Tuesday, June 22, 2010

eReader Wars

It has been an interesting week in the eReader market. Following Apple's spectacular entry into the eReader market with the iPad, we started experiencing all kinds of fallout in the eBook industry. First there was the pressure by the major publishing houses to force Amazon into an agency model. This was to duplicate the deal they got with Apple and the supposed protection of first release hard cover book market. The net result of this model is that Amazon no longer sets the price of eBooks. The publisher is the seller of the book and amazon collects a commission on each sale. So, Amazon no longer needs to make its profit on the Kindle. Now it makes 30% profit on each eBook sold. So if cheap books don't drive the Kindle adoption rate (or any other eReader) then the price of the reader itself has to become more attractive. (Did you really think that eReaders were so expensive to produce that a fair retail price was $300?)

According to an AP story in the Seattle Times, "Michael Norris, a senior trade analyst at Simba Information, said the Nook's price cut indicates New York-based Barnes & Noble "is admitting that when they're up against a $500 digital photo frame on acid that does everything, they can no longer keep a straight face when selling something for $259 that only does books.""

Apple's "digital photo frame on acid" is not the only pressure that Amazon is facing. Earlier this month, Borders Books began preselling the forthcoming Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro for just $119, joining its $150 models of the Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. Borders has not tied itself to just one reader like Barnes & Noble did with the Nook, even though its eBookstore is powered by Kobo.

So yesterday Barnes & Noble announcd a seemingly dramatic price drop in the Nook to 199 and announced a WiFi only version (no "always connected via cellular") at $149. Amazon followed in a few hours with a dramatic slash in the price of the Kindle to just $189.

Of course, on the downside of all this great pricing news, we read that News Corp. bought Skiff, LLC for its platform, but declined to buy its much-touted eReader which now waits in obscurity for another buyer.

The summary of this is that it is now cheaper to enter the eReader market. Not below $100 yet, but edging ever nearer for quality 5" readers. Independent publishers of eBooks should rejoice over this since one of the barriers to selling even <$5 eBooks has been the number of people with eReaders. It is not likely to effect the sale of the new more expensive mainline publisher eBooks. Is it time to buy an eReader? Certainly. But read the fine print and make sure you are getting what you think you want: plug-in synchronization, WiFi, 3G, single library/bookstore, open platform. It's all out there.

[EDIT]Just saw this bit about the Sony eReader Touch edition price drop to $199. This article is very perceptive about Sony being lost in the noise of Kindle/iPad. It is a great reader! Sony Reader price drop = tree falling in the forest.[/EDIT]

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is a book?

Just when we thought we'd made progress in getting people to recognize eBooks as books, we start muddying the waters again with how much interactivity we can put in an eBook! I'm really not going to be a curmudgeon about this, but watching Liza Daly's demo at IDPF Digital Book 2010 really got me thinking about the future of the book again. You can take a look at her excellent demo at the Threepress Consulting Blog.

It strikes me that we can come up with all kinds of demos to show practical applications of possible technology, but only time will tell whether our cool technology will actually be adopted for general use, whether it will be limited to very specialized applications, or if it will go the way of the irritating and ill-fated "blink" attribute in HTML. There are really two fundamental questions regarding the adoption of technology in any artform, and I include books as an artform.
  1. Does the technology solve a problem that currently limits artists?

  2. Does the technology inspire new uses that expand the art?

The motion picture, for example, may not have solved a specific problem that early photographers had, although some of the technology regarding the speed of film and developing techniques certainly had a positive impact on still photography. It did, however, inspire a new artform. There are still photographers, perhaps in greater number today than ever before. There are also movie-makers and videographers. They are not necessarily the same people, even though they have common roots.

So when I look at new eBook interactive technology, I can see the development of some new artforms that may or may not have the take-up speed of motion pictures. I don't see adding interactive maps, satellite views of the Seattle Waterfront, and a video poker game to my noir mystery book (For Blood or Money) just because the detective lives and travels around Seattle, has an office on the waterfront, and plays poker. Frankly, I think that would detract from a novel. It might, however, be a great project for a new medium--maybe even one that I'd like to explore. I just wouldn't sell it as a book.

I recently adopted one of my on-line novels (Stn. George & the Dragon) as a stage play. While there are words in common in both renditions, the play is vastly different than the novel. It is a different medium. In the same way, I think the introduction of vast amounts of interactivity in what was a book and then an eBook heralds the introduction of a new artform. I can see some incredible developments in the area of textbooks and learning materials coming as a result of eBook interactivity. I can also see a whole new entertainment medium being born. I guess what I don't see is an effect on the novel. On the other hand, if someone solves significant problems like good adaptation across different device sizes, variable spacing and hyphenation for justified text, and page turning speed on eInk devices, that could solve some real problems with eBook novels.

In summary, the terms "book," "eBook," and "interactive eBook" may describe advances in technology, but they do little to define the artform. This will be done by people writing novels, textbooks, and interactive entertainment.