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The Used Ebook Opportunity

Why Aren't E-Reading Devices Smarter?

I'm sinking in ebook samples. I've stored so many articles that I cringe when I open Instapaper. I almost forgot I'm only halfway through Walter Isaacson's book about Steve Jobs. In fact, there are at least three other ebooks I started and pretty much forgot about finishing. They've just fallen off my radar.

What's wrong with this picture?

I'm drowning in econtent and I'll bet you are too. My nook's user interface is similar to the Kindle's. Virtual shelves are considered a revolutionary content management technique. Really? Why are we so focused on replicating the physical world in the e-reading world? Shelves work fine for print books but why should we limit ourselves to that solution for ebooks? These devices we're reading on are capable of so much more!

Today's e-reading devices are the equivalent of yesterday's dumb terminals. Let's make 'em smarter! I want one with an econtent manager that has the following capabilities:

  1. Let me create a reading schedule and help me manage it. I'm currently in the middle of reading at least 4 different books on my nook. The problem is I only seem to focus my attention on 2 or 3 in any given week. This econtent manager should let me tell it what books I want to prioritize on my reading list and nudge me every day to tend to each one. Let me configure it to text me on my phone if I fall too far behind, for example. Rather than presenting me with a set of shelves and an ordering of the most recent ebooks I've opened I want something that's far more powerful and helps me stay on top of all of my econtent.
  2. Don't let me forget about samples. Sample content management is pathetic on all the major ebook platforms. Seriously. I've told B&N that I'm interested in a title and they're content to simply toss the short sample my way and never follow-up. I've got samples that are really old now and I've forgotten about them. Let's have a feature in this manager that knows when I downloaded every sample and, based on how I configure it, reminds me to check them out. For example, I'd love it if my nook would tell me I've got 4 samples that are now a month old and I've never even opened them. You'd think the ebook retailers would see the benefit of this service, especially since it would only lead to more conversions from free downloads to purchased ebooks. And let me subscribe to samples! I love baseball. Go ahead and send me the sample for every new baseball ebook as it's published. Don't worry...I'll delete the ones I don't care for.
  3. Tap into my Instapaper acount. Why do I have to go from ebook reader app to Instapaper app to read all the interesting web pages I've saved? Can we please just do this all in the ereader app?! And be sure to integrate this with the reading schedule feature outlined in point #1. So let me prioritize which Instapaper articles I need to read today, this week or this month. Better yet, how about we just cut out the middleman and just give me a "Send to..." option in every browser on every device and platform I use? A quick click of that button in my browser means that page will be pushed to my nook's new content manager and ready for me to read the next time I turn it on.

Today's ebook platforms are pretty hard to distinguish. I switched from a Kindle to a nook earlier this year and didn't notice any difference. This is an opportunity for everyone who's not in first place (B&N, Apple, Google or Kobo) to rise above all the others. They should push aside the physical world metaphors, leverage the capabilities of a digital device and help their customers manage their content and achieve their reading goals.


Alice Armitage

I'm swamped by all the books, samples, and articles I've accumulated to read "when I have more time". I would love a solution like this.


Who nudged you to read, and managed your reading schedule when everything was strictly in print? I'm not sure I understand how having several books on an e-reader is any different than having several books waiting on the nightstand?

As for samples, if you're downloading so many that you can't keep up, will you really have time to stop and check out the 4 you added a month ago, when your device reminds you? What would keep you from hitting the proverbial snooze button?

Joe Wikert

Gnightgirl, thanks for bringing up the nightstand analogy. I almost wrote it into the original post. The answer to your question is "the nightstand was my reminder"! IOW, by having the books I wanted to read stacked up next to my bed it was a constant reminder of what I still needed to get through. That's totally lost in the ebook world.

Regarding the sample frenzy, yes, it could still be challenging to keep up. But wouldn't it be nice if you could associate priorities with your samples? Say, 1-5, with 5 being the most important. As I get them I could quickly tag them as which ones I absolutely want to make sure I follow-up on. That doesn't mean I'll be able to read everything but at least I'd have a strategy for hitting the most important ones.

Howard (@eBookGenesis)

Amen, Joe! I would like to see stronger annotation/note-taking features, too. And getting around in an ebook is so sluggish. In a print book, I can flip pages quickly leaving my finger where I am so I can get back quickly. How do I do that in an ebook? It's like they tried to slavishly replicate the appearance of print books without taking the time to learn how to transfer the purpose behind how readers use their books.

One other big concern of mine is portability. I, too, have a nook. If a better device comes along that more completes my wish list, will I be able to bring my content over with me? Currently, no. It really feels like the retailers (B&N, Amazon, Apple) are all in it for themselves rather than the customer not remembering that happy customers make successful businesses. I'm not too worried, though. As adoption rates for ebooks go up, users will start to see the shortcomings of current ebooks and ereader systems and start to demand more. When more than 50% of sales start coming from ebooks, retailers and publishers will have pay attention.

Patrick Barber

I'd like an all-in-one reading tracker as well. Since i get e-books from a variety of sources (the library, Powells, Amazon, Inkling, Atavist) I sometimes have to spend some time searching through my various e-reading apps on my tablet to figure out where I left that book! The "nightstand" analogy doesn't quite cut it -- it's as if I have several nightstands, all in different rooms of the house. Of course, one thing I love about ebooks is that eventually I will find the book, no matter where I virtually left it, and that's more than I can say about the paperback I forgot to pick up at the library yesterday. With the blessings come the curses.

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