Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

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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The nook: More competition for Amazon's Kindle

10533_188131055019_9122810019_4293351_2828455_n Barnes & Noble has released for pre-order their Kindle-killer: the nook (lowercase 'n' on purpose).

'Kindle-killer' is perhaps a bit of an overstatement given that the Kindle owns the e-book reader market right now. But the Nook's imminent arrival is what caused Amazon to preemptively drop the price of the Kindle, so its impact has already been felt.

And make no mistake: e-book reading devices are important not only to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but especially to book/e-book publishers.

Why?

Because, since the arrival of Kindle and the Sony Reader, reading is up:

Amazon […] says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before owning the device. That factor is up from 2.7 in December 2008. So a reader who had previously bought eight books from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books, a rise from 21.6 books.

Sony adds this:

Sony […] says that its e-book customers, on average, download about eight books a month from its online library. That is far more than the approximately 6.7 books than the average American book buyer purchased for the entire year in 2008, according to Bowker, a publishing industry tracking firm.

More reading by consumers means more profit for the publishers. With a price war being waged between Amazon and Wal Mart (and now Target), there is real concern by the publishers over margins and profit.

There will no doubt be an exhaustive series of technical articles detailing the differences between the nook and the Kindle (here's one, from B&N's perspective). For now, though, we can take a look at this feature set from Barnes & Noble's eReading Blog:

  • Download eBooks, magazines and newspapers in seconds flat
  • Enjoy eBooks on an incredibly readable E Ink® reading screen
  • Navigate your eBooks and other content on a color touchscreen
  • Sync your eBooks to your iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Mac or PC
  • Share eBooks with friends using one of our eReader clients
  • Read any eBook for free in a Barnes & Noble store
  • Get special content and promotions in any Barnes & Noble store

The one thing I really like about Barnes & Noble selling an e-reader is that I expect I'll be able to visit my local store and demo the reader. That's something you can't do with the Kindle. I would keep in mind, though, that the nook is a first generation product. Even the Kindle has gone through one iteration now, and I think in many cases people who bought the initial model wished they had waited. This may or may not be the case with the nook.

As far as e-book formats go, the nook supports EPUB, the open e-book format. This is huge. Most of the new readers post-Kindle support this format. Kindle, by comparison, only supports their own proprietary format (the DX model also supports PDF). People do not want to be locked into proprietary formats. They want open formats, which allows them to view any content on any device. Kindle-formatted e-books are viewable only on the Kindle and it's associated applications (like the iPhone Kindle app).

I'll leave you with possibly one of the most tantalizing features of the nook:

The Nook also has software that will detect when a consumer walks into a store so that it can push out coupons and other promotions like excerpts from forthcoming books or suggestions for new reading. While in stores, Nook owners will be able to read any e-book through streaming software.

In my opinion, it's this sort of interactivity which eventually will lead to the demise of the printed book.

The nook is available now for pre-order, will be available for purchase Nov. 30, and be in stores Nov. 28.

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