5 eReader, eBook Battles that might decide the Book Wars

The Book Wars are constantly transforming and this year might be the most critical with the arrival of both Apple and Google. Here are 5 eReader, eBook battles that might decide the eventual winner of the Book Wars

Closed Eco-systems Vs Pretend Open Eco-systems

Here are two systems that work almost the same -

  1. A closed eco-system where only what the owner wants is let in. 
  2. A pretend open eco-system where the defaults and much of the actual control lie with the owner.

The difference in how often the owner gets to do whatever they want is just a few percentage points. However, one gets labeled an evil closed system and the other is a good system.

Basically, there’s a continuum from a totally open ecosystem to a totally closed ecosystem and we have the Kindle’s ecosystem and Apple’s ecosystem towards the closed side – although not very closed. In the middle and sometimes even venturing into the closed side are pretend Open systems.

Two classic examples of pretend-open systems are B&N’s ‘open’ platform and Sony’s ‘open’ platform. They are pretending that just because they support DRMed ePub they are open systems. Apple might also start to paint itself as open by claiming that you can use apps from any of the major eReader/eBook companies. This is an improvement and an actual, solid advantage – However, it’s still far from being an ‘Open’ system.

This battle is a very peculiar one -

  1. It’s being fought on ideology and perception. 
  2. The companies claiming to fight for Open aren’t really open. 
  3. If users buy into the ‘open’ rhetoric then it becomes a crucial point. Otherwise it stays meaningless.

This battle will probably mean absolutely nothing. There is a slight chance (5% to 10%) that someone learns how to twist this just right and makes it a defining battle.  

Dedicated eReaders vs Multi-purpose devices

This is another battle that involves a lot of reality distortion and subterfuge.

Given that eReaders and eBooks are such hot, exploding markets lots of companies want to jump in.We end up with a lot of companies that don’t really value reading or readers – Yet they want to make money from books. Perhaps a few do value books – they just don’t have the time or resources to build a device dedicated to reading.

Whatever the reasons, we now have a variety of devices that are pretending to be the ‘ideal’ reading device even though they weren’t really built with reading in mind.

We get two broad categories of devices -

  1. Devices built for reading i.e. dedicated eReaders like Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader.
  2. Devices you can read on. This includes pretty much anything you can put text on including netbooks, PCs, phones, smartphones, and tablets.

Things get a little complicated because no one knows how much people will read on each, which device people will use more for reading, what the devices will do to people’s reading habits. We could hazard a guess and claim that dedicated reading devices are better for reading – However, we wouldn’t know until 5-10 years into the future and by then the option to go back and choose the other category of devices will be gone.

It’s probably not a bad thing that it’ll take at least 2-4 years for this battle to reach its conclusion. Over the next year or two we’ll be able to figure out and contrast the impact each category of device has on the reading habits of its owners.

Amazon vs Publishers

Amazon have managed to make inroads into every eBook channel – PCs, Macs, Phones, Dedicated Reading Devices, the iPad. They are working with a 50 year timeframe in mind while Publishers are working with a 1 to 2 year timeframe.

The only reason this is still a battle is that Publishers have -

  1. Access to the best current authors via book deals. 
  2. A rich store of content via their back lists.
  3. A continuous stream of new entrants in eReaders/eBooks whom they can leverage in their Divide and Conquer games.

Apple’s entry and the Agency Model have given Publishers hope. As has the fact that some readers are beginning to compromise and buy books at the $12.99 price point. Suddenly the battle has gone from ‘an inevitable Amazon win’ to ‘Publishers have a chance’.

The key determinant will be how Publishers use Google’s entry. If they can leverage it the way they leveraged Apple’s entry then they will have bought themselves a lot of extra time.

Publishers don’t realize that they are just buying time. Even if they win, Publishers will have to face one or more of Apple, Amazon, and Google. That might be a battle they relish far less than their current one with Amazon.

If there’s one thing my money would be on, it’s that Publishers will one day regret turning down $9.99.

Readers vs Publishers

Readers are suddenly faced with choices they never had before -

  1. All classics and public domain books for free.
  2. Buy books anytime and get them in 60 seconds.
  3. Read samples before buying the book.
  4. Decide who gets Published – It’s just the beginning but we’ll see more and more of this.
  5. The option to pirate a book easily.
  6. Vote with their wallet on which books are good and what prices should be.
  7. The ability to review books and influence other readers.

The balance of power between Publishers and Readers was at 80-20 and now it’s suddenly swung to 30-70.

The only thing saving Publishers is that readers don’t yet realize how much power they have. That and our inability to delay gratification.

This is going to be the most critical battle because, as opposed to the victor of every other battle, users might destroy the concept of ‘profit’ in books if they win. Users will also completely disregard what happens 5 to 10 years down the line.  

Publishers don’t realize that by showing themselves to be anti-user they are giving users allowance to rationalize any behavior – even behavior that kills the future of books.

Device with the best reading and reading related features

The battle between dedicated reading devices and multi-purpose devices downplays reading and it’s a war of perception. A much more interesting and real battle is the battle to provide the absolute best reading experience and the absolute best reading device. This involves -

  1. Providing the best hardware and the best ‘reading experience’ – screen, refresh speed, screen size, contrast, richness of color, etc. 
  2. Providing the best features related to reading – text to speech, lending, library ebooks.  
  3. Providing the best reading service – syncing across devices, notes being backed-up in the cloud, and other things you just can’t do with physical books.
  4. Providing the best ebook store – range, price, discoverability, newspapers, international options, etc.
  5. Providing the best value for money.

It might even extend to providing the best platform for all of Publishing and to providing the best quality books – Two things that only Amazon and Apple are thinking of.

Consider reading related features – Whichever company comes up with the best app store will easily win that battle. Apple has a lead because it already has an app store – However, the signal to noise ratio (reading related apps vs all other apps) is rather low.

Consider best ebook store – Apple let in every ebook store and thus has an advantage (assuming having books split between apps is a minor inconvenience). Kindle Store has the best single store and that gives it a separate but similar advantage.

There are a lot of dimensions on which this battle will be fought and the interplay of hardware, screen technology, software, network service, and ebook store make this a very compelling battle to follow.

3 Responses

  1. I think you’re dead on regarding the five points all platform providers will need to compete on. Do you have thoughts on how readers/consumers will begin to exercise their power in the next twelve to eighteen months?

    Also, in the third to last paragraph, you say the signal to noise ratio is high in the Apple App store. Do you mean it is low? (In other words, there is little signal of value and a lot of noise distracting users from finding great literary tools)?

  2. Excellent post with very good, well written thoughts.

    IMHO, we are in the beginning stages of a massive change of human habits which the Ereader will be the catalyst for, similar to the cellphone.
    Quite an exciting time to be watching this.
    Phil

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