Where will the next big eReader advance come from?

The Kindle and the Sony Reader represented a big advance – the first generation of eReaders. They effectively validated the market.

iPad represented an advance of sorts – Using marketing, rather than features, to turn a Tablet into an eReader.

Nook Color might represent a big advance – It’s a ‘Reading Tablet’, and does make an effort to focus on reading. In fact, it’s taken the ‘focus on reading’ theme to such an extent, it’s locked away the Nook Color’s potential as a general Android Tablet.

There aren’t really any big eReader advances on the horizon. We have one long shot – the hope that Nook Color represents an advance – and that’s it.

Where is the next big eReader advance going to come from?

Let’s start by listing all possible sources, and writing down how much of a shot each has of advancing the state of eReaders.

  1. A smaller eReader company. That’s got to be a fantasy given how competitive the eReader market has become. 
  2. A new ePaper technology. Perhaps. Mirasol and Pixel Qi are promising advances.
  3. A software OS company. Not really a possibility as all the eReaders are closed. 
  4. An app company. It’s a very narrow window of opportunity – There are lots of restrictions, and apps are basically in a sandbox. It’s very unlikely an app will create the next big eReader advance.
  5. An App Store – Could a collection of apps that don’t do much individually, combine to create something big. Perhaps – that’s probably what Amazon and B&N are hoping.
  6. Amazon and B&N. B&N is trying something with Nook Color. Amazon will try something to fight back. At the same time, both companies are very comfortable as they are.
  7. Apple. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. There is a very slight chance that Apple makes a great iPad 2, and kills eReaders and Reading Tablets. According to the Press, it’s already happened. In Reality, it’s a 2% chance.
  8. Google. It might do something – in fact, it’s bound to do something. 
  9. Kobo. Well, after the Blue Button eReader, it’s hard to imagine Kobo can create a revolution. A very slight chance.
  10. An eReader company from the East. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean companies have been trying out a lot of things. A chance – no idea how much of a chance.
  11. Readers. It’s not inconceivable that readers get together, and do something. A very slight chance.
  12. A website. It’s possible that a website, such as Groupon or Facebook, does something that ends up playing a big part in the next big eReader advance. Low possibility.
  13. An off-eReader software program. Calibre might add a feature, or a brand new software program might spring-up, that pushes eReaders forward. This is the wild card.
  14. Publishers. Could Publishers do something huge like force everyone to use one format. Very low chance as Publishers might not realize what it would result in.
  15. Regulators. If Amazon and B&N get comfortable in their positions, rival companies might get regulators involved. This is quite likely if one of Amazon or B&N wins the eReader market.

The 5 most likely sources, of the next big advances in eReaders, probably are – A new ePaper company, the Amazon vs B&N competition, Google, an eReader App Store, Regulators. The 2 wild cards are – Sony, off-eReader software.

What are the roadblocks?

There are a few roadblocks that make it difficult for anyone other than Amazon and B&N to create innovation.

  1. Closed ecosystems.
  2. DRM.
  3. An all-on-one solution. Basically, Amazon and B&N provide almost everything. If it were different companies, providing different parts of the ecosystem, we would lose some of the convenience – but we’d also see brutal competition in every area. Rather than complete ecosystems competing, and keeping out all smaller companies, we’d see a huge variety of companies competing.
  4. The ebook revenue stream. There’s just too much ebook money on the table for companies to take risks.
  5. The huge investment required to produce an eReader.
  6. Publishers. They control most of the quality content which means that, in addition to technological and financial hurdles, any new eReader company would have to negotiate successfully with Publishers.
  7. General Purpose Tablets – These seem to many to be the end-game for eReaders. A lot of people, who would otherwise take a shot, assume that eReaders can’t survive.
  8. The perception that people don’t read any more. It seems to be a remarkably wide-spread belief that people have stopped reading, and that all the bookstores and ebook stores are selling to a grand total of 51 people.
  9. Brutal competition. You can take on Amazon with its huge capacity to cut prices, or you can take on B&N with its army of stores. If that weren’t bad enough, both have tens of millions of customers.
  10. Misconceptions and Blissful Ignorance. No one knows what the profits are, what number of eReaders have been sold so far, how much money is made per ebook, or the costs of selling ebooks and eReaders.

The last roadblock is particularly interesting.

Three years in, we still have no idea how much money Amazon and B&N are making on eReaders, and how much money they are making on eBooks. Which makes it easy for companies to give in to their ‘there’s no money in books’ mentality. That means a lot of companies that could compete, and which would probably force eReaders to advance, just aren’t jumping in.

Closing Thought – Kindle vs Nook might not be the best thing for eReaders

Instead of vibrant competition, it’s beginning to look like we’ll see Amazon and B&N doing their best Coke and Pepsi impersonation.

None of the bigger companies want to jump into eReaders. The smaller ones have been squeezed out. We’re left with a few companies that might light a fire under Amazon and B&N – Sony, Kobo, and … no one else.

It’s a strange situation – We have an incredibly promising new market, with devices that promise to replace paper, and the only two companies interested are ones that sell books.

7 Responses

  1. “None of the bigger companies want to jump into eReaders. The smaller ones have been squeezed out. We’re left with a few companies that might light a fire under Amazon and B&N – Sony, Kobo, and … no one else.”

    Alex eReader : Winner Best of CES 2010 eReader category – LAPTOP Magazine

  2. I think biggest innovations of the Nook Color are price and marketing. Not that those are insignificant factors, but the main reason people are excited about it is the price, rather than any revolutionary tech. LCD based ereaders are going to eventually be absorbed into the tablet market, depending on how fast prices drop.

    In my opinion, the only places a big advance in eReaders (as opposed to ebooks) are going to come from are screen technology, or pricing (which at this point is a factor as well). Even if e-ink does not vastly advance in quality, if e-ink becomes significantly cheaper, that will in itself have the potential to become fairly disruptive.

    (Example: What if a company put out a $90 or less e-ink reader, very bare-bones, without even wireless, but with the ability to read Overdrive library books, basic Adobe DRM’d epub (then it could read Google Editions), PDFs? )

  3. “There is a very slight chance that Apple makes a great iPad 2, and kills eReaders and Reading Tablets.”

    They would if they came out with a portable (folding) iPad model (as I told them to!).

    I think a lot of little improvements, such as have been suggested here in recent months, can add up to a much nicer device.

    I think the greatest potential for the next big step will be, or anyway could/should be, what Switch and I have advocated: a $300 EBR that has a larger screen (half the height of the DX, but the same width, say, and possibly foldable), a larger (usable) slide-out keyboard, the ability to do e-mail, & to create documents in a primitive Word-compatible way.

    Its wide screen in landscape mode would give it readable views of PDFs and the web, and its e-mail ability would be very attractive–a real selling point.

  4. People seem to be asking to turn the ereaders into light weight laptops or notebooks. They are already there. I want my ereader not to wreck my eyes while I’m reading. It would be neat to be able to add some color for childrens books or magazines, but an ereader is an ereader, not a computer per say. Lots of people seem to want the kindle turned into a $150.00 dollar laptop. I would like to see some advances but for it to still remain basically an ereader One thing I would like to see is an easier way to navigate or file the archive. Anybody got any ideas?

  5. I want to see a step beyond folders. I would prefer tag clouds so I can give a book multiple tags and sort it on my device by those tags. I also want to be able to do all that tagging on my PC with a full keyboard and mouse so I can quickly tag the books and then just sync the data to my Kindle.

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