eReaders and 21st century technology

We are finally seeing a lot of newer technology being used for reading with eReaders.

While it’s impressive that books have been around pretty much unchanged since the 15th century, there is a lot of 21st century technology that can improve on books and the reading experience.

21st Century Technology already in use in Books

eInk

We all know how eInk allows for

  1. Much better readability with little eye strain.
  2. The ability to read outdoors.
  3. Longer battery life.
  4. Touch capabilities (the beginnings of it).
  5. Flexible, unbreakable screens (early 2010).

eInk is still an evolving technology and color and lower prices will only make it better.

Cloud Computing

Amazon’s Whispernet already brings some of the benefits of cloud computing i.e.

  1. Your books are backed up in the cloud.  
  2. WhisperSync to synchronize across your devices. 
  3. You can buy books from the Cloud.

Wireless technology hand in hand with the cloud and we will see a lot more advances as companies leverage these better.

The Internet

The Internet has had more of an impact than can be explained in a few paragraphs so we’ll look at just a few effects –

  1. Internet retailers like Amazon. 
  2. Direct channels between authors and readers. 
  3. Readers connecting with other readers.
  4. New perceptions of book prices and book value.
  5. Huge competition to reading.

Perhaps this is a topic for a new post. The Internet has forced the books industry to embrace new technology (while also helping with the transition).

Improved LCD panels

Netbooks and even Notebooks (Acer’s Timeline series) are pushing the limits on battery life to 10+ hours. This raises the possibility of using LCD panels in eReaders.

At the same time Pixel Qi is building multiple mode screens based on LCD technology that can switch between eReader and Normal Laptop Screen mode.

If one of these LCD technologies evolves into something usable in eReaders we get a great new option.

Miniaturization

As chips, batteries, memory, and other components become smaller we can make eReaders more and more useful –

  1. Make them fit in our pockets. 
  2. Make them thin and light. 
  3. Increase the number of books we can carry.
  4. Increase the power and speed.

There are a lot more innovative uses of miniaturization yet to be discovered.

Print on Demand

Print on Demand is an interesting technology and for people who still want physical books it simplifies distribution greatly and helps cut costs. Not very familiar with it so any comments or thoughts on it would be appreciated.

Solar Energy

Neolux has already created solar powered eInk screens and we might see these make their way into eReaders soon –

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgniLgVP7nk]

Coupling eInk, with its impressive battery life and ability to read outdoors, with solar energy cells is a good, good idea.

Productivity, Kaizen and Efficiency

While this is not purely a technological advance, a lot of the most effective productivity advances are being applied to ebooks –

  1. Amazon is pushing the limit with very simple, very efficient design. 
  2. Amazon is basically using the same kaizen principle in the Kindle that gave Japanese car companies their quality advantage.  
  3. Apple is pushing the limit with very efficient, very attractive design.
  4. We have multi-touch appearing everywhere and Windows 7 will bring it to netbooks.

The book is one of the most usable, simple creations ever, and we do need to match (and hopefully exceed) the book’s design and usability.

21st Century Technology that could be used with Books

Newer Display Technologies

There is the possibility that a completely different display technology (something other than eInk and LCD) takes over. Perhaps most interesting is the work on Organic LEDs.

Here’s Sony’s flexible OLED screen – [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcAm3KihFho]

The Semantic Web

If we get search technology that can gauge intent and answer our questions, it would fit in very well with book recommendation engines, searching books, reference work and more.

The Semantic Web (in the cloud or in your eReader) –

  1. Could tell you what book is most like another. 
  2. Would let you find all books with a particular type of plot structure. 
  3. Would help create a break-down of books into the core elements of style and structure – what Pandora did with music and its Music Genome Project.  

Imagine a recommendation engine that would actually find a book that is most similar to your tastes based on ‘book dna’. We’d finally have a way to capture what so far has been indescribable.

GPS, Location Services and Augmented Reality

You could be at a particular address and turn on an option and see –

  1. Nearby bookstores.
  2. Book Deals.
  3. People with tastes similar to yours.

Even more interesting is when you add on augmented reality –

  1. Authors who lived near the location. 
  2. What their homes looked like.
  3. Books whose events happen near the location.  
  4. The people from the books walking or standing on the street.
  5. Scenes from the book playing out.

We are at the beginnings of a lot of what’s possible with location and augmented reality and things are going to get really interesting.

Data Mining, Neural Networks, Evolutionary Algorithms and Predictive Analysis

Just like the Semantic Web, Data Mining and Neural Networks will transform book recommendation engines and reading.

The possibilities for readers –

  1. Take a seed group of your favorite books and create a neural network tailored to these.
  2. Feed in your other purchases and other favorites to this neural network and let it evolve. 
  3. Club this with the Book Genome we’ve discovered using the Semantic Web to create a really good recommendation engine.

The possibilities for publishers –

  1. Plug in past successes and develop an evolutionary algorithm.
  2. It’ll pick out books that have a very high likelihood of success.
  3. The algorithm itself can be analyzed to see what causes success.

For authors –

  1. In your target niche, figure out what leads to success.
  2. Keep feeding your book to an algorithm and seeing what the probability of success is.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology would touch pretty much every aspect of eReaders –

  1. Cheap energy. 
  2. Clean and efficient manufacturing.  
  3. Self repairing and self-cleaning eReaders.
  4. Perhaps reading technology that integrates into humans or into clothes or glasses.  

Just a ton of possibilities.

Clean Energy, Bioplastics, and Environmental Technologies

Perhaps the most underrated benefit of eReaders is that they’re great for the environment. To the already existing ‘replacing paper’ benefits, we ought to be able to add –

  1. eReaders made of bioplastic.  
  2. Low power usage to make sure reading books doesn’t eat up the benefits of not using paper. 
  3. Cleaner energy sources like Solar Power.
  4. Recycling eReaders – perhaps as Point of Sale panels or other display uses.

There are a lot of benefits here and the impact of trees not being cut should be highlighted more.  

Advanced Plastics

We already have flexible screen eReaders lined up which would have unbreakable screens. There are a lot more benefits that can be derived –

  1. Shock impacting plastics to avoid damage to the insides.
  2. You could have eReaders that can be molded into desired shapes by their owners.  

Just a lot that’s possible.  

Micro Payments, Virtual Gifts, and Payment Technologies

Paypal has already made life easier for a lot of authors and bloggers. We might soon have a huge variety of additions –

  1. Apple and Facebook’s micro payment platforms.  
  2. Virtual Gifts and Virtual Gift currencies.
  3. Newer payment technologies.
  4. New ways for readers to pay for books and content.

Often, it’s the inconvenience of spending 5 minutes to pay $1 that prevents purchases.

Amazon has made a good move with ‘Buy Now’, 1-click, and the Kindle store being in-built in Kindles and we can use all the payment technologies we can get.

Other Interesting Technologies

Superconductivity

You could cut power usage by 90% if you can get anything resembling superconductivity. 

Wireless Power

This would be a huge jump – no more messy wires.  

Quantum Computing and Probabilistic Computing

If quantum computers can be built they’ll make things much faster. It might not be in the next 10 years though.

Closing Thoughts and Thanks

These are sites that had good lists of the most exciting new technologies –

  1. Jason Rolb’s 5 Most Exciting Technologies of 2010
  2. TED.

eInk and Amazon’s WhisperNet are huge advances and Amazon and Sony deserve credit for leveraging technology into reading.

However, if you look at some of the big opportunities i.e.

  1. Recommendation Engines.  
  2. MicroPayments.  
  3. Solar Energy.
  4. Newer Screen Technologies.

It’s obvious that we are at the beginning of a golden age of reading.

Given that eReaders are the first revolutionary advance in reading since the Gutenberg Press it’s about time.

It does seem like Companies will keep incorporating new technologies and bring reading well and truly into the 21st century.

Amazon Kindle Vs Sony – Review of Sony's Strategy

The news of Sony teaming up with self-published books seller SmashWords and with Author Solutions is interesting and it gives us the chance to review Sony’s overall strategy.  

Sony’s Overall Strategy – 3 Main Aspects

Sony has suddenly woken up to the fact that the eReader market is going to be huge and is making a lot of moves. Look carefully and a pattern begins to emerge with 3 main threads –  

  1. Attack all of Amazon’s weaknesses – This means being open (for now), going retail, and striking up collaborations.
  2. Matching as many of Amazon’s strengths as possible. The tie-up with SmashWords is part of this.
  3. Selling an electronic device that happens to read books i.e. focusing on the device.

Sony seems to have decided that eReaders are a market it needs to win and that this holiday season is the time to do it.

Attacking Amazon Weaknesses

Openness and Collaboration as a Weapon

One big weakness Amazon has is that it’s building a bit of a walled garden. Sony has seized on that and is doing a lot of things to attack this aspect –

Formats and Books 

  1. Support for ePub and PDF.
  2. It still has DRM – However, if it can’t match up with the Kindle soon it might drop DRM.
  3. Letting in Google Books. 

Distribution and Content Creation

  1. Partnering with Retailers and selling Sony Readers in stores.  
  2. Partnering with online retailers.  
  3. Letting companies like Smashwords and Author Solutions have their share. 

In general, Sony is partnering with companies instead of building its own expertise. Its providing the device and letting the other parts of the publishing eco-system align around the device.

The magic trick might be yet to come – if Sony wins out will they be able to resist the temptation to gradually eat up more and more of Publishing?

Free Books as a Weapon

In many ways Sony is happy to let the books industry get overwhelmed by Free and Cheap as long as they keep selling eReaders.

Look at what they’ve done –

  1. 1 million free books from Google. 
  2. ePub and PDF Support which makes reading pirated books easier (for example, the new Dan Brown novel was available pirated as an ePub in 15 minutes).  
  3. Low number of new, paid books.  

When you have 1 million free books and 100K paid books in your store you are definitely not focused on selling books. 

To be fair, focusing on free books is not a bad strategy (unless you are a publisher or author).

Amazon Kindle Vs Sony on Paid Books

Sony is quite happy to let other companies focus on the ‘selling books’ part. There are a few reasons for this –

  1. Unlike Amazon, Sony has neither the expertise nor the need to sell books.  
  2. It goes with the whole openness and collaboration strategy to let other companies sell books.  
  3. It goes with Sony’s expertise in consumer electronics to focus only on the eReader. 

The 2nd reason is really important – There has to be an incentive for other companies, retailers, etc. to side with Sony and paid books is one major incentive.

At some level Sony’s support for ePub and PDF is a direct result of this ‘leaving books free for everyone’ approach.

Matching Amazon Strengths

Matching WhisperNet

Sony will, in December, finally match a huge Amazon Kindle feature – WhisperNet i.e. always on bookstore and 60 second downloads.

It’s amazing that the best feature (arguably) of the Kindle gets matched by competitors only now (25 months after the Kindle was released).

Sony Vs Amazon Kindle on Self-Published Books

Sony has just added SmashWords and Author Solutions to its stable of collaborators – perhaps as part of its strategy, perhaps as a bet for the future.

What it does is –

  1. Set up an alternate channel for independent authors. 
  2. Gives companies like Smashwords a better chance of competing with Amazon.
  3. Gives readers more options.

If down the line we transition to a world where some major part of publishing is self-publishing Sony and its allies will be better placed to compete.

Focusing on the eReader

The most interesting aspect of Sony’s strategy is its narrow focus on the eReader

If you look deeper it makes a ton of sense –

  1. Focus on the electronic device, which is Sony’s speciality anyways.  
  2. Let the different companies, new and old, in the publishing system band together and help Sony fight Kindle.
  3. Down the line, decide whether to keep things the same way or to take over most of publishing. 

Sony is not losing much – with their current approach they’ll own the device, they’ll own the default store on the device, and they’ll own the customer relationship.

If they choose to, they can expand from that into all of publishing.

 Closing Thoughts – Is Sony’s New Strategy too late?

A recent study commissioned by shopping site Retrevo (771 people) says that 21% of respondents intend to buy an eReader this holiday season. Of these –

  1. 62% said they would buy Kindle 2 or Kindle DX.
  2. 32% said they would buy Sony Reader.
  3. 6% said they would buy another device.

Sony’s presence at retail locations this holiday season will be a definite advantage in the Amazon Kindle Vs Sony battle – However, it’s unlikely to be enough and Sony might find that its strategy, while well thought out, is a year too late.

Kindle – 2 Free Books

Amazon continues the onslaught of free kindle books –

  1. Discovering Dani by N. J. Walters. Its book 1 of the Jamesville Series and a contemporary romance novel. It has a 4 star rating across 5 kindle edition reviews.
  2. The Mark by Jason Pinter. Very well reviewed with a 4 star rating across 38 reviews.  Its a mystery/thriller and the first in the Henry Parker Series.

    #1 in the Kindle Store. The Mark for $0
    #1 in the Kindle Store. The Mark for $0

Also worth considering is a compilation of 5 John Muir books – Classic Nature Books. Its jumped out of nowhere to #216 in the Kindle Store. It includes –

  1. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
  2. The Mountains of California.
  3. Steep Trails.
  4. Travels in Alaska.
  5. Yosemite. 

Amongst other things John Muir founded The Sierra Club.

New Trend in Pricing New Releases

The new trend in pricing new releases seems to be –

  1. Introduce it at $14 or so.  
  2. Wait until it hits the bestsellers chart and then cut it to $9.99. 

Look at the current moves and shakers, and there are lots of books like that in the top 25.

People who are really into the author or book seem to be still snapping up books at the higher price. After a week or so the book price drops and another wave of people join in. It’ll be interesting to see whether this pricing strategy takes off.   

Question for Authors and Publishers

Would you be willing to pay Amazon to be able to give away your book?

Consider the two books mentioned above – they’re #1 and #5 currently. They’re both #1 in the series and will definitely lead to a lot of sales of the other books in the series.

Your authors get a ton of exposure and if the writing is good you get a lot of readers hooked.

Would you pay Amazon for the privilege of giving away the first book in a series? How much?