eReaders: Are They Redefining the Future of Reading?
In 1998, the year Apple retired its first line of handheld PDAs—the Newton MessagePad—the first eReader, the Gemstar Rocket eBook, hit the scene. But few people were listening—or rather, reading. Even when Sony announced its first eReader in 2006, the line didn’t catch on outside of early adopters and well-heeled business travelers.
Today, Publisher’s Weekly claims one in five people purchase only digital books. And now everyone wants a piece of that pie. Analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies says sales of dedicated eReaders measure in the millions. And the public’s infatuation with these devices seemed to hit a crescendo in January when Apple announced the iPad, a 9.7-inch multitouch, eBook-reading tablet. Some are predicting Apple will sell as many as 4 million units this year, with many more to follow in 2011.
And that’s just Apple. At this year’s International CES, we saw at least a half dozen new eReaders from known brands such as Fujitsu and Samsung, along with such smaller players as Notion Ink and Skiff. Amazon’s Kindle, of course, still dominates the market, with an estimated 60 percent market share. So there’s no question eReaders are finally having their year.But are they here to stay?
The Kindle Effect
eReaders weren’t always the most user-friendly—or useful—gadgets. The Franklin EB-500 Rocket eBook, which stored the equivalent of 10 novels, weighed a hefty 1.4 pounds, and had a display that resembled those of PDAs of the day (that is, reading fine print on it for long stretches of time was visually straining). Downloading books involved connecting the reader to a PC.
Reading novels on these small screens has become more comfortable thanks to E-Ink, the technology used on the Kindle and other devices to simulate the look of paperback paper (the Kindle displays text in 16 shades of gray). Many people find E-Ink more comfortable to read than staring intently at an LCD display, the kind of panel used in your laptop or monitor. (Research, however, suggests that while it’s not the most pleasant experience, reading off a color LCD won’t cause any harm.) The biggest benefit of E-Ink is longer battery life. For example, the Kindle 2 is rated to last for days, versus 10 hours on the iPad.
Sony was the first to sell a digital reader with an E-Ink display, but it was far from the first to simplify content discovery and acquisition. That would involve the integration of 3G wireless (at no additional monthly cost), which is what the Kindle brought to the table. Through a partnership with Sprint, Amazon’s Whispernet connectivity would allow eReader owners to download books wirelessly in under 60 seconds. And that’s not all Amazon did to stand out: it also created apps for the iPhone and PCs, giving users a reason to buy content from Amazon’s Kindle store even if they didn’t own the company’s flagship product.
Amazon’s eBook store has an unrivaled selection of bestsellers, as well as newspapers, magazines, and textbooks. But Barnes & Noble is a close second. As of press time, the Nook store offered 197 bestsellers, suggesting Barnes & Noble is catching up to Amazon. The Sony Reader store, meanwhile, had 100. The Kindle store contained 179 items informally tagged as bestsellers (meaning, you’d have to search for them), although there’s no dedicated bestseller section.
Other eReaders that tout stores selling millions of eBooks have yet to garner attention—and sales. That’s because most of these books are likely from Google’s Project Gutenberg, titles so esoteric that their copyrights have expired. Other eReaders, meanwhile, deliberately focus on specialized markets. Plastic Logic’s QUE, for example, targets business users with magazines such as Fast Company, while Enourage is going after the education market, aggressively acquiring textbooks for its dual-screen, note-taking Edge.
- Page 1: Introduction & The Kindle Effect
- Page 2: In Living Color & Multitasking Machines
- Page 3: Here Comes the iPad & Rising Prices
- Page 4: The Future of Content