Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

eBooks, eReaders, and Maps

I recently added a map to the front matter of The Hall of the Wood because I think maps are an important part of the fantasy reading experience. One of the first questions my illustrator, Jared Blando, asked me was if I wanted black & white or color images. Because I wanted to use the map on the World of Uhl site and because lots and lots of people now have color eReading devices, of course I said color. If needed, I can easily convert the image to black & white myself.

I anticipated problems. Not with Jared or the maps themselves but with eBooks and the devices we read them on. Sure enough, after adding the map to the Kindle eBook version and viewing it on my Kindle 2, I saw right away that the map was next to useless. It’s simply impossible to read.

Here’s a couple of images which attempt to demonstrate the problem. It’s unfortunately very difficult to take a picture of a Kindle screen. (Try it if you don’t believe me. Maybe if I took in in full sunlight, but it’s too darn cold out right now.)

Anyway, check these out and believe me when I say the map is unreadable.

image

IMG_3046

However, when I brought the same eBook up on my iPad and viewed the map…

IMG_3045

I guess this image isn’t the best (again, taking a picture of one of these devices ain’t so easy; lots of glare, for ex.) but the map is very viewable in all its glory. One of the best things about viewing it on the iPad? Pinch and zoom. You can zoom in, pan, zoom out, and swipe away. The higher res image really shines here when you get close up.

Which is all fine and dandy if you own an iPad or similar device. But what about those who prefer traditional Kindles or other b/w eReaders?

My solution is to offer a link to the World of Uhl site where the map is viewable full-size. To that end, I put this disclaimer into the eBook:

A friendly note from the author about maps: Maps, eBooks, and eReaders do not always mix well. If you have difficulty viewing this one or simply wish to see a larger version, I encourage you to open your favorite browser and visit the World of Uhl map section (www.worldofuhl.com/maps.html).

In the eBook, it looks something like this:

image

While my primary motivation for including this extra option is to make things easier on my readers, I’m also trying to preemptively avoid any 1 or 2 star reviews because someone couldn’t read the map on their Kindle or nook. If you think that someone won’t do that, I have some primo beach front property to sell you here in Dallas.

I think this is an adequate concession and hopefully accommodates everyone.

Free Kindles for Everyone!

Back in June of 2010, CNBC commentator Dennis Kneale proposed something that might have seemed farfetched at the time: Amazon should give away the Kindle for free.

Flashback to that time period, when the iPad had been released only months earlier and was widely being hailed as a "Kindle-killer". The Kindle was suddenly no longer hip with its primitive looking black and white display and no touch capability. Even the Barnes & Noble nook debuted with some touch functions and with limited color (on the lower browse screen).

Kneale's statement was in response to the populist opinion of the time that the Kindle was on its way out in favor of the superior experience provided by the iPad. In other words, Amazon would have to give away the Kindle for free in order for them to save the product. While it's true the iPad provides a much wider array of functionality, the Kindle is far from dead and, in fact, is now widely considered a far better device for reading than the iPad.

Still, Kneale's proposal doesn't seem all that farfetched, especially in light of some recent happenings. The first and most significant is Amazon offering free TV and movie streaming to Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime started as a premium, member-oriented service that offered free 2 day shipping at a cost of $79 annually. Suddenly Amazon Prime is much more than just a free 2 day shipping gimmick. The potential is huge.

Let's take a quick step back to June, 2009. John Walkenbach of the J-Walk Blog posted an interesting chart showing a linear decrease in the price of the Kindle. After Kneale made his "free Kindle" comment one year later, Walkenbach posted again, updating his chart with the then latest Kindle price cut. Here it is for reference:

kindlepriceforecast2

Walkenbach predicts that at this rate the Kindle "will be free in the second half of 2011". This sounded ridiculous at first. Sure, the Kindle is at best a break-even product. Possibly even a loss-leader, with Amazon making most of its profit from the sale of eBooks. Considering the cost to manufacture the Kindle 2, how in the world could they ever give it away and still make money? This is where Amazon Prime comes in.

Imagine Amazon charging the same $79/year (or more, most likely) for free 2 day shipping and free TV/movie streaming whilst topping it off with a free Kindle. I'd foresee a time commitment similar to a cell phone plan or a commitment to purchase a certain number of eBooks/month, sort of like a Book of the Month club. This would be nothing for an avid reader, most Kindle owners fitting into that category quite nicely I would think.

Suddenly the whole notion of a free Kindle for all doesn't seem so farfetched. Bezos himself when queried about the possibility by The Technium said,

In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that!" And then smiled again.

Bezos is a smart guy. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this wasn't his master plan all along.

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The eReaders of CES 2010: Where are they now?

cnetBack in July, I wrote a post entitled eReaders: Where did they all go?, where I took a look at some of the then "hot" eReading devices expected to make a big splash this year but which I hadn't yet seen a lot of.

Now, cnet has asked a similar question and reported the answer via a series of photos.

A bevy of new e-book readers made their debuts at CES 2010. A year later, here's a look back at how they fared as CES 2011 approaches.

Aluratek Libre

In their feature, they look at such eReaders as the Aluratek Libre, Plastic Logic Que, Bookeen Orizon, and even the Demy digital recipe reader (talk about specialization).

It's interesting to see the initial price points (and how they dropped), as well as which readers actually went somewhere and which vanished from the face of the earth (or haven't been seen in the U.S. and probably never will). There's no doubt the iPad had a lot to do with this. Before Apple's tablet device, manufacturers were getting ready to ask a premium for new eReaders and Amazon was already charging $259 for their 3G only Kindle (there was no wi-fi option at that time). Since the release of the iPad, the Kindle, the dominant player in the market, has gone through several price cuts as has the nook. Some other eReaders that were scheduled for release were postponed or cancelled altogether.

I fully believe we are only at the beginning of this digital revolution in publishing. There will be winners, and there will be losers. Such is the nature of free market economics.

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Out with the old (Kindle), in with the new: Kindle 2 is here

The All-New KindleThe "All-New" Kindle is here.

The most significant difference, IMO, is that Amazon is now offering two versions of the device: one with wi-fi only capability and the other with more traditional 3G.

There are other differences: smaller form factor, longer battery life, higher contrast, a new graphite color, lighter weight, faster page turns, a newly enhanced PDF reader… the list goes on.

Of particular interest to me is the wi-fi only version and the form factor, mostly because those two things stand out as the biggest differences between this "all-new" device and my now not so new Kindle 2. Amazon's got a nice graphic showing the difference in size between the old and new models (I hope Amazon doesn't mind me using all of their images):

Kindle: Old vs New

If I didn't already own a Kindle 2, I'd place an order for the wi-fi only version of the new Kindle right now. It's not that having free 3G isn't useful. It is. But necessary? For me, not really. Seems like I'm always around wi-fi: at home, work, Starbucks. It's freely available enough that I could easily get by without 3G. I like the graphite color and the smaller form factor. Battery life? I get about 2 weeks out of mine with 3G off. The new, wi-fi only one gets 4 weeks with wi-fi off. It's a nice bump, but not enough to make me want to rush out and buy the new model.

I think this upgrade is really aimed at people who have owned a Kindle 2 for long enough that they feel they've gotten their money's worth out of it or, more likely, new adopters. You know, all those people who kept saying they'd love to own an eReader if they just didn't cost so much. Some people were claiming < $100 is the killer price point. Well, it's pretty close now.

And what about the competition? Sony says they want to compete on "quality, not quantity", and that they won't chase the "Cheapest eReader" title. Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, which had already cut the price of the nook, is gearing up for an all-out assault.

I think the saying, "May you live in interesting times", certainly applies here.

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eReaders: Where did they all go?

2010 was supposed to be the year of the eReader. Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's nook, the Sony Reader, Plastic Logic Que, Spring Design Alex, and others were all headed for a battle royale. It was to have been mono-eReader y mono-eReader, with the clear winner of such a battle ultimately being the consumer as prices were forced beneath $100. But while the prices of the most popular eReader devices have come down, the variety in eReaders has been anything but prolific. Blame the iPad. I predicted (along with about everyone else on the planet) that Apple's tablet was a game-changer for the eReader space. Never mind that it isn't a dedicated device like Amazon's Kindle. It's still an eReader, just with a whole lot more capability.

When the iPad debuted, many people were surprised by the initial price point of $499 (for the wi-fi only version). What this immediately did was draw a line in the sand for anyone thinking of manufacturing an eReader and gouging customers with prices up to $800 (Plastic Logic planned such a price point for it's Que eReader). It also made it difficult for some companies to turn a profit given the cost of manufacturing. iRex Technologies, maker of the Digital Reader line of eReading devices, for example, recently filed for bankruptcy due to poor sales of its devices. iSuppli, which did a manufacturing cost-analysis of the Kindle 2, priced the cost to build the device at about $180. With the Kindle now selling at that price, it's fair to say Amazon's eReader is now a loss leader, with the real profits coming out of the sale of content.

So where does all of that leave the current market? The clear winners at this point are Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's nook, and Apple's iPad. The Sony Reader might be up there with that trio, but I seldom hear or read anything about the Reader anymore, so I can't say if it's in the running or not. The truth is that each company is fairly secretive regarding sales figures or units sold, making it difficult to know for sure who is "winning". I do know that Apple claims they've sold three million iPads in 80 days, Kindle sales 'allegedly' exceeded three million units through the end of 2009, and nook sales have been "strong". Sony made a claim back in 2008 that they'd sold 300,000 units, but that figure is so old as to be irrelevant (the figure is irrelevant, too, when compared to the 3 mil. units sold of either the iPad or Kindle).

Considering that the Kindle was once priced at $499 and has since gone through several rounds of price cuts since, it's clear that competition is a good thing (at least for consumers). But only as long as some of the players survive. There was early speculation that Apple would move quickly to cut iPad prices if sales were not encouraging enough. Apparently, they have been, since the pricing remains steady. But just like Kindle ushered in a field of challengers, so to has the iPad sparked a new level of competition, with new Android-based tablet devices coming out from Asustek, Micro-Star, Dell, Cisco, Google, and others.

This makes me wonder if we aren't seeing the beginning of the end for the dedicated eReader. If nothing else, it's fair to say the larger version of the Kindle, the Kindle DX, is on its way out.

On a personal level, none of this changes the enjoyment I get out of my Kindle. But after having attended a company tech conference recently and seeing several of my colleagues carrying iPads, I have begun to look at the devices a bit more seriously. Prices will come down (they always do), so whether you're in the market for a dedicated device or one of the new or soon to be released tablets, it's a great time to be a consumer.

I'll leave you with a rogue's gallery of some of the eReaders mentioned above.

 

 Plastic Logic Que iRex Technologies Digital Reader Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble nookFoxIt eSlick Sony eReader

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