The Future of Dedicated eBook Readers
Scoble's Interview with Tim O'Reilly

eDevices: Another Reader's Perspective

Quill Yesterday's post about the BusinessWeek eReader article generated a couple of comments and emails.  An email from reader Kevin Parsons summed things up pretty well and he agreed to let me share it with you here (we publishers should pay particular attention to the points Kevin makes in the final two paragraphs):

A month ago I would have said you were crazy and anti-Amazon, but I think that your current column is right on the money.

Let me say that I am glad I have a Kindle and am certainly getting my money out of it in terms of enjoyment.  But, when my wife upgraded to the 3G and I got her original iPhone, I discovered that there were more ways to read an electronic book than using a Kindle or other e-ink product.

I downloaded Stanza and put it through an extended test.  I have now read about 5 novels as well as some smaller works and magazines that were available, and all I can say is that it is a solid alternative.  The only negative I see so far is that the pricing of new books available for Stanza is far above what Amazon offers.  That needs to change or the publishing industry will go the way of the music industry (but that is a topic for another day).  It helped that right before my trip, Random House made about 10 books available for free and available for the Stanza and other readers.  And since I was going to London, I downloaded some free books by Dickens, Austen and others.

As a reader, the iPhone works very well.  I recently went to London for a week's vacation with my wife and decided to skip bringing any books or magazines and I left my Kindle at home.  The iPhone/Stanza reader was all I had and as it turned out was all I needed.  On the flight back (10 hours on the plane) I did run the battery down late in the flight, but that was an isolated circumstance.

Stanza makes it easy to download on the fly, as well as using the PC or Mac edition over WiFi to upload from a computer.  It works with all of the major formats and once on the reader, allows for a decent amount of manipulation.  It is relatively easy to change font size, the actual font used, background and text color, etc.  In fact, it is actually nice to be able to change the background color on occasion just for something different.  I have found there to be little or no eye strain like I get reading off a PC monitor screen.  The iPhone screen is backlit but not in a way that - for me anyway - causes my eyes to get tired or strained.

Plus, reading on a phone is pretty convenient.  If you have 5 minutes of wait time - sitting in a taxi/train/subway or waiting a table in a restaurant, you can pull it out and read.  No hassle at all.  And while I am talking about the iPhone here, I am sure other smart phones do much the same thing.  When I first got this phone from my wife, I thought that it was a waste of money.  I HATE talking on the phone - so why spend 40 bucks a month for a cell phone?  But it is a lot more than that.  I can put a library in my pocket, and an alarm clock, and a stereo, and a newspaper, and and a video player - oh, and a phone.

I have read over 60 books in the 9 months I have had my Kindle.  I use it for RSS feeds and being a techie, have played around with all of the available tricks and "experimental features" that are on the Kindle. It is a great start by Amazon in that you can use it for multiple functions.  I can read my book and then turn on the browser and at least check the headlines or the latest scores. I can download pretty much any classic I want from Feedbooks or other websites.  It is a great product, but if I was going to pick a personal "gadget of the year" I think I would have to go with the iPhone. 

One other thing I wanted to mention is that with all of the problems that publishing has been going through lately, I have to say that Penguin stands out as a publisher with a vision.  They have an iPhone app available for free that is useful for seeing what is new and has some good features that keep it on my phone.  They have a line of coffee mugs, umbrellas and other products that not only look nice but push their brand name.  I think that is clever marketing.  I also think that smart publishers can compete with even the free classics with a little work.  I like free as much as anyone, but if a publisher makes a book available with added features (introductory essay, annotations, glossary, etc) I would gladly part with my money.  I don't think I am alone in that either.  If I have the choice between a free book and a $5.00 book that I know is the definitive version that the author wanted in print and has a good introduction and endnotes, I would pay for it.  A good example is the Pride and Prejudice Enriched E-book (Kindle Edition) available from Penquin.  It was a free download that I took advantage of but it opened my eyes to what a publisher can do to enrich the reading experience. 

Which is another point - publishers making books available for free.  I have in 2 instances downloaded a free book and discovered I liked the author.  In one case it was a mystery series and I ended up buying via my Kindle the next 2 books in the series and will buy the next in the series soon.  It was an author I may have never discovered and shows how giving something away can actually pay off.  I emailed the author and publisher as well to make this point.

Comments

David Crotty

Simple numbers will give you the answer regarding the future of stand-alone readers: they're going to fail. Think of it this way, looking at the numbers in this NY Times article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/technology/24kindle.html?_r=1&hp
Kindle: 260,000 units
Sony eReader: 300,000 units

Then look at the iPhone numbers, 6,000,000 confirmed, expected to have exceeded 10,000,000 by the end of 2008. And that's only one device from one company. Make a common file format that can be read on a Blackberry and an Android phone and the market gets even bigger. As a publisher, where would you focus your efforts?

Factor in that most people are willing to pay to have a cel phone, but getting folks to pony up $300 for a device to read books is not an easy sell (especially when the books still need to be paid for). You can buy a book and read it on the phone you already have paid for, or you can pay $300 plus the price of that book to read it. Which makes more sense?

Also think in terms of the costs of production for the device, and how the increased scale gets you to a point where the device is trivially cheap, or even free, and you can employ the business model where the handle is free and you sell the razor blades. More on the economics here:
http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2008/03/cory-doctorow-put-not-your-faith-in.html

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