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Old 02-12-2009, 05:50 PM   #1
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Ebooks and naysayers.

With the announcement of the forthcoming release of the Kindle 2, we're now being beseiged with negative exposition over ebook technology - e-ink readers, ebooks themselves, cost, etc. - in numerous columns, blogs and reviews, the latter in both print and broadcast media. To hear some people, you'd have to picture the average ebook customer as a near-autistic savant incapable of functioning in normal society or as some socially-inept nerd who's idea of reality is closer to ABC's "Chuck" than modern America.

Yeah. Right. We all know the truth. E-books, and e-book readers - especially e-ink readers - are here to stay and gaining popularity by leaps and bounds. Amazon has finally admitted to selling nearly 500,000 Kindles (version 1) and the combined US sales of Sony PRS, Bookeen Cybook, iRex iLiad and Jinke V3 (Or it's variant the BeBook.) are nearly as high. That mean there are, just for e-ink devices, nearly 1 MILLION ebook customers in the US. Add in the 2-3 million people who use their iPhones, PDAs and desktop or laptop computers and it is obvious that ebook reading is here and broadly popular!

But one thing slows the spread of ebook-specific device acceptance. Cost. It's bad enough that one has to shell out several hundred bucks for an iPhone with it's tiny 4-inch display, especially when one also, in modern America, needs to own at least a $400 netbook, if not a $600-$1,000 desktop system. But then the ereader market insists upon charging anywhere from $229-$359 for a 6-ink e-ink device!

And these devices are all pretty much still first-generation. To be honest, there's little difference in display technology between the Sony PRS-500 and the Kindle 2, except the firmware and the controller for the display. There's no color, the screen refresh rate is still far slower than what is needed to support animation and we still need an external (yes, the light on the PRS-700 is in front of the screen) or "front" lighting system if we wish to read in low-light areas.

But all the technical issues are being improved and within two years we CAN expect to see many of these features to be present in the average ebook reader.

Which leaves cost. The one bugaboo which all nay-sayers have targeted. Okay, let's consider cost.

How many of you remember the Data General DG-1? Anyone? Anyone? Yep. The first truly "portable" computer recognizable as a "laptop". This sucker ran MS-DOS, could only hold a maximum of 512KB - that's right KILObytes! - of RAM, had a MONOCHROME, grayscale screen capable of 640x200 pixel resolution, needed to be near a power outlet if one wanted to use it for more than an hour, weighed NINE pounds and cost a "cost-effective" $2,895!!! Compared to the average EEE PC 900 (8.9" screen, 1GB RAM, SSD "drive" of 16GB size, $299 price and weighing just over two pounds), the DG-1 was a monstrous dinosaur! And the price differential, my gosh!

But that's what happens as technology improves and manufacturing processed get more efficient. Still, if one HAD to have a laptop back in 1984, the DG-1 made its owner vastly more productive than NOT owning one.

And that holds just as true for e-ink ebook readers. We've managed to move past "bleeding edge" and "innovator-level" and, with the BeBook, Kindle 2, PRS-700 and Cybook Gen3, are into "early adopter" phase. Prices will continue to fall as features are added.

So when your friends and neighbors show you the various nay-saying columns from these luddites and neanderthals, you remind them of these facts. Then poin them your favorite ebook reader and tell them to give one a try.

Derek
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:01 PM   #2
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I have been teasing RobertB that he should hire me for PR. Everyone I have shown my Astak EZ Reader to now wants one. My boss at work holed up in her office with it and I didn't think I was going to get it back! The local librarians are jealous - though they've made me promise I won't "abandon" them now that I have the EZ Reader (no danger, I can't afford to buy every new release I want to read).
I haven't had one single person tell me it's "useless" or even "just a fancy gadget".
Everyone's been really impressed and a few have even told me they plan on ordering one in the near future.
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:14 PM   #3
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Well, I think to spend $300+ on a special device for reading books does mean you are rather devoted to the pastime. Most people aren't and it seems a bit silly or extreme to them. I do think the stand-alone reading device is just a stop on the road and I'm not entirely convinced the e-ink will be the winning display technology. Time will tell. Still, as a fairly voracious reader, having a device like this still makes sense. I think the slim, readable, efficient multifunction tablet of my dreams is still a few years off so for now I'm happy to be saving money, space, time and effort with my Kindle.
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:25 PM   #4
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I do worry that the underlying behavior, reading, is waning. As our media advances it seems to have a shorter length (twitter, anyone?). Our far future may resemble our distant past, full of meaningful grunts.
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:28 PM   #5
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I do worry that the underlying behavior, reading, is waning. As our media advances it seems to have a shorter length (twitter, anyone?). Our far future may resemble our distant past, full of meaningful grunts.
before that happens it going to be pictograms 1st
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Old 02-13-2009, 03:12 AM   #6
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I remember buying my first CD-ROM player. I had to pay around (converted) 150 euro for it. It was a 4 speed player. Now, how much do you pay for a DVD-ROM player?

Prices will go down, as soon as there are more and more readers on the market. Right now, you have the choice of a few readers, most are 6". Once the size range goes up and the amount of producers go up, the prices will go down. And slowly, but surely, more and more books are put into digital formats. And even if people will start to read less novels, I think the digital newspapers and magazines will become a big part of the digital e-reader scene.
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Old 02-13-2009, 03:47 AM   #7
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I use both my HP Ipaq 112 classic PDA and my i900 Omnia smartphone for reading books (mobipocket) currently. The screens are small, around 3.5" but are perfectly able to be read.

I discussed the dedicated ebook reader option with my wife about a month ago and she was quite happy for me to purchase one. I decided to tilt my hat at a Illiad until I saw the cost (AU$600+).

As such, I am NOT purchasing a dedicated ebook reader until the prices settle and become reasonable (real world pricing perhaps?) as they certainly are not currently.

SD

Last edited by sabredog; 02-13-2009 at 04:12 AM.
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Old 02-13-2009, 05:11 AM   #8
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And even if people will start to read less novels, I think the digital newspapers and magazines will become a big part of the digital e-reader scene.
About this, I think the partnership of Zinio with Plastic Logic is a good step, even if Zinio has its own document format.
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Old 02-13-2009, 10:37 AM   #9
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About this, I think the partnership of Zinio with Plastic Logic is a good step, even if Zinio has its own document format.
I would drool over such a partnership... especially when Plastic Logic's screens go color. Having a lack of (practical) portability with my Zinio subscriptions is its biggest flaw.
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Old 02-14-2009, 05:27 AM   #10
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As such, I am NOT purchasing a dedicated ebook reader until the prices settle and become reasonable (real world pricing perhaps?) as they certainly are not currently.
SD
I see you have an Australian email address. I understand that Dymocks sells the Cybook Gen3 reader at much less than $600Au so I suggest that you have a look at it. I bought mine from the US, before Dymocks started selling them, and have been very happy with it.

In fact apart from technical books and a book my wife bought me for my birthday I haven't read a print book for months.

Regards, Alex
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Old 02-14-2009, 05:42 AM   #11
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I love my Kindle and love the technology that makes it so useful but I don't think for a moment there is a long term future for a dedicated ebook reader. Ideally we'll eventually all have something similar to a large iPod touch that does a bit of everything (I don't think we'll all ever want to be reading books on devices as small as phones).

But tech all seems to be going the direction of integration. I mean, heck... what my iPhone can do alone is absolutely amazing and if the screen wasn't so small (and generally not as amazing as eInk) I'd not even need my Kindle (especially if Amazon extends the store to the device!).

But we're a ways off. But I doubt we have more than 10 years of dedicated ebook readers ahead of us. Probably not even that. Maybe more like 6.
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Old 02-14-2009, 07:38 AM   #12
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Booksellers need to be educated as well. A Waterstones close to us has a Sony on display, but it wasn't connected to power and I couldn't examine what the text on it looks like. And the assistants in the shop were obviously not interested - perhaps they fear the encroaching of the technology - though I doubt it's going to take over cellulose books for many a decade.

Not that is, until e-books look like the ones they show in "Andromeda". !!
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Old 02-14-2009, 09:11 PM   #13
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Booksellers need to be educated as well. A Waterstones close to us has a Sony on display, but it wasn't connected to power and I couldn't examine what the text on it looks like. And the assistants in the shop were obviously not interested - perhaps they fear the encroaching of the technology - though I doubt it's going to take over cellulose books for many a decade.

Not that is, until e-books look like the ones they show in "Andromeda". !!


I think it will be like Compact disk replacement of Vinyl records.
Books will stay on as a nostalgic niche market,
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Old 02-14-2009, 09:27 PM   #14
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I think it will be like Compact disk replacement of Vinyl records.
Books will stay on as a nostalgic niche market,
I really don't think paper books and magazines will become a "niche market" because I think there will always be a large enough consumer market for them. There are advantages to having a paper book or magazine that can't be replicated in ebooks. I'm thinking specifically of skimming purposes. It's so much easier to flip through a book or magazine than it is to go through an ebook. Ebook search functions are useful but only if you know exactly what you're looking for. Being cheap and disposable is another useful feature, whether you think so personally or not. Fifteen to twenty dollars might not seem particularly cheap but it is when compared to a dedicated reading device. People with as much disposable income as Americans are willing to purchase books on a whim to just read and toss aside. The clearest evidence of this is probably bookstores at airports, where many customers are just looking for something to distract them for a few hours during the flight. This last bit may be a non issue when dedicated device get cheaper, though.

Also, think of doctor's offices and other waiting rooms around the country. They're probably not going to be setting out an expensive, fragile piece of hardware for anyone to come in and pick up. Magazines will have have their place in waiting rooms until reading on cellphones is so ubiquitous that people stop picking up the magazines. Even then, I have a hard time imagining walking into a waiting room devoid of any free reading material.
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Old 02-14-2009, 10:46 PM   #15
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I really don't think paper books and magazines will become a "niche market" because I think there will always be a large enough consumer market for them. There are advantages to having a paper book or magazine that can't be replicated in ebooks. I'm thinking specifically of skimming purposes. It's so much easier to flip through a book or magazine than it is to go through an ebook. Ebook search functions are useful but only if you know exactly what you're looking for. Being cheap and disposable is another useful feature, whether you think so personally or not. Fifteen to twenty dollars might not seem particularly cheap but it is when compared to a dedicated reading device. People with as much disposable income as Americans are willing to purchase books on a whim to just read and toss aside. The clearest evidence of this is probably bookstores at airports, where many customers are just looking for something to distract them for a few hours during the flight. This last bit may be a non issue when dedicated device get cheaper, though.

Also, think of doctor's offices and other waiting rooms around the country. They're probably not going to be setting out an expensive, fragile piece of hardware for anyone to come in and pick up. Magazines will have have their place in waiting rooms until reading on cellphones is so ubiquitous that people stop picking up the magazines. Even then, I have a hard time imagining walking into a waiting room devoid of any free reading material.
  1. I think the price will come down on ereaders quite a lot. The first CD players were $450 in 1983 dollars if you bought them wholesale in Japan. What do they cost now?
  2. Even at that, What does a good book case cost? A book case is equivalent to an e-reader. A book is equivalent to a single E-book file.
  3. Doctors offices are probably going to follow exactly the same path restaurants and coffee shops have traveled - free WiFi.
  4. How much does a song cost to download now? compare that with a 45RPM single. Ebooks will get cheaper over time
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