The real reason The Wirecutter recommends the Kindle Paperwhite

I love The Wirecutter. First, because reading it makes me feel good about any big tech purchase – or lack of purchase. I’ve long wanted noise-canceling headphones but the reviews have helped me shy away from buying any of the ones in my budget as the quality is not that good at that level.

So, when working on my book recommendations site, Coverlist, and deciding if I wanted to include a Buy button that would link to a site that sells ebooks, I looked to see how the various ebooks compare. I own a Kindle, am not sure what’s going on with the Nook and have heard very little about Kobo – plus, even though I don’t have an iPad, from the iPhone I know the Kindle iOS app is very good. Linking to Amazon seemed an obvious choice.

The Wirecutter, too, makes its money with affiliate links to Amazon.com. I love this about it because that means there are no ads. So, if I decide to buy something based on a Wirecutter review, I make sure to go through the site so they benefit. 

But even knowing this about the site, I initially found their recommendation on ebook readers to be a bit odd. They recommended the Kindle Paperwhite above all – not because of the product itself, but because of Amazon’s book library. Plus, when on every other review they offered insight on other competitive products, as runners-up, when it came to ebooks it was like they had only tested a single product. And weren’t even recommending it on the basis of the hardware itself. Which seems strange, for a personal tech site. 

I’d been talking to a local indie bookstore about Coverlist and the manager mentioned they sold the Kobo in-store and sold Kobo ebooks on their website. It seems Kobo is putting an emphasis on creating a mutually beneficial relationship with these brick-and-mortar shops, and on selling ebooks in a format that works on other devices, whereas Amazon is mostly known for pushing bookstores out of business and building a walled garden. 

After a bit of searching, I came across Engadget’s overwhelmingly positive Kobo review: “If you don’t mind paying for quality, do yourself a favor and take a serious look at the Aura.”

Why, if the product is slightly more expensive but better quality, did Wirecutter not even take a look?

Oh, because they only make money on affiliate links to Amazon. And Amazon (obviously) does not sell its competitor’s product. 

For any other gadget, it’s not likely that there would have been this conflict of interest, but it is something The Wirecutter should have disclosed, IMO. 

I’ve had my Kindle for over two years now, and it works well (except the Wi-Fi is broken so I have to transfer books to it by USB). Even though I don’t need a new ereader I am tempted to buy the Kobo to find out for myself if it is, truly, the best ereader.