How Much Storage Space do eBook Readers Really Need?

Sandisk Memory Card

With the upcoming release of the Kobo Aura One, it got me thinking about how it’s starting to become the standard for ebook readers to come without memory card slots.

Amazon was the first to ditch memory cards, of course. The 1st Kindle was the only model to have one.

Then B&N followed suit with the Nook GlowLight and GlowLight Plus, and now the last three ereaders from Kobo have lacked memory card expansion as well.

At least Kobo had the sense to double the internal storage space on the Kobo Aura One to 8GB, making it the first non-Android ereader to have more than 4GB.

Some people are already complaining that 8GB isn’t enough, that without a memory card slot the Kobo Aura One is a big disappointment.

I was thinking about this argument and quite frankly it doesn’t make any sense. 8GB is more than enough for a dedicated ebook reader.

With 8GB of storage space, that’s easily enough to hold well over 5,000 average-sized ebooks.

Complaining that that’s not enough space for ebooks on a single device is just plain ridiculous. Any ereader’s battery would die long before you had enough time to read anywhere near that many books.

Even if you somehow managed to read one entire ebook every single day, it would take over 13 years to read that many books. You’d be lucky if an ereader’s battery lasted half that long.

So when you really stop to think about it, this obsession with more storage space and memory card slots on dedicated E Ink ereaders just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Sure, it’s nice to have your entire library on a single card, but from a practical standpoint anything over 8GB is just overkill.

These devices are designed to read ebooks. They aren’t designed for massive PDF libraries, and Kobo’s PDF features are too basic anyway. At this point more memory just doesn’t make sense. I can see why Kobo has decided to go without memory card slots moving forward, especially with a waterproof design.

38 Responses to “How Much Storage Space do eBook Readers Really Need?”

  1. I agree…8 is plenty for a dedicated ereader. Heck, I think 4 is plenty.
    I think RAM is where most ereaders lack.

  2. That’s an interesting perspective, and I suppose one that companies must be adopting… Personally, I actually do miss having a working card reader slot. I like to have a lot of selection between titles (I’m sure most would consider it “insane”), without having to shuffle files from computer to device and back. I feel the same about “classic” iPods with tons of hard drive space vs. the new ones which max out at a fraction of the space. I may be a bit of the digital hoarder, but the good news for you is that the companies are supporting what you want, not what I want.

  3. After 4 years of owning e-readers, my conclusion is that if you want to store a lot of books, keep them on your hard drive. PDFs can take up a lot of space. The e-readers I own have all had some sort of problem in handling large numbers of books.

    Your point about having enough books to read for 13 years is well-taken.

    • So you’re saying that instead of fixing their indexing, let’s hope that they’ll shrink the storage even more at the same price?

  4. Seeing the devices as pure ebook reader, you’re right – modern formats should not use up that much space.
    Seeing the devices as small computers with ultra-long battery life and a possibly hackable/replaceable/rootable operating system, the trend to exclude card reader slots feels like something different: To make the models less attractive for the hacker community, and to protect sales and price points of dedicated tablets and proprietary hardware. Strategically sound, but sad.

    • THE most helpful fix that (still) works for Kindle is to replace the search index *folder* with a text file of the same name. It stops the device from indexing and fixes slowdowns with large numbers of books. You can still search for titles but not specific text (which I never do, anyway).

      For me, it made my Kindle e-readers *much* more usable. I’ve a large library and I can add hundreds of books at a time and fill the devices to capacity without *any* impact.

      It’s absurd that Amazon doesn’t have an option to disable indexing for those who don’t need it.

      As for size, for me 4GB is helpful but not adequate. 8GB is adequate and as long as the device has 8, I don’t need an sdcard. Memory is so cheap that it adds almost nothing to the cost to bump up the storage to that level.

  5. For my Kobos that have card slots, I don’t even use them. But I really hope the new 6″ Kobo has 8 gb space, that alone would be enough for me to buy it.

  6. I try not to keep more than 10-20 books on my e-reader at a time which requires practically no space. I don’t like to use the e-reader’s organization features.

  7. Having tons of books on a device is convenient but ultimately distracting. I force myself not to have more than 5 books loaded at a time to avoid jumping ship and staying focused on what i’m reading. 4gb and especially 8gb is more than enough but given the option obviously 8gb it would be best. While storage is important it isn’t nearly as crucial as finally having a larger eReader at 300ppi with waterproof AND a flush screen. All that plus Kobo’s customization is literally a dream come true. I can’t wait!

  8. Yes, ridiculous idea to think that someone buying a 7.8 inch e-ink device will read on it epub or mobi files, that generally are less than 1 MB and easily reflow and adjust font size.

    aCTUALLY I bought the relatively bigger 6.8 inch Aura H2O to read pdfs, some of them tens if not hundreds of MB each, and that only because I knew that I can jailbreak the ereader and install smart applications like “koreader”, which makes reading small-print un-OCR or textbook pdf text easy.

    The new “Kobo One” without a sd card reader renders the still bigger, high-resolution and as such potentially attractive screen useless, if one intend to read epubs or mobis, or use the shitty applications kobo guys created… Why buy it???? Having all the big pdf files always in the ereader’s memory is still something edsirable.

    • A jailbreak need not rely on a sd-card. Kindle jailbreaks where possible (firmware updates made them harder), for a time hardware soldering was needed, the current process (Oasis, Voyage, Paperwhite V 2/3, not sure about the latest Touch) is without soldering, but overly complicated (downgrade firmware, jailbreak, firmware update etc.).
      Given enough tinkering and time someone might find a way to jailbreak the new Kobo.
      For me I would like to compare the new Pocketbook with the new Kobo, could buy one of them, and currently I lean to the Pocketbook as having a few features (Dropbox) I want, but that might change if important features are the same (waterproof is one for the Kobo).

    • PDF’s which are “hundreds of MB”? I have books in PDF format which are 600+ pages long, include many pictures and diagrams, and come in at under 18MB.

      • @ JohnS: Just lucky. Unfortunately your experience with pdf files is not necessarily the most relevant for anyone.

        @ Ingo Lembcke: jailbreaking allowed me to install koreader which keeps settings from a page to the next on small print text, and sd card slot on H2O made possible to keep always ready a collection of big pdf files.

        Now that all the ereader makers did abandon external card slots, one can ask why that, in a world where some found terrabyte hdds on their computers “too small”. It is obviously not the price the matter here. Nor the uselessness, because at least once in an ereader’s lifetime anybody will find it a more convenient way to store files. It seems to be just the ol’ apple-style push to keep users prisoners, caged in the kobo, or amazon environment.

  9. For me, I think the more storage the better:

    Having a complete copy of your library on a separate media, on a different location, seems to me to be an excellent and easy way of maintaining an always up to date back up of your files.

    Besides, I alway want the book that is not currently on the device. 🙂

    I agree that a large library on the e-reader makes it a very sluggish business to index and sort and handle your books on the device; a limitation with today’s current devices I’m not too fond of.

    I agree that PDFs are too large and thus I generally minimize the amount of PDFs in my library.

    CBRs are huge too, and again I really feel I cannot use my e-readers for that purpose. The screens are also too small for CBRs and PDFs for my tastes.

    I suspect that the poor handling of PDFs on most e-book readers might be due in part to the all too often puny size of the RAM; 512 MB which in this day and age to me seems to be far too small.

    Thumbs of the book covers, if I understand the workings of e-readers and some programs like Calibre Companion correct, are stored in the RAM, and this makes 512 MB insufficient in my view.

    Ideally, I’d personally like to see an e-reader with heavily beefed up specs, and I wouldn’t mind sacrificing some battery charge to get an e-reader, with an E-ink screen that was more snappy and closer to a tablet in performance.

    If I’m away, I always carry a charger anyway, for the phone and the tablet.

    Yes, I know I’m very demanding, but in my view todays devices are woefully under-spec’ed and cumbersome to use. No wonder the sale of e-book readers are reported down, and that people are not upgrading as often as is the case with phones and tablets.

    Currently owning devices using proprietary Unix-based, and Android UIs.

    • The fact is, Kobo uses SD cards internally and 1-4 GB cards are getting really hard to buy. The price difference between 4 and 8 GB is 0,18 eur:

      Yes, 2,32 vs 2,50. So people, when you’re arguing that Kobo shouldn’t put such huge cards inside their devices to save 18 cents, you’re not making any sense. You basically want to have obsolete technology to save 18 cents when buying a 229,99 eur premium device. Would you buy the latest Samsung phone with 256 MB of internal storage (instead of 64GB) to save 10 cents?

  10. I read mainly on Sony PRS T1. Its still a great reader. I like using the SD card to store mp3s as well as epub. I don’t read any other format. I like my headphone music & the tons of books on my card. E book readers have gone downhill since Sony left the bizness.

  11. I was thinking the same thing, but then I remembered when I was working for Mattel Toys back in the late 70s’ we upgraded the disk storage for our IBM mainframe that was beginning to get sluggish and Users were complaining.
    The new disks had enough storage and was supposed to last us years into the future the experts said… The new drives were filled up within the month. It seems every Programer and User had stuff they needed ready to retrieve and now with more storage that’s exactly what they did filling up the space. Give me a 32GB SD anytime over not being able to store some new format that comes out in the future…

  12. As can be seen from all the comments, the real answer to the question posed in the title is “it depends”. For ereaders with screens big enough to read non-reflow PDFs, more on-board memory or an SD card slot would be an advantage. For 6″ readers, even 300ppi ones, are really too small for reading PDFs, so 4 or 8GB is plenty. As many have pointed out, one thing that ereaders could use is more RAM. I would gladly give up 512MB of storage for 512GB more RAM.

    I suspect the main reason for manufactures deleting the SD card slot from their devices is that the SC card slots have become the primary way for non-technical users to jailbreak/root their devices. This is an attitude I do not fully understand. Sure Amazon, B&N, and Kobo want to sell content, but very few people are going to modify their readers so much that they can’t still buy content from the supplier. It would seem to me that the manufactures should include verbiage in their warranty documents stating that jailbreaking/rooting will void the warranty and they will provide no support for the device. If users are comfortable rooting their devices, then why not let them as long as you (the manufacturer) don’t have to support the rooted devices?

    • I get around the pdf issue with a 6″ reader by reading the pdf in landscape mode, which my Sony PRS-T1 allows me to do, not ideal, but it does work relatively well, especially because I use pdfs mainly for reference purposes.

      I agree with your jail break theory, but also think that its adds like a $1 to the manufacturing cost. So it’s also manufacturers trying to save that small additional cost.

  13. Give me an expandable memory card any day over being “limited”.

    I have a massive PDF library that I want to have on hand and currently 4GB is slightly too small for my purposes. Fortunately, I own a Sony PRS-T1 and I am not “limited” in this regard.

    I think 8GB is plenty for my purposes right now, however I like the person’s earlier post about future proofing your e-reader.

    Believe me expandable storage is a very good thing.

  14. If you go to a store, the price difference between 4 GB and 16 GB SD cards is…

    0,58 EUR.

    So you’re basically arguing that devices should have obsolete SD cards manufactured years ago to save 0,58 EUR in a 229,99 EUR device. This just doesn’t make any sense. From one perspective, yes you probably don’t need that much space – – BUT why would you voluntarily want a lot worse device to save 0,2%. If you include tax and shipping, it’s even less. I’m just saying that really soon it’s probably more expensive to manufacture smaller cards as nobody wants them that small anymore.

    Bigger cards have other benefits as well like better wear leveling.

  15. Personally I would also use a dedicated reader for audio-books which would take more room.

    There are also people out there that might like to keep a reference library on hand, or having different sets of books on several cards using the card to load books into the device without connecting to a computer.

    You could make the argument for keeping a small amount of books/audio-books because you couldn’t possibly manage to read more;
    However people like to have a selection with them, not having to keep running to your PC is a big benefit, also not having to keep managing your device library to keep it from inflating.

    Flexibility is key to device longevity.
    Since card prices keep dropping and storage demand keep rising, having a card slot gives the user the option to upgrade their storage when its right for them.

    • Agree. Flexibility is a very good thing. Expandable storage gives you that.

      What always puzzles me are tablets or smartphones that don’t have expandable storage. I might buy an e-reader that had at least 4GB (or better yet 8GB), but a tablet or a smartphone that doesn’t have expandable storage? I won’t even consider it, a tablet/smartphone without expandable storage is a complete non-starter for me.

      Kudos to Amazon for adding expandable storage to their Fire tablets and for Samsung for re-adding expandable storage to their Samsung Galaxy line. I think part of the big success of these devices is that they offer expandable storage.

  16. While I agree that 8GB is sufficient, your statement about a large library is, IMHO, ridiculous.

    First, I’d like to archive my library on a device beyond my PC and the e-reader itself is the best medium for that: It’s a lot more reliable than a PC harddrive/ssd/flashdrive and it doesn’t require me to send the archive to some place out of my control.

    Second, the sad state of publishing today is that (for me) only about 1 in 4 books are worth reading and it’s helpful to have a selection.

    More to the point, people are different and there is no one correct way to use an e-book. Amazon’s approach is “you’ll use it as we say and you’ll like it” and they express that it any number of ways, from storage to typography controls. The arrogance is astounding and, like Donald Trump, their hypocrisy is stunning for a company which *says* that its business model is accommodating the user

  17. I don’t think your comment was meant for me, and you are right that the large (PDF) reference library use case is probably a niche use case. Currently, I have 4.5 GB of books on my microSD card, and growing at a slow rate. Maybe .3 to .5 GB per year.

    8GB will probably be fine for the next 7-11 years! However, for my use case 4GB is not enough.

    • If you format a 8 GB card, it has a lot less than 8 GB free. The operating system also requires some space, e.g. the Kindle OS was something like 750 MB when I had my (3rd gen?) Kindle. I’m pretty sure that you face some issues if the device runs out of space. So the 4 GB could actually mean only 3 GB free.

      • Yes — good point, an even better argument that 4GB on the system is not enough. Maybe the entry level model from each vendor with 4GB is enough, but the mid and high end models for each company (Amazon. Kobo, Onyx, B&N, etc…) should have 8GB or an expandable memory card slot.

        With the expandable memory slot being the better option. 🙂

  18. I read ebooks and pdfs, tried a Kobo H20 and a Kindle Paperwhite; I returned them both. I found buying an anti-glare/matte screen (Tech Armour £7 upgrade), made a huge difference to reading functionality of my iPad – can even use it outside now – although obviously – doesn’t compete with e-ink.

    For me, the e-ink technology needs to be improved with regards to processing power, memory, and screen size to cost ratio.

    Interestingly, there’s no proof e-ink is easier on your eyes (staring at a fixed point for an extended time is the issue), it’s just a personal preference and turning down the LCD backlight on an iPad makes a big difference to the perceived strain that LCD backlighting causes.

    I would say, though, I do prefer reading from an e-ink screen so when the technology catches up and can fit my needs…

  19. To answer the original question LOL, I’d definitely want a micro sd slot if it’s also designed for pdf use.

  20. “They aren’t designed for massive PDF libraries, and Kobo’s PDF features are too basic anyway.”

    If an 8 inch reader isn’t designed for pdf reading, then what is it for? It’s lost portability in going to that large size.

    If Kobo is going to make a large, very high resolution ereader they should know their target demographic. They should include a micro-sd card slot and improve the pdf reader.

    Your post stating that no one needs more memory is obviously invalid just for the fact that there are many people on the forums (mobilereads etc.) that want and require a micro-sd card slot. And there are some that bought the Aura H2O just because it had that extra storage.

    I don’t use that card slot, but I’m not going to complain because some people do and pretend that they’re completely irrational for wanting it. That’s just stupid and arrogant.

  21. Regarding the need for an SD card, I looked at my old Nook Simple Touch. It has only 250 MEG for sideloaded material. That arrangement resulted in my purchasing an SD card soon after I got the Nook.

  22. Yes — your comment supports the flexibility argument of an SD card slot. You took an older reader and easily expanded its capabilities because of this feature.

    Please vendors — put expandable storage on your e-readers!! At least the mid to high end model e-readers. IMHO: If you spend more than $100 on an e-reader, you should get expandable storage. It’s an incredible feature.

  23. No way am I going to go through the hassle of having to make and track a separate collection of what’s on my ereader! It’s just a waste of time and energy.

    The whole point of digital books is that I’m no longer limited by my personal carrying capacity. Why would I want an ereader that has artificial restrictions replicating the irritations of physical books?

    It’s especially silly on an ereader clearly designed for PDFs. I’m not a huge comics reader, but even so I have enough that 6.8 GB would limit what I can bring.

    I was looking forward to the Aura One until I saw that it had no expandable storage. Now I’m paying a lot more attention to news of Onyx releases.

  24. For people who like downloading comics and manga, the extra space is a must. A whole manga can take up multiple gigabytes. If you want to have more than one, you definitely need an SD card in there.

  25. My wife just bought the latest Aura with 4GB internal memory to replace the one she lost at the airport. I tried to sync and download all of my wife’s purchased books. I was able to download 667 of her 998 books before finding out that downloading stopped due to not enough memory. So, in our case, 4GB is not enough. Possibly, inefficient encoding has increased the size of the books.
    Why download them all? First of all, why not? There should have been enough room for 3000 books.
    Secondly, consider how eReaders work for a non-technical person. All you have to do is buy your books, sync, download and read. If you have to take books off for the sake of room, then you are adding another layer of complexity deciding what to remove, keeping track of what you’ve read, where the book is stored, etc. Altogether too much effort for a busy individual who is not interested in technical details.
    Kobo needs to increase the size of the internal microSD card as mentioned by other commenters, or give us back the external microSD slot. (More important to me than waterproofing).

  26. I got the Kindle Voyage with 4GB a couple of years ago. It was expensive, but worth the price IMHO. I filled that e-reader within 6 months. I was shocked it only held 2764 books. Yes, I could have stored them elsewhere, but why should I? I paid a lot for the e-reader, it should hold a lot more than than, or have expandable storage to accommodate larger libraries. If you buy the books, (ok, Kindle has a lot of free and promo books in ARC from the authors which is a great help for the buyer), but I end up buying collections of books or the entire series offered by a given author. We pay for the e-reader and the book, no reason to have to delete it or shuffle it elsewhere for storage. I upgraded to the Kindle Oasis a month ago. It has 32 GB of storage. Hope that’s enough. I may never read all the books stored in the Oasis, but I will give it my best effort. Reading is my hobby. No reason to skimp. IMHO, the more storage available, the better.