The Growth of E-readers

Here’s an interesting piece about the growth of e-readers:

I think it was last year, or the year before, when Steve Jobs answered a question about the Amazon Kindle with something to the effect that he didn’t see much of an opportunity with such products because nobody reads anymore. That statement infuriated some on this board, including Keith. And then I recall that someone posted that Jobs made a similar dismissive statement about digital music players before Apple came out with the iPod. That poster stated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you’ve got be careful of those kinds of Steve Jobs’s head fakes because it usually means that Apple is in the thick of developing such a product. As it turns out, that poster was right. Apple has been developing a large tablet device for the last several years. In fact, the latest predictions suggest a product launch in early 2010. The device will basically be a large iPod touch, a multi-function device that will include an e-reader of some kind. Rumor also has it that Apple has been quietly negotiating with book publishers, newspapers and magazines for content for its new device.

It seems like the big debate going on right now is about multi-function vs single-function devices. Most reliable industry watchers believe that single-function devices, like the Kindle, are not long for this world; that multi-function devices are the wave of the future. All of which will make for an interesting 2010 with Apple, Microsoft and HP coming out with such products.

The major advantage single-function devices have over multi-function ones - and I’m talking specifically about e-readers here - is e-Ink. I can’t see myself reading a novel on a tablet any more than I can see myself reading one on my laptop; the handling may be more comfortable but the screen is still too harsh on the eyes. e-Ink, by contrast, is as easy to read as the printed page. Reading on my Sony Reader is no different than reading a book (although the Sony Reader is a bit of a clunky device). Hopefully one day e-Ink will be at a stage where it can generate every colour beautifully and quickly, or at least there will be an alternate technology that can rapidly create a page onscreen in full colour that looks like ink on paper. There is a lot of research and development going on in this area right now, and an article in The Times last year described some very exciting nascent technologies that may replace e-Ink and bring us into a world akin to the one in Minority Report where animated advertisements swap in and out on the back of your cornflakes box. But until then, e-Ink is vastly superior to an LCD screen for sustained reading, so I think Apple are missing the point here: it’s not about having a cool-looking device that does lots of things and - hey! - I can even read a book on it too; it’s about providing a pleasant reading experience which requires a different, and separate, technology. Over the next year or two there is likely to be an explosion of e-readers to compete with the Sony and Kindle, such as the Cybook Opus, Nuut, iRiver, BeBook etc, and as soon as they come down in price to something reasonable - £50, say - and start appearing in supermarkets, and as soon as the designs start getting a little more refined so there is more screen and fewer clunky controls, I think it unlikely that a tablet device is going to displace them. In fact, if Apple’s only attempt at a foray into the reader market is to bundle some reader software onto a tablet and to try to get publishers involved, I think it shows a complete lack of understanding of what is involved in creating a good reading device. Either way, I hope Apple stick to an open format such as .epub (which already has DRM) and don’t try to introduce their own e-book format.

All the best,

There’s also the issue of file formats. There’s no mp3 of ebooks as far as I can tell. Sony have always tried to force their own formats on the market, and while they’re often technically superior, they generally lose out. Amazon are trying to do with DRM what iTunes gave up on trying to do about earlier this year. Until there’s a single format, there’s a good chance your books will end up unreadable in the next generation of tech. It’s not like you can even rip them again…

Although my inner geek is strongly tempted by readers, I’m not buying one till the current iteration of Betamax vs VHS is won.

And another thing I’ve just thought of…

Unlike iPods over Walkmans, eReaders don’t really offer any advantage to users.

When I was at uni, I used to spend 10 minutes before a the 3 hour journey to my girlfriend’s for the weekend trying to anticipate what I might want to listen to for the next few days, and boiling it down to half a dozen tapes. One of the reasons I love my iPod is that I don’t have to do that because it’s all there, and smaller.

But for that same journey, I’d only take one book. I never felt any need to desire to take half my library with me. I read a lot, and I have lots of books on the go, but not on the scale of my listening habits, because books aren’t over and done with in 5 minutes, and I don’t read them over and over in the same way I listen to music. In fact, one of the consolations of long train journeys is being able to plunge into a good book for several hours.

Practically speaking, having, say, six books to choose from might - might - be an advantage. But not £200 worth, and maybe not £50 worth.

Market size is another issue. Da Kidz are a huge tech buying market. Book buyers are a smaller, less tech savvy market, and many with an attachment to paper akin to the vinyl-fanatic’s. MP3s took off in part because the industry had no choice. Music file sharing was happening in a way that book file sharing won’t (partly because the tech for presenting it doesn’t exist, ironically), so there’s less of a market incentive to get eReaders to market.

For any high school or college student who has a number of 4 kg textbooks, having all that in one e-reader would be a god send on our backs. Worth the money to me. And then during and after i’m done with school, heck why not use it for novels too.

If you think book file sharing isn’t already happening, you don’t know what’s going already going on. Anyone can scan and OCR a book and upload it up to the torrent sites. Like all things, it depends on what’s popular with who’s tech savvy, but if you look at all the torrents of Harry Potter and Twilight and textbooks and manga and graphic novels and comics floating out there in cyberspace, the publishing industry better catch up.

.epub is fast becoming the .mp3 of ebooks, especially now that Sony have ditched their proprietary .lrm format and are switching all of the Sony Store catalogue over to .epub. It’s an open format (Scrivener 2.0 will even be able to export to it), publishers can incorporate DRM into it as it allows for encryption, and being based on HTML/XML and CSS, it is very flexible and powerful. Most readers other than the Kindle are now beginning to support it as their main format, so I would be very surprised if it doesn’t become the de facto standard.

All the best,

They’re coming. Yesterday the Sunday Times in the UK reviewed what it saw as the top five products in this market. (The imported Kindle was rated number-one, by the way.)

Personally I’m not so sceptical about Apple’s expected foray into it. When I first got my iPod Touch I installed Stanza and used it to read several books. The screen was quite acceptable for half an hour of late-night reading. (And the Touch was one of the ST’s five products.) I can see that in five or ten years’ time many people will use E-readers or tablets to read not just books but also newspapers and magazines, as well as the Internet and business and personal documents.

I wonder how much modification iPod applications like WriteRoom or Auteureist will need to function on the new tablet?


P.S. Slightly OT: a response to file-sharing? More authors may have to discover live performance.

And £200 to drop. And most people aren’t students. Most people don’t even buy books. Ever. I suspect most - certainly far more - buy music and video tho.

Well, possibly not. It’s not on the same scale as mp3 and video though, nothing like, or I’m pretty sure I would know what’s going on.

Yes, if they’ve got a scanner, are prepared to sit over it for a few hours scanning and OCRing page by page. A very different proposition to making your music folder available for peer to peer, or uploading a CD you’ve shoved in your laptop to rip for your own use anyway, or downloaded as mp3 to start with. Most people don’t have scanners, or if they do, they’re very slow, and last time I used OCR it was pretty flakey. Uploading books is a whole other level of hassle.

Quite. There’s far less common ground between readers (mostly female, mostly older) and techies than there is between film goers and music consumers (mostly young, fairly even gender split). The market’s lots smaller.

Do you know what the absolute numbers are tho? I bet they’re tiny in comparison to video and music. And those genres are very much teenage/early 20s, rather than mainstream literature.

I think you’re right tho that when books do turn digital, in whatever format, it’ll inevitably be a generational take up. And if every other technology is a guide, porn driven.

On the other hand, Kindle has the massive marketing bulk of Amazon behind it and from the review I’ve seen is a more consumer friendly design, as opposed to being technically better (just like iPods vs anything else, like .doc as opposed to Open Doc format, like VHS as opposed to Betamax). On the other hand Apple’s pretty much dropped any substantive differences for its AAC wrapper over mp3, which is now a standard, I grant you. But epub hasn’t won yet and I don’t think you can assume what applies for music and video applies for books. Books don’t need a device to use them. All the others do, so the only question is ‘what’.

I’ve seen lots of Top Five reviews, based on a particular spasm of hype. Personal video viewers, for instance, have been around for ages, and compared to books and MP3 players and phones, you hardly see anyone actually using them. I don’t even watch stuff on my iPod Classic. It’s perfectly acceptable quality-wise, it’s just not as immersive as a book or iPod.

But the Kindle has so far only been available in the States - it has only just been announced for worldwide release, and even then will still have to ship from America. Sony has got a very good head start here in the UK and I have it from at least one published author that UK publishing houses are adopting Sony Readers for passing manuscripts back and forth, rather than using paper, and .epub is a big part of that and will be a lot easier than trying to go through Amazon’s format with the Kindle. There is also a big push for Amazon to allow the Kindle to read the .epub format - I wouldn’t buy any reader that cannot read the format myself. The Gutenberg project already supports it as one of their formats, for instance - although they also support MobiPocket, which I believe the Kindle can read and is the basis of its native file format.

I do agree that the jury’s still out, but I think that it will come down to a number of cheaper readers being made available, and the formats they decide to adopt. The Kindle still looks hideously ugly to me, and I think we’re still waiting for a truly beautiful Reader design to come along.

Like you, I don’t think e-readers are going to have the same effect on the book industry as electronic music did on the music industry, but I think after the initial resistance e-readers will become popular and common. The reading experience of e-ink is just as nice as reading from paper, so it will eventually just come down to design. And the technology can provide some advantages over books which haven’t been mentioned, although in all fairness so far no e-reader has come along with such features. But imagine a Spotlight-esque search feature on an e-reader. To me, this in itself would make it an amazing device. I can imagine reading a book, being reminded of a quote or a section from another book, and with a powerful search feature I could immediately have that quote or section on-screen (possibly even alongside it in a split screen). If I come across the name of a character I have forgotten, I would just be able to search for the name and instantly find the first place in the story the name appears to remind me of who he or she is, without the frustration of spending minutes flicking back through pages and repeatedly missing the part I’m trying to find. With note-taking abilities, I could highlight sections of text I want to come back to, and eventually download all the marked quotes into a file on my computer. Copying quotes would be as simple as brushing over them with a finger or stylus and hitting a button to send them to such-and-such a file. So I disagree with anyone who thinks that e-books cannot provide some improvements over their paper counterparts; it’s just unfortunate that so far they are at such a primitive stage that these improvements have yet to materialise.

All the best,

I should have included in my original post that multi-function vs single-function is not the only debate raging at the moment. Like the music industry, pricing and author royalties are huge issues that still need to be resolved. And also, as it turns out, piracy:

The Amazon Kindle model of $9.99 for most books is of concern to most publishers because they believe it is too low, and that they, not Amazon, should be the ones setting the prices for their books–and those prices should be different, depending on book length, author, etc. They further claim that they are actually losing money on the Amazon model because although they may not have the same costs commonly associated with a physical book (printing, warehousing, shipping, and returns), an e-book still has the same pre-production costs as a physical book (acquisition costs, artwork, etc.), plus the costs associated with creating a digital file of the book. On the author side, standard pub/author contracts call for a lower royalty rate for e-books than physical books. Why, you may ask. I have no idea. Makes no sense to me.

Anyway, all this is going to heat up even more as e-books and e-book readers become more popular. As writers we should all be following these issues very closely.

Any of you using a Sony Reader with OS X?

Wikipedia says: “Sony released an official Mac OS X client for the Reader with the release of the PRS-300 and PRS-600. It is reported to work with the PRS-505, PRS-700, Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition. The software works under 10.6 Snow Leopard, but only under 32 bit mode as it relies on a kernel module that does not currently support the optional 64 bit kernel.”

I’d be interested to hear if the client is usable …

Times have changed. This is how it is done…
:neutral_face: … r_embedded

With £300 of scanner and what… £100 worth of specialist guillotine (that’s a guess, I couldn’t find a price, so they’re not mass market, and therefore not cheap). And you destroy every book you scan. Two seconds to scan each side, so that’s about 20 minutes to scan in, let alone OCR a 300 page book, and you end up with no book left. Compare with sticking a CD in a drive that you’ve already got and waiting ten minutes for it to end up in your media library. Then £200 odd for something to read it on…

Books are not going to get digitised en masse like this, even less than LPs being mass digitised from turntables.

Sure, some niches, like reasonably tech savvy students who need expensive textbooks, and publishers who receive electronic copies anyway and need to carry round lots of manuscripts will use it. But your 50 year old housewife who buys Danielle Steels and Judy Astleys? I doubt it.

The royalty thing will sort itself out eventually I think, just as music and video is sorting itself out. But if digital books do take off, as they might with a radically different model - cheaper, less needless power - we could easily end up with royalties hit as hard for authors as they have been for musicians. The money used to be in record sales. Now it’s live performance, for instance.

I’m less sold on searching, annotating etc. as benefits. The vast majority of books sold are mass market novels, which sell because they’re cheap and gripping. eReaders increase the cost of that experience and get between the reader and the text; being able to search and annotate a Grisham isn’t going to be a big selling point.

The other drawback is that they’re more delicate than books. You can get sand, water, food in a book and it still works fine. If you do that with an eReader (as with a walkman or iPod) you’ve lost more than just your current book, you’ve potentially lost all of them and an expensive bit of tech.

Hmm, I definitely think you’re underestimating things, but we’ll see. Remember that Google (controversially) are already digitising books en masse, with the intention of making any book available digitally. On top of this, the mass digitisation of books has an advantage even for those who don’t like the idea of an electronic reader - publishing on demand. There is the very real possibility that in a few years’ time you will have a POD machine in your favourite coffee shop, which will allow you to browse through books like on a jukebox and to purchase on and have it printed for your right there, cover and all.

You say that eReaders get between the book and the reader, but the point is they don’t, no more than a paper book gets between the author and the reader. And a 50 year-old housewife reading Danielle Steel may never buy such a device, but in twenty or thirty years’ time all of the iPod generation will be 50 year-olds reading Marian Keyes or whoever, and quite possibly doing so on eReaders as much as on paper.

One thing I wonder is how much more environmentally friendly eReaders are (or aren’t). They don’t take much electricity to run and do not require the cutting down of any trees. Those made of plastic are obviously not so environmentally friendly, but I wonder what they payoff between the two forms are.

Anyway, I can see you definitely aren’t taken by e-books yourself, so we’ll have to see how things pan out. Myself, I still prefer paper books by far myself. But the eReader experience is better than I had thought it would be, so I’m open to seeing how much it improves, and am quite excited at the prospect of seeing what happens.

All the best,

With its customary zeal and evenhandedness, The New York Times offers a series of brief – but oh so terribly official – replies to the question which lies at the heart of this matter: “Does the Brain Like E-Books?” <>

The replies are, I imagine, interesting enough in themselves, but NYT’s presentation raises a couple other questions.

  1. Is it proper/necessary to capitalize the Books part of E-Books? Ought it to be E-books instead (talking here about use in a headline)?

  2. What are we to make of this sentence in the editors’ introduction to the subject: “Is there a difference in the way the brain takes in or absorbs information when it is presented electronically versus on paper?” Will that sentence be at least a trifle less cumbersome if “versus” is replaced? And with what? Or is that sentence one which could be written only by someone steeped in word processing – which is to ask, How might a literate person of a century and a half ago have presented that issue? And did I really need to capitalize “How” back there?


Maybe? Seems easier to understand to me. But then I have issues.

I think the most compelling argument I’ve seen for the mind processing information differently in a digital environment is how we approach information we do not know. When reading a book, it is more likely that we’ll let things go and keep reading if we do not understand a word or thought. In the digital environment, it is more likely we’ll look it up somehow in a dictionary or Wikipedia. This causes the reading habit to be less linear and more nebulous, but I’m not sure if there is a better or worse here. While the average person may acquire more trivia and knowledge in a digital environment, will they have less focus? There are some interesting studies going on about that question. Take the Kindle for instance: the reading experience is practically identical to paper in that you are looking at physical ink on a reflective grey surface. It is not too dissimilar from reading a newspaper, but the environment allows easy and rapid cross-referencing. When I read something on a Kindle, I am more inclined to look things up and jump around while I’m reading, then when I’m reading a standard book.

As for the first style question: I have seen capitalised letters after a hyphen in titles before.

It depends on the reason for the hyphen. If it’s to equalize two adjectives, like red-rimmed glasses, they’re individual words and both should get capped. If it’s a compound noun, like “Cutoff for check-in is at 10 am”, then it depends on the individual house style. I prefer not, myself.

So, is e-book a compound noun?

I’ve been using ebooks for at least 5 years. Palm Pilots. The world is still trying to catch up. Kindle? Sony? Pish posh. Even my iPhone isn’t a patch on the Palm. Unless a book is in electronic format these days, it doesn’t get read. I even download the newspaper onto the Palm/iPhone.

I bought some books for the eReader years ago and I’ve still got them. Of course, I can’t remember what my password is to open them, but hey, they’re still looking as new as the day I bought them. After wearing out 2 penguin paperbacks of Pride & Prejudice, I can read it time after time on the Palm, it remembers my place and I can make the font bigger when I’m feeling a bit blech. Gutenberg is fantastic for free books - I’ve got about 20 such novels on the Palm.

I’ve been experimenting with various readers and still haven’t found the “happy place” on the iPhone. Stanza is okayish, but a bit…ordinary and a pain in the rear to convert many docs. There is a real niche for iPhone developers - I’d pay serious money (forget your piddly $1-5 apps) for a good reader that allowed me to convert my own documents. I paid $40ish for my current reader/converter on the Palm five years ago and it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m currently stalking that developer in the hope that they’ll abandon Blackberry (their current focus) and adopt iPhone.

As to the books not being available in the pirated world…they sure are. Harry Potter, Twilight (uggh)…in fact all the “big” or popular novels are available. Just use your torrent of choice and search. Even audio books are there. There’s a rule - if it exists, it’s on the internet. Having said all that, I never use torrents and won’t pirate - it’s just not right for me.

To demonstrate how far down the ebook path I am: when the final Harry Potter book came out (not available in e-format here) I bought a hard copy. That night, I made myself comfortable in bed, picked up the book, turned off the light…and realized it was dark. How do people read in bed? You have to have a light on? Who knew?

Even a lot of “little” ones are. I’m not above searching some sites and e-mailing the resultant links to the author.