Ethical shopping guide to e-readers, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to e-readers, from Ethical Consumer.

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Is Amazon squeezing out its competition in the e-reader market?

This guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 3 brands of e-readers
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • what are e-readers
  • the dominance of Amazon's Kindle


This guide is part of our Electronics Report. See what else is in the report. 


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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of Nov/Dec 2016

We recommend that you buy a second-hand or refurbished e-reader wherever possible.

Bookeen is top of the table and scores best in our tax avoidance rating making it a viable alternative to Amazon. We are currently running a boycott of Amazon because its whole business model appears to be built around using tax avoidance as a way to help make their prices among the cheapest online.

However, like the other two companies, Bookeen scores worst for its conflict minerals policy, supply chain and environmental reporting policies. 












Special Report

Ethical issues in the Electronics Industry


Last updated: October 2016



Why buy an e-reader?


If you already have a tablet (see separate product guide to Tablets), we wouldn’t advise that you buy a separate e-reader. There is plenty of software available for both Apple and Android platforms that lets you read e-books on your device.


But, if you don’t have a tablet, here are some reasons why investing in a dedicated e-reader might be a good idea:

  • They can be lighter than a tablet or a book, yet store hundreds of books.
  • Most e-readers have an E-Ink screen which looks much like paper and is easier on the eyes than the colour LCD screen of a phone or tablet. It also won’t stop you going to sleep like the blue light emitted from an LCD screen can, so e-readers are better for late-night reading.
  • E-Ink screens excel in bright sunlight, which can cause reflections on the glossy screens of other mobile devices.
  • Most e-readers are around six inches and weigh around 200g, an ideal size and weight to comfortably hold for prolonged periods and carry around with you.
  • Battery life is also much better on dedicated e-readers compared to phones and tablets.
  • With Kindle e-readers you have to use Amazon’s online bookstore, while Kobo and Bookeen e-readers let you download content from other stores.


Image:e-reader in ethical shopping guide to e-readers




Amazon's monopoly


When we last looked at e-readers in 2013, we covered 15 brands. Now, there are only three main brands available in the UK, two of them from online retail giants – Amazon from the USA (Kindle) and Rakuten from Japan (Kobo) – and the third from a French company, Bookeen, which specialises in e-readers and e-books.

Nook has decided to stop selling e-readers in the UK. Sony and Archos have also stopped making e-readers. Amazon, by far the market leader with its Kindle brand, may well have had a hand in squeezing out all its rivals.



Conflict Minerals

It has long been known that the extraction of minerals has become entangled with human conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Known as conflict minerals or 3TGs, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mined in the DRC have been linked to the funding of armed groups, and have helped to fuel a war for over twenty years. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the minerals provide a valuable source of income to rebel groups, militias, and criminal gangs. Some of the minerals are smuggled out of the country, along with the industry’s profits, leaving the DRC’s population of 77 million struggling to survive.[1] The minerals go on to be used in electronic products such as laptops, e-readers and mobile phones.

All three e-reader companies score worst for conflict minerals. Read our feature on conflict minerals for an update on the Dodd-Frank Act. 



Toxic Chemicals

Three chemicals are often used in electronics and have been highlighted by Greenpeace as the most hazardous – brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC and phthalates.

BFRs and PVC are both organohalogens. Some well-known (and very hazardous) examples of organohalogens include PCBs, DDT, and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) – all of which are now globally banned by the United Nation’s Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty.[2]

Toxic chemicals policy ratings

Apple leads the way in the electronics industry having phased out PVC and BFR in its products, including its cables, way back in 2008. Apple products are also free from phthalates. So there is no excuse for other companies not to follow suit.

To get our best rating for a toxic chemicals policy, like Apple, a company must have phased out the use of all three chemicals or have set a date by which it will have done so.

Unfortunately, most companies get our worst rating for having no commitment to totally phasing out all three of these chemicals. Companies who get a worst rating for toxic chemicals could also not get a best rating for Environmental Reporting. 

All three brands get a worst toxics rating - Amazon, Kobo and Bookeen. 



Company Profile


Founded in 2009, Kobo (an anagram of book!) is owned by the Tokyo-based Rakuten, Japan’s largest online retailer. The Japanese word ‘rakuten’ means optimism. It recently sold UK online retailer Play.com which used to be a major rival to Amazon in the UK. It still has an interest in Pinterest.

In 2014, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory. Rakuten agreed to end all online sales of whale and dolphin meat, but we could find no evidence that it has stopped selling elephant ivory. [1]

Want to know more?

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1 Japan’s biggest online retailer, Rakuten, ends whale meat sale, The Guardian 4 April 2014
2 Flame retardants & PVC in electronics, Electronics Takeback Coalition – www.electronicstakeback.com/toxics-in-electronics/flame-retardants-pvc-and-electronics, viewed October 2016 



This product guide is part of a wider report into the Electronics Industry. See what else is in the report.



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