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4 posts from October 2009

B&N's Nook...and Beyond

Nook_angle viewThe big news in e-readers last week was B&N's announcement of their upcoming Nook device.  My first reaction was "meh", but the more I think about it, the more potential I see...not necessarily for the Nook, but rather for the e-reader space.

Let's start with the Nook features I find interesting:

3G Wireless and Wifi -- I blogged about this long ago and have often wondered why Amazon didn't bother offering wifi with the Kindle.  Some said it would be redundant with Whispernet.  I say nonsense, particularly since I use wifi every day with my iPhone 3GS.

Exclusive In-Store Content -- Another smart move, and a way for B&N to encourage Nook owners into their brick-and-mortar outlets.  I'm not sure how successful this will be but it's something Amazon simply can't do.  And if it words, an increase in in-store foot traffic is always a good thing.

eBook Sharing -- Also known as the "LendMe" feature, it's far from perfect but at least it's a first step towards one of the chief complaints about ebooks.

SD Slot -- I have a first-gen Kindle with an SD slot and I use the card all the time.  I still don't understand why Amazon dumped it with Kindle 2.  I ran out of device memory long ago on my Kindle 1 and if you own a Kindle 2 you will too at some point.

Free eBook with Pre-order -- Sometimes it's the little things that matter.  In this case, B&N gives you a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point when you pre-order a Nook.  Won't that be nice knowing that your device will show up with a great book already on it?  And from the publisher's point of view, if you haven't already read The Tipping Point, it will be an introduction to the genius of Gladwell and a chance that you'll want to buy one of his other books.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention the color navigation touch-screen at the bottom of the Nook.  How could I overlook that?  Well, it seems like a bit of a gimmick, but this is the feature that got me thinking.

Without access to an actual Nook (they don't ship till later next month) it's impossible for me to say what this color touchscreen will allow you to do (other than browse a virtual bookshelf).  I'd like to think B&N has additional plans for this area, but we'll have to see.  For example, will B&N open the device up to third-party developers, just like Apple has with the iPhone (and Amazon hasn't with the Kindle)?  Think of all the types of apps that could be developed for this display, not to mention the eInk display itself.  Some would also say they don't need apps for their reader, that they bought it for reading and nothing else.  Gee, before the iPhone we were all pretty content making calls and sending text messages.  It's funny how sometimes you don't know what you want till it's invented.  (It also reminds me of Henry Ford's famous quote about how if he would have asked people what they wanted they would have said "faster horses.")

That would be cool, but let's take that idea one step further.  Why doesn't someone come out with a stripped-down eInk display device with a slot for iPhone connection?  The eInk display wouldn't need 3G/wifi or some of the other features the Kindle, Sony, etc., have.  Make it bare-bones so that it can be sold for under $100.  Then either include a collapsible slot where an iPhone can slide in or just connect it via USB or Bluetooth.  Then you'd use the iPhone for all your purchases/downloads with no connectivity required from the reading device itself.

I've been wanting to have my cake and eat it too with an e-reader.  The combination of a stripped-down eInk device and my iPhone would be perfect.  I'd get the apps, extensibility and connectivity of the iPhone along with the easy-on-the-eyes and insanely long battery life features of eInk.  And, if the eInk device could really be priced below $100 it would make the Kindle sales total look like a rounding error!

Google Editions Should be a Game-Changer

Google2I spent last week in Frankfurt at the book fair and our inaugural Tools of Change (TOC) conference there.  TOC was terrific, but one session in particular grabbed my attention.  Amanda Edmonds, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Google gave a presentation on the much-anticipated Google Editions program.

Google Editions is ebooks, done right.  When it launches you'll be able to buy ebooks in (almost) every format for (almost) every device.  Why "almost"?  According to Amanda, the Kindle will be excluded.

So how can a new service be successful when it ignores the market leading device?  It sounds crazy but my money is on Google.  Customers don't want to be locked into a single format or device.  And while Amazon offers an app so you can read Kindle books on your iPhone, Google Editions will enable much broader access, not just for Kindle and iPhone.

Google Editions will be wildly successful...if it ever materializes.  The service has been rumored for a couple of years now and availability always seems to be "a few months away."  I hope the actual launch happens soon, and I can't wait to see how Amazon responds to it.

How the Kindle Prevents eContent from Evolving

Thumbsdown Perhaps I shouldn't single out the Kindle on this one.  What I'm about to say is true for the entire current generation of dedicated e-reader devices, not just the Kindle.  But the Kindle leads the way, so it gets the headline.

The problem with these devices is that they encourage quick print-to-e content conversion and nothing more.  In fact, they even discourage some of the simplest ways of enhancing print-to-e conversions.  Embedded links are a great example.  If you're a Kindle owner how often do you click on those links?  More specifically, how often do you groan as you click on those links, knowing that the browsing experience ahead is painful at best?  The irony is that although the Kindle was the first to include wireless functionality, that feature is really only good for one thing: buying content from Amazon.  Every other time I've used the "experimental" browser I've been disappointed.  That's because, at its heart, the Kindle is a reader and it doesn't encourage any other use.

If you love your Kindle you'd probably say, "so what? does what I need it to do."  My point is that as long as we're willing to accept this extremely limited functionality, and not ask for more, there's no incentive for Amazon to enhance it and there's no incentive for publishers to build richer content.

Are you really thrilled with the content that's available on today's dedicated e-readers?  I'm not.  And it's not just color and video that I crave.  I want to see a major leap forward, like when entertainment went from radio to TV, for example.

Transportation is another great analogy.  Years ago, trains were not only a great way to travel, they often represented the only way to get from point A to point B.  Then cars came along and totally changed the transportation industry.  It didn't happen overnight, but think about how much you take for granted now that you're not limited by train schedules, tracks that only go certain places, etc.

Trains still exist today, of course, and they serve an important need.  One-trick dedicated e-readers will probably exist for a long time too, but we desperately need the flexibility of something more than dedicated devices.  Smart phones and netbooks are nice too, but the form factors aren't perfect and battery life is often an issue.

The consumer experience could be greatly improved by a multi-function device with rich content options.  If you're a publisher and you're worried about the race to lower prices for quick print-to-e conversions you too should want more powerful devices since they'll allow you to charge more for the additional functionality of your content.

Have You Registered for this Week's Online TOC Conference?

Toc confThis is just a friendly reminder that it's not too late to register for the first online extension of O'Reilly's popular Tools of Change conference.  The event takes place this Thursday from 12-3:30 ET and features 3 sessions of panel discussion.  I'm moderating the ebook pricing panel which consists of Hugh McGuire (from, Neelan Choksi (from Lexcycle),  Trip Adler (from Scribd) and Michael Tamblyn (from Shortcovers).

The panel and I have been working on the right set of questions for the session and we're just about finished.  If you have a question or two you'd like this panel to discuss please send them to me today or tomorrow via email at jwikert[at]