eReaders are made for people who read & the consequences

Let’s start with the first part which seems rather redundant to bring up – eReaders are made for people who read.

However, most people don’t get it.

When a dedicated reading device gets misunderstood

At some cognitive or psychological level people miss out the implications of the ‘dedicated’ and ‘reading’ parts of dedicated reading device.

Here are some of the more frequent complaints –

  1. People who don’t read complaining that it doesn’t play games or doesn’t have color.  
  2. People who are looking for a device that signals they’re cool complaining that it’s not having that effect.  
  3. People who read once in a while complaining that it’s only usable for reading.
  4. People who want the newest gadget surprised because eReaders aren’t anything like what ‘the newest gadget’ ought to be.
  5. People who don’t value its functionality (its specialization for reading) complaining about the price.

They’re basically complaining that the device is dedicated and, worse yet, its dedicated to reading. And apart from the name they didn’t even have a clue that it would be dedicated to reading.

The war between world views

As a direct consequence of eReaders not fitting in with what some people think they should be, we get a rather interesting conflict –

  • A significant number of people and entities, including the Press, are pushing the notion that a dedicated reading device should do more than just read, should not be specialized for reading, and should not cater to people who read books.  
  • They are trying to overwhelm people who do want a dedicated reading device into thinking they should get something else instead.
  • It’s literally an attempt to brainwash people who read books into thinking they should get a device optimized for something other than reading books because that would make people who don’t read more comfortable.

It starts off with people who actually read being reasonable and then at some point it hits you –

The people saying eReaders aren’t cool don’t want a better reading device.

There’s no color, You can’t do anything other than read, It’s too expensive – These are all code phrases.

These people don’t want a reading device at all.

We have a bunch of people who don’t read and would never buy a dedicated reading device trying to impose their world view – they want to design a dedicated reading device.

It’s an amazingly amusing thing – The equivalent of walking three blocks East, picking a random house, and then telling the people who live there it’s all wrong and laying out a new design for them that meets with what you would like your house to be like.

Handling the fact that People refuse to accept these are dedicated reading devices

It’s pretty liberating when you realize that people don’t have a problem with the device itself – they just have a problem with the notion that people like to read and that there exists a dedicated reading device customized for people who like to read.  

These aren’t people criticizing the device. They’re criticizing the existence of the device.

You might argue that it’s a much bigger problem – It’s not. If what these people really want is for us to stop reading then it means we can safely ignore them.

Seeing through the Hype

Owning both an iPhone and iPad puts me in the unenviable position of realizing that neither is made for people who read.

People who argue that these are better than dedicated eReaders are always arguing on grounds that devalue reading i.e.

  1. You can do things other than reading.
  2. They are good enough for reading.
  3. You can get a free app instead of having to buy a device.  

They also always approach things from the ‘we care more about casual readers’ angle –

  1. 85 million people (iPhone and iPod Touch owners) could potentially be convinced to read.  
  2. Those 85 million people are more important than people who actually buy books.  
  3. 500K to 1 million iPad owners are more important because at some point of time there might be tens of millions of iPad owners.
  4. The 4 to 5 million eReader owners don’t matter because all they do is buy dozens of books a year.

It’s a strange argument – Users not interested in reading who might magically decide to start reading are more important than the core readers who are keeping the business running.

Why are both Publishers and Readers buying the Hype?

Actually, they’re not.

Publishers simply see this as an opportunity to slow down eBooks and eReaders and Amazon. That’s why they’re happy to play along.

It’s worth noting that the Press are falling all over themselves pretending the pretend-readers are better than dedicated eReaders because they wrongly believe their future depends on the iPad.

Readers are not falling for it. There are numerous reviews where people who actually read have decided that a device not optimized for reading is, well, not that good for reading.

Imagine that – A device that added in reading as an afterthought is not as good for reading as a device built specifically for reading. Who would have thought it.

The best way to disregard the reading haters and eReader haters

It’s very easy once you realize that they aren’t looking to improve eReaders or to create a better reading device.

If they were they would create a dedicated reading device or talk about one.

They simply are upset that a device focused on reading and focused on people who read is doing so well.

The best way to disregard the eReader criticism (the irrational criticism, not the constructive part) is to realize that the fundamental problem these people have is with reading and not valuing it enough. They don’t want to help us – they simply want us to stop reading and be more like them.

Contrasting two reviews discussing rumored death of the Kindle

For your viewing pleasure we have two reviews this morning. If you’re bored to death of the JesusTablet feel free to skip this post.

BusinessWeek crucifies the Kindle

BusinessWeek just woke up to the fact that they’re Press and thus obligated to predict the death of the Kindle.

First they have analyst Charlie Wolf offer his opinion –

“It’s not a compelling product,” he says of the Kindle, because Apple’s iPad offers more features, such as the ability to play video, plus a more compelling design.

Notice how his reasons have nothing to do with actually reading ebooks. He’s still predicting 2.5 million to 3 million Kindles sold in 2010.

Next we have noted expert analyst Gene Munster (with his patented technology of using the length of lines outside stores to predict sales) offer up his views –

 “No one in their right mind is going to buy a Kindle DX,” says Munster.

Then we have Business Week use this snippet –

Ten percent of prospective buyers said they had considered a Kindle but decided instead to buy an iPad. And 58% of the respondents who already owned Kindles said they planned to stop using them in light of their iPad purchase.

Notice how they forget to mention that the number of respondents who owned Kindles in their survey was just 58. Predictions based on views of 58 owners (given that there are millions of Kindle owners) are not dependable – Just the number of articles pretending that this survey is hugely significant is more than 58.

BW are so impressed by the survey that they actually have a heading for it – Consumers dumping Kindles for iPads.

Mike Shatzkin’s iPad review from a book reader’s perspective

Mike Shatzkin looks at the iPad from the perspective of an ebook reader and he has this to say –

Here’s a quick review of the iPad. I’ve had it for a few days now and, based on what I know so far, it isn’t going to be a very important part of my life.

Thank goodness there’s at least one person who hasn’t had their life completely transformed by the JesusTablet. Well, two.

Further Heresy

 Mike Shatzkin points out that the on-screen keyboard doesn’t cut it –

The keyboard is miles better than one on a phone, but nowhere near as good as one on a laptop or netbook. So it isn’t a substitute for carrying a full-function computer on a trip …

And then the kiss of death –

But as a straight ereading device, it just doesn’t cut it for me.

The extra weight (over a Kindle or an iPhone) just isn’t sufficient compensation for the extra screen capability.

It isn’t as good as the iPhone for reading in bed in the dark because the much more light it throws off makes it harder to avoid annoying your significant other.

For the past two nights have been reading and surfing on the iPad in bed and the weight really is an issue – the iPhone is actually more convenient.

Pointing out some obvious differences between the two Reviews

Perhaps the biggest difference is –

  1. Mike Shatzkin was looking for a device to read ebooks on. 
  2. BusinessWeek were looking for a catchy story to print.

From the Business Week article it’s apparent that the writer hasn’t had the time to actually read a book on each device and compare – She was busy calling up 4 different analysts (they don’t seem to have read books on the Kindle either) and analyze the survey. Notice how all her information is second-hand information – She never actually writes anything about her personal experience.

It’s a colossal joke – A writer who hasn’t actually tried out the devices is asking analysts who haven’t tried out the devices either and they’re shoring it up by assuming a sample of 58 people buying iPads represent all Kindle owners.

You can take any ‘iPad will kill the Kindle’ review/article and you’ll find the exact same things –

  1. They are almost always written by people who haven’t actually read a book on the Kindle.
  2. Even more amusing is that these people usually haven’t even read a book on the iPad. Walt Mossberg is the sole exception.
  3. The focus is always on things other than reading. The logical flow is: Kindle is an eReader -> iPad is really good for watching movies. You can also read books on it. -> Hence the Kindle is dead.
  4. There’s always a survey or an analyst to lend credibility.
  5. There’s lots of mention of reading in the dark and of color.
  6. There’s never any mention of the things that make iPad non-optimal for reading i.e. lack of portability, heavy weight, unreadable in sunlight, and so forth.  

What if the iPad doesn’t kill the Kindle?

The iPad hasn’t sold tens of millions of units (450K to be precise) and there aren’t dozens of amazing killer apps (perhaps not any) making it absolutely essential. Even Macworld writers are ditching the iPad. So it might not be the second coming of a JesusDevice.

There are just 30,000 non-public domain books in the iBooks store. It’s pretty heavy and it’s not readable in sunlight. So the iPad isn’t a better eReader – Is it really going to kill the Kindle because it’s better for watching movies?

On top of that People aren’t buying very many books from the iBooks store. Nothing like Kindle Store on Christmas.

At this point the whole iPad will kill the Kindle hypothesis is based on factors other than reading. You have to admit that makes it rather undependable.

That would mean it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the iPad fails to destroy Kindle and dedicated eReaders. What happens then?

How important are cellphones for eBooks?

This post is just going to ask some questions around this issue. It’s madness to attempt to answer it straight –

  1. You have eReader owners believing that cellphones have no role to play. Perhaps rightly so since cellphones didn’t do squat for eBook sales or traction – it’s only with the advent of eReaders that we are seeing big changes.
  2. At the same time the portion of the population that reads a lot of books on their cellphones is up in arms about how cellphones will always be important ebook reading devices – especially after, as they believe, dedicated devices have disappeared.

Consider the comments on this Teleread post – ‘Cellphones as eReaders may be important to Publishing’s future’. I’m on Richard’s side – Assuming a lot of readers read complete novels on their cellphone is probably wishful thinking.

However, let’s look at it from a neutral viewpoint.

How significant is reading on cellphones?

Flurry released their analytics in the middle of last year saying there were 3 million iPhone owners reading eBooks. Let’s figure out numbers for 2009.

Let’s consider exactly what that might equate to –

  1. 3 million owners reading eBooks.
  2. Reading Apps compete with 100,000+ other apps.
  3. Cellphones probably aren’t used for reading when books or dedicated eReaders are available.
  4. Perhaps a million or so Kindle for iPhone users. Perhaps another half million or so users for all other reading apps (as opposed to just books).
  5. Let’s say these two groups read one complete book every 3 months.
  6. Let’s say the remaining 1.5 million read a book every 6 months.

Using that very rough estimate we get – 1.5 million readers that read 4 books a year and 1.5 million readers that read 2 books a year. That’s 9 million books a year.

What about people who read a lot on their cellphone?

Let’s assume there are .2 million readers (which we’ll add on as we’re feeling generous) that read a ton of books on their iPhone or cellphone and they read a book every 2 weeks. That’s .2 million readers that read 26 books a year which equates to 5.2 million eBooks a year.

Our total is now 14.2 million books a year. This is our rough estimate for 2009.

How significant is reading on eReaders?

Let’s say the number of eReader owners are – 1.5 million for the Kindle, .75 million for the Sony, .25 million for all other eReaders (average for the year). We’re talking 2009 so we leave out the Nook.

What this might equate to –

  1. 2.5 million eReader owners. 
  2. These are obviously more likely to be big readers.  
  3. The devices are tailored to reading and there are no distractions.
  4. The upfront investment means users will be motivated to get value out of their device and read lots of books.  
  5. Let’s say .5 million are voracious readers that read a book a week (read = buy) which gives us 26 million ebooks sold.
  6. Another 1 million are frequent readers that read a book every 2 weeks. That’s another 26 million eBooks sold.
  7. Finally, we have the remaining 1 million that read a book every 2 months. That’s 6 million eBooks.

Our total comes to 58 million eBooks. A rough estimate for 2009.

How significant is reading on other devices?

We’ll take the easy way out and leave this out of the equation – The post is analyzing whether cellphones are hugely important as eBook reading devices so comparing their importance to eReaders is enough for the moment.

What do our rough estimates say about the importance of cellphones?

The two key figures are –

  1. 14.2 million books a year on the iPhone. Keep in mind that only 3 million out of the tens of millions of iPhone owners actually read eBooks.
  2. 58 million eBooks a year on dedicated eReaders. It’s important to note that almost every single eReader owner reads eBooks.

Even with limited penetration and a small user base (3 to 5 million total eReaders) we have dedicated reading devices dwarf the iPhone in eBook sales (in our estimates). The 3 to 5 million eReader owners buy over 4 times the number of books that 30 to 50 million iPhone owners buy.

Why then are people fixated on iPhone owners and cellphones?

Lots of reasons –

  1. Mistaking intent – Buying a device that is focused on reading books is much more valuable than buying a device that can be used for reading books. Yet people assume one iPhone user is equivalent to one eReader owner.
  2. Not valuing the top 20% of customers who account for 80% of sales. These will almost always buy dedicated eReaders.  
  3. Being overawed by numbers. If 35 million or so iPhones lead to 3 million ebook users that’s still just 3 million ebook users – NOT 35 million.
  4. Assuming do-everything devices can be as good as dedicated devices.
  5. Assuming people will value convenience over the quality of the reading experience.
  6. eReaders have no sex appeal.
  7. Mostly because it’s a great story – the myth of the ‘does everything excellently’ device.

The other factors are easily overcome – you can show the percentage of eBook sales that eReaders account for and quiet down claims that the iPhone is more important for reading than dedicated eReaders. However, the story is hard to beat.

 The ‘iPhone kills eReaders’ story

The tech savvy don’t look at eReaders as great for reading, simple to use, devoid of excess functionality. They simply see – not enough features, it looks so 1985, it’s not shiny enough.

Since they control most of the tech media and since a lot of the commenters are very tech savvy too there’s a constant portrayal of eReaders as terribly inefficient and a waste of money.

In that context we have a story –

  1. Once upon a time there was a beautiful kingdom where all the gadgets were shiny and so advanced they had functions that people didn’t even use.
  2. Then there arose a terrible plague on the land – eReaders that hurt the technocracy’s delicate sensibilities because they only did one thing and they did it without catering to the wishes of the gadget lords.  
  3. The technocracy then decided to imbue cellphones with a magical ability to read books better. The mechanics of how this was done are still unknown. However, it was a breathtaking achievement – in the space of a few blog posts (and perhaps a few ultra-powerful tech-magic spells) cellphones became the best devices for reading.
  4. The people who had been forced to read on eReaders and give up the freedom to while away their time rejoiced and threw away their eReaders.
  5. Cellphones, without even trying, vanquished eReaders. The technocracy showed how they know better than readers what’s good for readers and books. They showed how a device that wasn’t even originally meant for reading can still beat the terrible travesty that is the dedicated eReader.
  6. The kingdom was at peace again.

See – that’s a beautiful story. That makes sense to someone who values the gadget over the written word.

It’s too bad gadget lovers and the tech savvy aren’t the only people buying books or this beautiful story could actually come true.