Friday, July 9, 2010

Can’t Tell The Players Without A Score Card (eReaders)

The eReader business is really heating up. The price wars are in full battle regalia and some old soldiers are falling in the trenches while others are just now getting into the fray. Amazon and their Kindle still seem to be in the lead, but depending on how and what you use to measure the market, Apple and the iPad are hot on their heels. Borders has just mustered their army with the Kobo, and other “generic” and one off players are loosing ground and don’t seem to stand a chance other than as low price side line players.

As this battle for market share, negotiations with traditional publishers over royalties, and other things not necessarily important to the reader seem to become more important at least behind the scenes, and in some cases, as in all wars, may swing the tide of battle more than the “weapons’ themselves. Amazon has now opened a service for publishing eBooks that is very lucrative to an ambitious author who not only has the energy and know how to write a decent book, but to market it, edit it (or hire a free lance editor) and design the cover art (or hire that task done too). If there is such an author, and there is at least one, J.A. Konrath, then he stands to reap a much larger percentage of the profits. Others, like Apple with the iPad are raising the stakes by making eReaders at least as appealing in aesthetics as any high tech piece of furniture, and as sleek and beautiful in design, if not in function and flexible use.

Barnes and Nobel seems to still be a viable player, with a very nice feature rich eReader, even if it doesn’t come in as many flavors as the Kindle or the Sony offerings. And now, Borders has come to the battle, almost reluctantly it seems. The Kobo is a decent eReader if a bit of a basic device. They do offer some services that make it appealing.

An aside here, picking and choosing an eReader is a matter of what you are looking for. For instance, there is no denying (or avoiding with all the press) the iPad. But for me the iPad has some serious problems. Since they didn’t go with an eInk screen (all the other makers buy the low powered, low energy usage black and white screens from eInk that also happen to be easy on the eyes and you can see them as well as the printed page even in direct sunlight) their iPad has to be recharged significantly more often-ten hours as opposed to 10 days to 2 weeks. It is also useless outdoors except at night, not something o take out to the pool or to the beach. Also the iPad is heavy at 1.5 to 1.6 pound, with the next heaviest at around 12.5 oz. Imagine trying to hold the large print dictionary with one hand for any length of time. The iPad to me anyhow, is more a Rolls Royce of Netbooks-those low priced, light weight laptops with limited functionality. I have heard that it is not easy to type on, and most owners I have talked to, while praising it, have said they still will use their MacBook or Desktop (either Mac or PC) just as much as before.

The thing that separates the rest of the warriors here, is mainly features and services. How the navigation works (touch screen as opposed to mouse like buttons or even a keyboard) is the memory expandable-The Kindle is not, but do you need to carry more than 1500 books? How about can you play MP3’s while you are reading, and lets not forget content delivery. We have 3G (cell phone) for free, WiFi - you need be near a hot spot either in public or at your house, the the “local delivery options-USB and Blue tooth-in either case you need to down load your selections from the bookstore of your choice to either your Smartphone or PC, then send them to your eReader. So, you have to decide, do I want a “heavy eReader that I have to recharge daily and won’t be much use out side, but it checks e-mail, plays iTunes and can do some word processing and other things I’d normally have to fire up my laptop or desktop for. Or do I want a single (mostly) function device that I hardly have to worry about charging more than two to three times a month, fits in my pocket, and can be read outdoors. Do I need the ability to purchase books at three a.m and have them delivered via 3G in a matter of minutes, or can I put up with going to my PC or Phone, down loading it and transferring it. Do I want to be able to play music too. Where do I shop for books the most often? All of these questions are up to the individual reader, just as choosing a car would be. What's right for you?

To an extent, there seems to be nothing left to fight about, except for seeing if the market will ever come up with a standard for format. and how many additional service can they throw in.  Kindle has their proprietary AMZ format and of course, Apple has theirs. Interestingly enough, before the iPad I though Amazon was going to have to abandon  their proprietary format to stay in the lead, but Apple jumping in with their own “closed” format seems to of almost propped up Amazon in that side line war. All the other combatants have given ground on this issue and have adopted one or all of the “standards” – ePub and/or PDF. Also, even the proprietary player offer free apps so that you can shop their stores and still read your books on your PC/MAC, Smart Phone, Laptop or Tablet. Same with Adobe in the case of Digital Editions and Google (who seems more bent on supporting “standard formats” than entering the device war, with their Library Software. I want to note here that while Amazon is the largest on line retailer and B&N the largest “real” retailer, Google has probably digitized more books, and most of those offerings were already in the Public Domain (free) but has a presence in the newer book world.

Below I have compiled a sort of matrix of all the major players and their devices. Complete with Technical Specs, Features, Pros and Cons, Pricing etc…it might make it easier to tell the players apart. If you’d like a copy of the original Excel spread sheet contact me and I’ll be glad to e-mail it too you. If you think I should add a device, let me know that as well.


The Dirty Lowdown

Here is a link to the Excel Doc on my SkyDrive"

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