support e-reading with the appropriate app installed.

  • iPad [Prices start at $500]. The iPad is a tablet computer that has been designed for many functions – and reading is one of them. In addition to Apple’s iBooks app, you can install the Kindle and Nook reader apps along with other specialized apps. These give you access to just about all bookstores and the ability to shop for deals. It is the most expensive device included here and the largest. While most of the other readers can easily fit into a purse, the iPad cannot.
  • Barnes & Noble Nook [Prices range from $100 to $250]. There are two models of Nook – e-ink and color. The e-ink version is cheaper and has limited functionality other than reading, but the color version is an Android-powered tablet computer offering a growing number of apps in addition to its reader. All offer wifi, but there are e-ink models that have 3G service also. This can be used to purchase and download books from just about anywhere.
  • Amazon’s Kindle [Prices range from $70 to $239]. There are several models of the Kindle e-ink reader. Some have 3G and wifi, some only wifi. All use the B&W e-ink screens and have great battery life. Amazon also offers a number of tablet models [Kindle Fire – models begin at $139] with books as well as the apps, Internet, movies and music found on other tablets.
  • Google Bookstore recently opened offering about 3 million books – many of them free. According to their site, you can download apps for Android or iOS devices and you can read from your desktop browser or from a Nook or Sony Reader device. One of the very nice things about the Google Books program is that smaller bookstores can offer Google’s books through their sites in a profit-sharing arrangement. So, look for even more book-buying opportunities in the near future.
  • Sony Digital Reader [Prices range from $130 to $300]. The Sony reader comes in several different sizes and colors. Only the high-end model offers 3G and wifi capability. The others must be linked to your computer to transfer books to the device. All use e-ink screens for reading.
  • Kobo Reader [Price $140] offers a simple e-ink reader with wifi at a reasonable price. It has a touch area at the bottom right corner of the device for navigation.
  • Bluefire Reader [iOS – free] is not a dedicated reader, but rather an app. Currently it is only available for iOS devices, but an Android version is about to be released. This app supports ePub and PDF books and can managed Adobe’s Digital Rights Management. It’s is gaining popularity with the smaller booksellers because is also supports the Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS), a format for building book catalogs which is the foundation for Internet Archives Book Server project among others. Bluefire Reader is one of the apps supporting the Lending Library at Open Library.

Kindle, Nook and Kobo offer reader apps for the iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry and even Palm Pre so you can purchase books from their bookstores without owning their devices.

e-Book Sources

First there are the book stores. Amazon and Barnes & Noble aren’t your only choices here. You’ll find a growing number of sources to buy all kinds of e-books. NOTE: All the e-readers mentioned here (device and app) will read PDF files. All but the Kindle will read ePub format. The Kindle uses a unique format that can only be read on its reader/app. This doesn’t become an issue until you select books from the public domain and lending libraries. Here’s a sample:

  • Amazon’s Kindle Store only offers books in the Kindle format. You will need either a Kindle device or the Kindle app on your own device/computer to read these books.
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store also offers a great selection of books which are designed to be read on a Nook device or with the Nook app on your own device/computer.
  • Kobo Book Store.
  • Sony’s Reader Store
  • Books on Board is an independent bookstore offering books for most e-readers.
  • O’Reilly is known for their technology books. You can now buy a growing number of them as e-books. Their e-book “package” includes the book in five DRM-free file formats — PDF, ePub, Kindle-compatible .mobi, DAISY, and Android .apk – so they can be read on just about any e-reader.
  • Both Lulu and Smashwords give anyone the opportunity to publish both print and e-books. As a result, they are a good place to look for published genealogies and family histories.

Book stores aren’t your only option for finding good e-books. There’s a growing number of public domain sources available offering free e-books in any number of formats. Most of these books are out of copyright and include a growing number of books especially useful to the family historian. These include local histories, regimental histories, journals, memoirs and more. Here are several good reading sources:

  • Project Gutenberg is the oldest and probably the largest source for public domain books. You’ll find thousands of books in a growing number of formats. The site’s interface has improved and is quite user-friendly with a fabulous search engine. It’s a great interface if you know what you want to find, but not the best for browsing.
  • Internet Archive offers a lot more than just books, but does have a huge collection of books. Like Gutenberg, the focus is on search with browsing leaving a bit to be desired, but the resources available here are quite impressive. Visit the Americana page to find a list of the collections available. Genealogists will find the Allen County Public Library collection quite interesting.
  • ManyBooks.net offers a great selection of books with a very browse-able format. Most books have descriptions along with the details and readers are welcome to add their reviews. They offer download formats supporting most readers.
  • FeedBooks is another browse-friendly library with both descriptions and comments but they offer fewer format options. They now offer a bookstore as well as their collection of public domain books.
  • Google Books has a growing collection of PDF and ePub formatted books for reading on e-readers.

Many of these sources also offer news feeds announcing new additions to their collections.

One other book site worth checking is Librivox, the public domain library for audio books. If your e-reader can play music, you can listen to audio books from Librivox.

e-Book Lending Libraries

The lending book business is beginning to grow. Currently most “lendable” books use Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) to manage the timed licenses. You don’t have to worry about returning these library books. When the license expires, you won’t be able to read the book. Adobe Digital Editions is a free reader application for your desktop and is supported on the Nook, Kobo and Sony Reader devices as well as the Bluefire Reader app for the iPad and the Aldiko Book Reader for Android.

  • Your public library. Check to see if your library offers the OverDrive service which provides e-books for download.
  • OpenLibrary. You’ll find both OverDrive and other books available for lending. You will need a library card for a library that offers OverDrive to download those books.
  • Scribd. Scribd recently created a subscription reading service. For $8.99 a month, you can read any of the books included in the subscription service when you want for as long as you want. You will need a free Scribd app – available for iOS and Android phones and tablets – to read, but there’s no check out/check in or limit to the number of books you’re reading at any given time.