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10/17/2012 02:12 pm ET Updated Oct 18, 2012

Where To Buy The Cheapest eBooks: Amazon vs. iBooks vs. Google Play vs. Barnes & Noble

When shopping for eBooks for your reader, tablet, or laptop, you have what can seem like an intimidating number of options. Google Play, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, eBooks.com, Diesel: There are more choices for where to buy "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" than there are candidates for U.S. president.

With all those options, you might be wondering if you're missing out on major deals or wasting money by continuously choosing one storefront over another. To help lessen the confusion and offer a glimpse into the values each store offers,
we thought we'd compare eBook prices in four of the largest and most well-known eBookstores in the world: Apple's iBookstore, Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble's NOOK Bookstore, and Google's Play Store.

There are more than four eBookstores, of course, including well-stocked ones from Kobo and Sony; here, we are only looking at the four largest storefronts tied to reading devices.

Our highly scientific method looks at three separate book lists that you're likely to be choosing your next read from: The New York Times Best Sellers in eBook Fiction; the New York Times Best Sellers In eBook Nonfiction; and USA Today's 100 Best-Selling Books of 2011. We've placed titles from those lists into a handy chart and listed the prices for each of the books in each of the four online stores above so you can easily see how prices compare. Sometimes there's no difference in price, so we've bolded the title of the book when there is.

What you conclude from the comparison probably depends on your perspective. To some, Amazon will appear to be the clear winner: Of the 70 books we checked, Amazon was cheaper than its competitors 15 times and was undersold just once, by 70 cents. Aside from that single blip, Amazon either offered the outright lowest price or was tied with other stores for the lowest price.

Of course, you could also look at these charts and conclude that a vast majority of the time, Amazon has the exact same prices as the other guys -- and the discounts being offered aren't exactly door busters. You're also not likely to choose an eReader based purely on the price of books in its proprietary store; other considerations, including (but not limited to) quality and price of hardware and software, connectivity options, and how easy it is to transfer books between devices, will also come into play.

For now, though, let's focus on eBook prices, shall we?

First, here are the Best Sellers in eBook Fiction for the week of Sept. 30. Out of the 25 books listed, the four stores offered the same price on 18 of them. Two times, Amazon had the outright lowest price. Barnes & Noble and Google Play each had the highest price twice, and Apple had the highest price three times.

Next,here are the Best Sellers in eBook Nonfiction for the week of Sept. 30. Out of the 25 books listed, the four stores offered the same price on 19 of them. Amazon offered a lower price than competitors five times. The Google Play Store did not carry two of the books.

Finally, we looked up a selection of books from USA Today's 100 best-selling books of 2011. Out of the 20 books we checked, the four stores offered the same price 15 times. Amazon offered the lowest outright price just once, and only Apple did not offer one of the books, as the iBookstore does not carry "The Hunger Games" or any of its sequels. iDevice users have to download the book in the Kindle or NOOK store, and then download the Kindle or NOOK app in the iOS store in order to follow the adventures of Katniss and friends.

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To reiterate, Amazon's relative cheapness doesn't necessarily mean everyone should rush out and purchase a Kindle Paperwhite. For one thing, there are more important considerations than the price of eBooks when considering a reader. For another, if you have an iOS or Android device, you can still access Kindle books by downloading the Kindle app and reading books there. The same is true for NOOK Books, which can also be accessed on the iPad and most Android tablets, including the Kindle Fire.

Rather, these price disparities finally serve as a vital reminder to comparison shop at multiple outlets before buying an eBook. That sounds time-consuming and boring, I know, but if you're pinching pennies, and you're a voracious reader, that money can add up. To cut down on the time you spend with four eBookstore tabs open on your browser, I'd recommend using a website like InkMesh, where you can input a book's title and view that book's price in several different eBookstores.

Until that Netflix For eBooks service pops up, you're going to have to shop around a bit before your purchase if you want to land on the lowest price. Because unfortunately, if you're trying to read "Steal This Book," it's much harder to do so on the Internet.

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