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Old 03-05-2008, 04:58 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Cory Doctorow: "Hardware ebook readers are a dead end"

Nobody can question Cory Doctorow's expertise when it comes to writing award-winning Sci-Fi novels and advocating liberalized copyright laws. Whether he is also a good predictor of what the future holds for e-reader devices remains to be seen. From his latest Locus column, "Put Not Your Faith In Ebook Readers":

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Frankly, book reading just isn't important enough to qualify for priority treatment in that marketplace. E-book readers to date have been either badly made, expensive, out-of-stock or some combination of all three. No one's making dedicated e-book readers in such quantity that the price drops to the cost of a paperback — the cost at which the average occasional reader may be tempted to take a flutter on one. Certainly, these things aren't being made in such quantity that they're being folded in as freebies with the Sunday paper or given away at the turnstiles at a ballgame to the majority of people who are non-book-readers.
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I'm skeptical about selling ebooks as a business model (see my earlier column "You DO like reading off a screen" for more about this), but if I had to bet on a future for e-books, I would take long odds against a hardware reader catching on in any meaningful way.
Don't weep bitter tears just yet. There will always be someone of the chorus sounding the death knell for e-book devices; at the end of the day, though, extrodinary claims require extrodinary evidence. So far, e-book devices like the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle are experiencing a growth spurt. And I like to believe that this is just the beginning -- at least until someone convinces me of the contrary.

[via Boing Boing]
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Old 03-05-2008, 05:57 AM   #2
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I think he's wrong. Dead wrong. Ten years ago, who could have predicted the impact of MP3 players on the way people listen to music?
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:03 AM   #3
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I mostly agree with him.

We own two e-ink readers, one is a librie, the other a reader (prs-500).

The reason we actually have these is because both my wife and I are avid readers, find it easier to get what we want to read over the internet than at the local library and I'm computer savvy.

The reason we bought these specific two was their price. I loath sony products as a rule, but they were the only e-ink ebook readers to be had for about $200. No way were we going to fork out more than that, and reading on a pda wasn't an option. Were the lowest price still $300-$400, I'd keep killing trees to print out books on my trusty laser printer, as I did for the at least ten years prior to buying both devices.

So I agree with Doctorow, unless their price drop down to $15-$20, most people aren't going to pick dedicated readers up. But that doesn't mean there isn't a market for such readers, only that it's a small one and that it'll last only as long as their reading experience is significantly superior to that of multi-purpose devices.

As I write that, I realize makers such as Sony, Cybook ans such (I do not include Amazon) are shooting themselves in the foot by not releasing an SDK pretty much immediately after the release of their reader.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:10 AM   #4
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Trenien, it's DRM that will kill the ebook, if anything does.
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Old 03-05-2008, 07:42 AM   #5
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just add a video player to the software, give it a color eInk screen with a good refresh rate, call it a mobile video book and wallah, you got a seller.

And we can continue to read our books on them


... says he who reads on a pda!
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Old 03-05-2008, 08:03 AM   #6
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IMHO the problem is not the price of the reader, but the price of the books. If e-books would be priced in the order of $1 a piece while paperbacks cost $6 and Hardbound $20, everybody who reads more than occasionally would buy a reader and save a lot of money. But if the e-book costs $5.99 the math does not work very well.
The other problem is the availability of e-books. My wife buys books in the order $1500 a year, virtually none of them are available as e-books, so she does not even own an e-reader.
I'd really like the price for e-books drop down to the point where authors and publishers are paid a fair price and we don't have to kill trees to read and I'd like to see books published as e-books FIRST, then as paperback and if really worthwhile as hardcover.
Obviously that also goes and even more so for Magazines and Newspapers.
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Old 03-05-2008, 08:30 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aru View Post
IMHO the problem is not the price of the reader, but the price of the books. If e-books would be priced in the order of $1 a piece while paperbacks cost $6 and Hardbound $20, everybody who reads more than occasionally would buy a reader and save a lot of money. But if the e-book costs $5.99 the math does not work very well.
The other problem is the availability of e-books. My wife buys books in the order $1500 a year, virtually none of them are available as e-books, so she does not even own an e-reader.
I'd really like the price for e-books drop down to the point where authors and publishers are paid a fair price and we don't have to kill trees to read and I'd like to see books published as e-books FIRST, then as paperback and if really worthwhile as hardcover.
Obviously that also goes and even more so for Magazines and Newspapers.
The problem is availability of ebooks that can be easily read on any E-reader.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:15 AM   #8
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I agree that it's money that's really slowing device purchases down. Look at the current situation: First you pay for the reader, then you pay for the books (often at higher prices than the paper versions). For most people it doesn't make sense.

If they can provide readers at around $100 which can read most forms of books and also provide content at around $5-6 for a novel then things may start to take off. But as long as the readers run around $3-400 there's not much hope.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:32 AM   #9
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Personally, I'd amend Cory's statement to say that there's no future for dedicated black-and-white e-ink hardware readers. I agree with his sentiment that they will not be good enough in the book market alone to be successful.

I believe in a strong potential for readers, but only if they are in color, whatever display technology is used. Color will bring online magazines into the e-book mix, and that, I think, will make a huge splash.

Of course, if more people are happy with laptop and tablet display technology down the line, the need for a dedicated reader lessens. This would mean creative packaging and pricing as an attractive accessory device, to bring them to the consumer's "gotta have it" point.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by mores View Post
just add a video player to the software, give it a color eInk screen with a good refresh rate, call it a mobile video book and wallah, you got a seller.
I don't think that's enough. I think that it needs to be a general purpose viewer. I'm sure hyperlinks will become ever more popular, so it needs to handle such navigation well (touchscreen/trackball/-point/-pad/joystick/-pad/whatever). And it needs to be fast; none of those 20+ s bootups or 1500+ ms pageflips! And it needs to be small enough to fit in a pocket and large enough to read A4s (e.g., a screen that folds out to A3-size and can thus show the full width of an A4 in realsize).

After people have seen such devices it will soon become apparent to pretty much everybody that it's terribly convenient to have immediate access to so much.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:45 AM   #11
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MP3= glorified Walkman....

Sorry..The MP3 was not that amazing.. Maybe the marketing of the ipod was... but not the ipod itself...


Must agree with the masses. Sell a Colour e-ink reader for about 150 USD. Sell the ebooks for 5 to 10 USD.. then you will see people buy ebook readers.

m...



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I think he's wrong. Dead wrong. Ten years ago, who could have predicted the impact of MP3 players on the way people listen to music?
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Old 03-05-2008, 10:54 AM   #12
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MP3= glorified Walkman....
agreed

instead of carrying CD's It just meant I could keep all of my music on one device instead of carrying my CD player and CD's with Me
They were succesful because MP3 with my albums on was smaller lighter and more convenient

oh hold on I just described... Ebook readers!

Instead of carrying P books around i can keep all my books in one place .
They will be succesful because an Ebook reader with my books on is smaller lighter and more convenient.
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Old 03-05-2008, 11:16 AM   #13
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They will be succesful because an Ebook reader with my books on is smaller lighter and more convenient.
Remember, Cory was referring to dedicated e-book reading hardware. E-book readers can be built into PCs, handhelds, cellphones, etc, and could conceivably become the best way to read books alone. You don't need dedicated hardware just for books.
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Old 03-05-2008, 11:20 AM   #14
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I am very surprised by these comments. When Steve Jobs said pretty much the same thing, there was on this site a hue and cry about how wrong he was. So, if I understand correctly, Cory Doctorow is more of an authority in these matters than Steve Jobs. Well, I don't need to follow or even debate what either one of them says: I am not in the business of making and selling ereaders and ebooks. What I am is a satisfied user of a Kindle which, for the moment, does what I want, and allows me to read more conveniently (not just books, but newspapers and office documents which Amazon converts for me, thank you). If you don't want or need that, don't buy the device, period! Neither Jobs nor Doctorow to my knowledge are certified prophets, and my use of the Kindle depends on what I and not they think. If ereaders disappear it will be because something better has come on the scene.
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Old 03-05-2008, 11:21 AM   #15
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Remember, Cory was referring to dedicated e-book reading hardware. E-book readers can be built into PCs, handhelds, cellphones, etc, and could conceivably become the best way to read books alone. You don't need dedicated hardware just for books.
Yes, but I heard Cory argue (at Worldcon 2007 in Yokohama I think) that devices with multiple functions will probably not succeed as book readers since most people will be distracted by email or other stuff that they can also do on the device. Personally that is totally true and I see the lack of other functionality on my book reader as a great advantage.
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