Friday, October 16, 2009

E-Book Readers Are About To Be Ubiquitous

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:


I don’t know about most people, but ever since the re-emergence of e-book readers with Amazon.com’s Kindle, I have wanted one. Why? Aside from the cool gadget factor, it’s a great idea. While I love my books, and bookshelves are a great decorator touch in any house, the idea of taking my reading anywhere, ALL my reading: present, past, future, etc., is very attractive. But another device, to go along with the cell-phone and all the other stuff in my man-purse—uhh, I mean BAG—is, well, a negative.


That’s why this announcement from Sam Diaz’s tech blog on ZDNet is so interesting:


“Google challenges e-readers by taking e-books directly to browser”


“Who needs an e-reader or a special app when I’ve already got the only e-reader/app that I need: a Web browser?


“Google said today that it will launch in the first half of next year an online store to offer e-books that can be read on any device with a Web browser, according to a Reuters report. Yup, that means e-book reading comes to the browser on your desktop, laptop, iPhone and probably even some WiFi-enabled handheld gaming devices.


“That feels like a pretty big blow to the likes of Amazon, which has made a name in e-book readers with its popular Kindle brand, Sony and now even Barnes and Noble, which is expected to announce an e-reader of its own at a New York City event next week.”


If you haven’t guessed it by now, we are in a gradual run-up to the point where desktop and laptop computers, smart-phones, game-players, video-content players, stand-alone wireless internet browsers—some game devices and netbooks, and, yes, e-books, will all merge. This day is not far off, but I suspect it is still far enough away that it would not be a waste of money to get an interim device until—(insert angel chorus here)--convergence.


A year ago, netbooks were the hottest thing going in the tech press. Today they are considered a dead end—too little computing power, too little use. But this announcement from Google might have the effect of breathing new life into the netbook. After all, it runs browsers just great, and it’ll do storage and a fair amount of file serving and creation, application-running, and video-playing, as well. Where I wouldn’t have considered buying a netbook before, now, with it’s other features, it’s breached my wall of resistance and become attractive. Very cool news.

Update to this post:

E-Book Readers have some rocky times ahead if this blog posting by Mitch Ratcliffe is to be believed:


Headline 2010: e-Reader Device Failure


Here are the most salient points:


“The market knows best, right? Markets are bloody paths to progress. At this writing there are approximately 52 e-reader devices coming to market in the next 12 months. Fifty-two different devices coming to market (Here’s what I wrote about Steve Jobs’ approach to reader devices when there were just 45 e-readers on the horizon).


“This is the definition of ‘glut’ becoming reality.


“…the coverage will likely make it sound like e-reader failures mean e-book failure.


“They are ridiculously expensive for a market where the vast majority of customers buy one book or less a year—more than 180 million Americans don’t buy a single book in any year.


“Many hardware makers will retreat and e-books, not the glut, will get the blame.


“…we’ll see some of the new e-readers announced this year selling for $59 next year, because retailers cannot get rid of them. That is a result of fierce competition, but leave it to the press and bloggers to turn the whole process into a mandate on e-books, not the expensive hardware.


“…it’s a short step from ‘people don’t want e-readers’ to ‘people don’t want e-books,’ one that hardware manufacturers will avail themselves of to explain to enraged investors why they are bailing out of the e-reader market. That simple syllogism will lead to the wrong conclusion.


“The most optimistic estimates are that five million e-readers will sell in the next 12 months, with approximately one million flying from shelves to eager readers this Christmas. Noelle Skodzinski, editor in chief of Book Business, speaking during the Digital Content Day @ Your Desk conference last week (which you can view on-demand for three months), cites very conservative sales levels, Simba Information’s estimate that only 500,000 Kindles will have sold by the end of this year. That’s a low number, I think.


“For the device makers, it will mean we are getting closer to some kind of ‘iPod moment.’ Skodzinski’s slides from the event compare Kindle sales to iPod sales in 2002, suggesting that we are on the steeper part of the hockey stick, but it’s not the right comparison. iPod marked a departure from the first-generation of MP3 players, but we are still in the stage of the market that music downloads was in the late 90s. There is no iPod, no Walkman, no IBM PC, yet.


“…and that is not to say that a future Kindle couldn’t be the ‘iPod of e-books,’ though my instincts tell me the future of reading is a converged device.”


The key take-away from this is that the media will characterize the failure of the glut as a failure of e-books. It remains to be seen, of course, but it will be interesting to watch. Stay tuned as it plays out, and if he’s right, well… most everyone here but me read it here first. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

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