Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Battle for the Future of E-Books

Since e-books came up in yesterday's comments and I have yet to talk about our upcoming E-lysium/new e-reading devices this year, I figured I'd take a moment to tell you what I really think the future is: this.

Now, before I accidentally incite a PC/Mac war, let me be clear: I'm not necessarily putting my money on Apple as the leader of the New World Order (Microsoft will be a contender, along with the canonical trifecta of Amazon, Google, and Walmart). What I am saying is this: as much as we hear about eyestrain and the doom associated with backlit screens, this is not a dealbreaker for all of us, and further, I'm fairly certain the all-in-one package will soon beat out the dedicated device.

Imagine it: a Mac or PC tablet that integrates full-color books into the existing super-device that is the smartphone (Internet browsing, calling, texting,, you name it). My bet is that this model will be far more popular than a black-and-white device like the Kindle that only serves one purpose. Sure, Apple (or whoever becomes the Tablet King) will have to overcome obstacles like existing market/mindshare, infrastructure, DRM, &c, but they're a smart bunch. As a result, I don't think Amazon will be quite as monolithic in the e-book industry in five years as they are now.

That said, I'm still interested in the new e-ink models coming out this spring. Sure, you can't watch a video on them or use them to look up that obscure literary reference you just read, but some of them (such as the Skiff and the Que) look pretty sweet. I don't think they'll last in the long run, but I think they're a key part of the ongoing print-to-digital (r)evolution (analogous to Zip disks, laserdiscs, HD DVDs, and so on).

Basically, it comes down to this: I think the Kindle and other dedicated e-readers are necessary to the future of publishing, but they are not going to be carrying the torch for very long; e-books will outlive these types of e-readers by a significant margin.

Next up: dozens of angry commenters who got or gave Kindles for Christmas thronging the comments section! Details at 11:00!


  1. Mac fangirl here. I'm totally pumped about the tablet but I never do the early adopter thing. I let somebody with more money spend the extra few hundred dollars to figure out what doesn't work right. Then, after the bugs are fixed and the price drops, I might pick one up.

    One of the things that has me fired up about the Mac tablet is their approach to publishers. If they stick to the "we get 30% you get 70%" plan they could potentially end around Amazon. Apple has a long history of protecting the artist's rights and still managed to make money in music while everyone else went belly up. If I were a publisher, I would absolutely favor Apple in the eBook market. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple scores some exclusivity with eBook titles. Between the tablet and any iPhone apps they could certainly compete with Kindle.

    It should be fun to watch, at any rate!

  2. I think full-cplor really is the future. I keep telling people to wait to buy one until the technology is there because once it is, other E-Readers will become obsolete because there will be great new features. Eventually, e-ink will be able to do it, but I think any reader of any kind that can do this will have the leg up.

    I really think Amazon will be shocked how quickly their sales go down. I know a few people who got a Kindle and wish they waited for the Nook or for the Tablet.

  3. I think the Kindle and other dedicated e-readers are necessary to the future of publishing, but they are not going to be carrying the torch for very long.

    I agree. Things are moving very quickly right now.

  4. I resisted the allure of the Kindle to await the (probably) sexier offering from Apple. Can't wait to take a look at it!

  5. I've been linked to that demo video a few times and the thing that bothers me about the enthusiasm around it is that it's not a demo video. It's an animation. It's a conceptualization of what they're building, not an actual view of what they've built. The final product always falls short of the vision.

    I agree that single-use items are not the future (much to my disappointment as I don't like reading on my phone), but I disagree that the players are relegated to Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and the other giants. The year before the iPod was released, Apple's shares were trading at $5 and change. Just think of that. If you had bought $10,000 worth of stock, you'd have $270k or so to play with. Technology always makes available the unknown visionary to upend the entire industry.

    I'm still waiting for the big new idea to come along and blow our minds. Until then, I'll hug my single-use reader.

    (And as both a mac and PC owner, Apple is good at building reputation, but not good at customer service or playing well with others. The notion that they're the salvation of publishing rather than the tyrant to be feared boggles my mind.)

  6. U dont know NE THING about TEKNOLOGY!!!! THE kindle RULZ wtf haterrrr!! just bc u nevr read the book dont talk about what u dont understand!! !!!

  7. The scary lady's come from her blog to yours. Now it's scary here too. If she starts posting pictures of men in skull helmets, I'm hiding under my bed.

  8. You're all nuts. The Kindle works because of the whole e-book package. It's e-ink, it's relatively inexpensive compared to things like the Apple Tablet, and more than that--it has a massive bookstore behin it and most of the books are pretty cheap. They also have the Kindle DX for textbooks.

    As a publisher, I don't give a damn what e-readers are out there (The number seems to keep growing.). Whatever the reader, I'm going to code and format and distribute to all of them. But as a consumer, I have my Kindle, I have a cell phone, I have a computer. Why would I want to go out and spend a thousand bucks for a single device that ends up being a really small computer, a backlit reading device, and a really huge cell phone, and all the books on my Kindle will have to be re-bought.

    Amazon should not rest, now that all these other sharks have shown up in the water. They should look at a better retailer/publisher split for instance, The should look at selling their reader for around a hundred bucks, and they should continue to release improved models as improvements are made, such as color e-ink. But I can tell you this, as a reader, all I want is my Kindle.

    Even the Nook is a joke. I tried one out at B&N. It kept freezing up and I had to reboot it constantly. It was slow and my fingers, which are average size, were too big to work the touch screen controls.

    And you're forgetting one very important aspect: the readers' psychology. Imagine a day were everything is quick, quick, quick: fast food for lunch, phone calls all day, people, cubicles, customers, bosses, faxes, e-mails, web sites, twitters, demands, expectations, etc.

    But when you're in the tub, or when you're in bed for the night, you don't want that. I couldn't stand to have that. All I want is my Kindle with it's e-ink screen. That's how people read a book. They don't read it like we read twitter.

    It's not that you can't combine everything; it's that we won't want to. Not the real readers anyway, not the people who actually buy fiction novels.

  9. I can see both sides. All I really want is to be able to see pretty color bookcovers on a reading device :P. As soon as I can get that, on an uncluttered device, I'll be a happy camper.

    It will be fascinating to see what technology comes out on top!

  10. One thing that could really help Apple with their tablet becoming an ebook reader is if they allow for self-publishing through their ebook store. If there is an approval process like at the app store, there are a lot of self-published authors who would lose out. If they do the 30/70 split and give self-pub/small/midlist authors the ability to promote as well as Amazon does, then they might have something.

    Also, I mean, heck, I'm sure there will be a Kindle app for the thing.

    I won't be an early adopter, but I may pick one up eventually. It all depends on how easy the tablet is to type on for lengthy periods of time. I love the idea of being able to use it as a laptop, but a touch-screen only keyboard has its ups and downs on the iPhone already. We'll see if I like writing essays and blogs and novels on the tablet's touchscreen.

    I won't be an early adopter, like Laurel said up top, but I will probably eventually buy in. If--and only if--the tablet promises to do something that my iPhone cannot do. If it's just a larger iPhone, then I'll stick to saving up for a MacBook Pro. If it's really as revolutionary as some people think it will be, then I'll wait for the second generation when all the bugs get worked out, like I did with the iPhone OS.

  11. It looks like apple will be releasing their iTablet round about the time I'll be needing a new laptop. Which is nice.

  12. What am I to do?

    I want to get an e-reader, but when do I buy one and just stop caring that the next best thing is on the horizon.

  13. What Lucy said.

    After having an iPhone, I find anything that's not in color so antiquated as to be distracting (no, this does not include physical books as even the pages themselves have color, not just grayscale).

    Gordon argues that "real" readers don't want combined devices. Much as I hate to say it, I think this is largely a generational preference. I think many readers of the future will be as baffled by dedicated devices as I am by black and white.

  14. I got a nook for xmas, even though I was pretty sure I should wait. The hubby disagreed - he insisted it was a short term device, like any tech (esp new tech), and to just give it a whirl. He's awesome that way.

  15. I dream of i-phones with shiny, shaky apps ;)

  16. I've had a Kindle for about 10 months. I love being able to order a book at 10 p.m. and have it delivered within moments. I know the Kindle will not be the last eReader that I own. I know eventually a better device will come along and I would welcome that. However, if the Apple Tablet price is really going to be $800-$1000 that's not going to work for me. I keep waiting for what will work next and in the meantime enjoy my Kindle

  17. I love all the hype for the new stuff. As soon as the Kindle or nook are becoming "old tech" I'll scoop one up for cheap and wait for the competition to create what I really want. I expect to be reading for the next 30 years and may go through a few readers, or apps, or maybe even another BOOK! Gasp!

  18. I just want an e-reader that will allow me to enlarge the font (kindle dx) but is easy on the eyes when reading for long periods of time. I'm waiting to see what apple comes out with.

  19. I think that there will be dedicated eReaders, but they will be "dumb readers" like Sony's (don't get me wrong, I love my Sony eReader). I think they will be devices that have the E-ink technology, they will be small and simple. They will NOT have 3G access, no mp3 or video support, and you will only be able to update them by plugging them into a computer (same as mp3 players). They will also cost $19.99, about the same price as a hardcover book on Amazon.

    Why do I think they will be so cheap? Look at the mp3 player. Early ones with 50MB of memory were $300... now you can buy one with 500MB of memory at the drugstore for $20... give it 2-3 years and eReaders will be the same way.

    In Fact, it wouldn't surprise me for some innovative publisher in the next decade to have a hardWARE release, not a hardcover release - what do I mean? I mean that eReaders will be so inexpensive that some company will release a novel that will be hardcover priced ($30), but instead of being printed it will be on an eReader. (Yes, you will get the eReader and book for that price).

    Yes, there will be people that want smart eReaders with 3G and all the bells and whistles, and people who want tablets or superphones, but I think there will be people who want to read on something that they can fit in their pocket (not like the new Kindle DX bigscreen or the the Apple tablet.

  20. As a Kindle owner, I have to say it depends on what matters most to you. If spending a few hundred bucks on a device is going to give you a terrible case of remorse if something better comes out 6 months or a year later then you should probably never buy an eReader. But if you think digital reading offers some immediate advantage, then go for it. I like the ease of buying books on my Kindle and the fact that it fits in my purse; when my husband ended up in the ER for several hours, I had plenty to read with me because of that. I am willing to pay the money NOW to be able to read more NOW. I had noticed the number of books I read dropping off every year until I got the Kindle. For me, that was some of the best money I ever spent.

    If you have young eyes and an iPhone, go with Kindle or other ebook apps. If you have older eyes and need e-ink, check out the various ebook stores and see which offer the best selection and price. If you plan to borrow library ebooks, get a Sony or a Nook (assuming the Nook's recent upgrade fixed the problems). If you are an Apple acolyte, it's probably better to wait for the iSlate.