Kindle, eReader thoughts – end 2009

It’s been two years since the Kindle eReader launched – the Kindle is supposedly a huge success, the market has been validated, and we have 50 or so ereaders in the market (or on their way).

At the same time we are at only 5% ebook penetration and stuck with black and white screens that break at the drop of a hat.

Makes one wonder whether eReaders have really progressed or whether it just seems that way.

Had covered some of my Kindle 2nd year anniversary thoughts earlier. However, this is more about eReaders and ePaper and the state of the Publishing industry.

ePaper 

The good –  

  1. Lower prices and more supply of the eInk screens in 2009 – at least one eReader company isn’t out of stock.  
  2. Pixel Qi technology and Mirasol display technology.

There’s not much else.

The bad -

  1. No huge jumps i.e. no color, no flexible displays, no unbreakable displays.
  2. Refresh speed only improved to a certain extent.
  3. No improvement in the quality of the touchscreen for Sony Readers.
  4. Not enough use in devices other than eReaders.
  5. Pixel Qi not being out in time.

The surprising -

  1. PVI buying eInk and eInk agreeing. The market is exploding and you have the key technology – Why would you sell?
  2. No company bringing a legitimate eInk contender to the market.

In summary -

One company completely dominates ePaper technology.

It can’t really evolve ePaper very quickly (perhaps due to reasonable restrictions).

If you think about how much eInk has evolved in the last 2 years you realize it’s hardly anything.

That’s one of the main factors holding back the wide-spread adoption of eReaders and eBooks.

ePaper Grade: F.

eReaders

The good -

  1. Competition.
  2. The entry of Barnes & Noble, and the fact that the Nook is a legitimate competitor.
  3. The fast pace of developments in 2009 – especially in the second half.
  4. The rapid drop in prices – from $359 to $259 in 1 year.
  5. Larger screen eReaders.
  6. Nearly all eReaders so far have managed to stay true to reading.
  7. The dual screen concepts – both book-style dual screens and eInk and LCD dual screens.

The bad -

  1. Delays and Supply Problems – Kindle 1 in 2007, Kindle 2 in 2008, Plastic Logic’s Que, B&N’s Nook, and Apple Slate all experienced delays of various sorts.
  2. No App Stores added for any eReaders.
  3. Amazon only adding PDF support, Kindle for PC, etc. when Nook came out.
  4. Me-too mentality of eReader makers that are flooding the market with carbon-copy eReaders.
  5. Too many choices.
  6. Not enough retail presence in physical stores so there are still lots of myths and misinformation.
  7. Neither Nook nor Kindle has Folders. For kindle that’s 2 years without folders.
  8. Very few social features across hardware, software and the service.

Perhaps the most annoying thing is the Press’ constant tweeting about how eReaders should do more than just reading.  

The surprising -

  1. Oprah recommending the Kindle and the colossal impact that had.
  2. Amazon pushing Kindle DX university trials when it’s a first generation product.
  3. The National Federation of the Blind of all people shooting down the Kindle DX.
  4. Sony waiting till end of 2009 to release a wireless enabled reader. More than 2 years after Amazon introduced the feature.
  5. Sony selling out their wireless eReaders almost instantly.
  6. Analysts finally coming around to the view that millions of Kindles will be sold in 2009.
  7. The sheer number of companies that are jumping into the space – Brother, Samsung, AsusTek, etc.

eReaders have grown a lot – However, it’s only in the last 6 months that we have seen rapid improvements.

eReaders Grade: B-.

eBooks

The good -

  1. $9.99 surviving as the eBook price point.
  2. The range of books increasing signficantly.
  3. eBooks being made available in so many countries courtesy Amazon.  
  4. The emergence of the iPhone as a good channel.
  5. Evolution i.e. the vook and the digital novel.
  6. The rise of Kindle format and ePub as two major formats that might unite ebooks (if one wins ;) ).

The bad -

  1. Publishers restricting various features that would accelerate eBook adoption i.e. Read To Me and LendMe.
  2. The complete lack of awareness about eBooks amongst the majority of the population.
  3. Fragmentation in stores, eReaders, and most of all formats.

The surprising –  

  1. People who believe that eBooks should be $3 or so.  
  2. The attempts by Publishers to sell eBooks for $15 to $20. 
  3. The huge importance of the Kindle Store bestseller lists.
  4. The lack of a good discovery engine for books.
  5. The rise of ePub.

eBooks have been hampered by Publishers and lack of awareness.

eBooks Grade: C

Publishing

The good -

  1. The slow rise of independent publishing.
  2. Publishers not totally killing $9.99 or LendMe or Read To Me.
  3. The rise of lots of independent publishers and companies.
  4. Smashwords and Vook.

The bad  -

  1. The sceptre of zero priced ebooks.
  2. The insane amount of competition.
  3. Amazon’s in-book advertising patent and Apple’s in-OS advertising patent.
  4. Publishers’ slow, slow embracing of ebooks and eReaders. 
  5. The lack of organization in the industry i.e. no collective direction and no consensus on how to approach the future. 

The surprising -

  1. That eBooks only grew from 1-2% to 5%.  
  2. Amazon’s 48 kindle books sold for every 100 physical books sold (when Kindle Editions are available). 
  3. How any miscue by Publishers gets translated (by some people) as a license to pirate ebooks.
  4. The varying speed of changes in Publishing – sometimes things are humming and sometimes they come to a standstill.

Publishers have done remarkably well by not shutting things down. It would really help if they could differentiate between friends, enemies and frenemies.

Publisher Grade: C-.

Apple, Google

The good -

  1. The iPhone apps allowing a lot of people to read and access books anywhere and at reasonable prices.
  2. The innovations in reading the iPhone App Store is enabling i.e. Project 26, Vooks, ScrollMotion kids’ books, and so forth.
  3. Google validating eReaders and eBooks by offering free books and getting into selling eBooks.
  4. The Google Books Settlement getting people involved in books.

The bad  -

  1. The constant references to ‘no one reads any more’ and ‘no one will pay for books’.  
  2. The never-ending Book Settlement.
  3. eReaders constantly being compared to the iPhone and the iPod.

The surprising -

  1. The insane amount of publicity every move by Apple gets – just the Apple Slate rumors have gotten more publicity than all other real and imaginary eReaders combined.
  2. The rise of Book Apps and the possibility of them becoming a force.
  3. People willing to pay $5 and $10 for book apps and books in the App Store.

Apple and Google are, in some ways, the last companies you’d ever expect to get involved with books. Publishing is an industry that takes pride in doing it for the love of reading and barely surviving – at least that’s what they claim.

Why would two of the most profitable companies in the world want to jump in?

Apple, Google Grade: Incomplete.

Closing Thoughts – The promise of 2010 and 2011

Two years in and we can only look to 2010 and hope -

  • If the pace of developments of the second half of 2009 continues, 2010 might very well be the Year of the eReader. 
  • If by end of 2010 we have a sub $200 Color eReader or a sub $125 black and white eReader then we might hit the Analyst projections of 10 million plus eReaders sold in 2011.

As ePaper and eReaders evolve, the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook and other eReaders will offer more and more value and provide better and better functionality. Which is very good for books as they finally get 21st century technology to compete with movies, the Internet, and games.

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