E-books and apps to 'unwrap'

The Kindle was not guaranteed to catch on when Amazon introduced its e-reader five years ago, but e-books are now a routine alternative to hardcovers and paperbacks, constituting about 25% of publishing's revenues.

That's good news for the trees, but it presents holiday shoppers with a quandary: How do you give and wrap an e-book?

First, it helps to know what kind of device your recipient has. There are dozens of e-readers and tablets on the market, with prices ranging from $69 for text-only Kindles to the $829 top-of-the-line iPad. In between, there's Barnes & Noble's Nook ($199-$299), Microsoft's new Surface ($499-$699), and an electronic store's worth of choices.

This year, independent bookstores have gotten in on the e-reader action for the first time. They began selling the Kobo e-readers before Thanksgiving. "We don't expect to make a lot of money from the devices," says Skylight Books co-owner Kerry Slattery. "They're a signal to our customers that we sell e-books, and they don't have to go elsewhere."

If you are shopping online, most major companies make it surprisingly simple to give e-books as gifts. Beyond the oh-so-common giftcards, both Amazon and Apple offer online gift purchases of specific e-books and apps. Instead of buying an item for yourself, click the gift button — you can even schedule electronic delivery ahead, for just the right holiday moment.

If you're ready to shop, here are a few of the year's outstanding e-books and apps:

Fiction: "The Silent History" is a futuristic novel delivered in short daily installments; bonus material can be unlocked only by physically going to the location where the story is set — so it works well on iPhones. Created by Eli Horowitz, the former publisher of McSweeneys, and co-written by Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby, the six-month story is $8.99.

Kids: "Numberlys" by Moonbot Studios ($5.99): Creator William Joyce has moved between children's books and film animation (he won the 2012 Oscar for animated short), and this, his second app, gorgeously integrates classic movie visual, story and interactivity. Sweet creatures fill a world that's part 1927's "Metropolis," part Marx Brothers; through a series of games, children help them invent the alphabet.

Nonfiction: TED Books app: An expansion of the wildly popular (if oft-satirized) TED Talks, TED Books have much longer text — one to two days reading — enhanced with video, audio and links for further research. Topics include future evolution, neuroscience and children, and cutting through online clutter. The app is free; individual books, which publish every two weeks, are $2.99, while a $14.99 subscription provides all access for three months.


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