Afterthoughts: E-Book interview and Kindle announcements.
November 21, 2007 | 9:28 am
By Robert Nagle
Here are some afterthoughts I had about the points made by Marie Campbell in her interview (which was published on Monday).
- It’s easy to overestimate the utility and comfort level of laptops. I have a Thinkpad T43 laptop that was top of the line in 2006, and I would never use it for serious reading. The battery is limited, the backlit screen is not well-suited to reading in different kinds of light, and the bottom becomes hot after an hour or two. Yes, I like to catch up on my RSS feeds with it (and I’ve used it in airports and various waiting rooms), but I find it cumbersome to hold in front of me. Either I must sit at a table or I must hold it in my lap–neither option is particularly conducive to serious prolonged reading.
- I was robbed at gunpoint in 2006 and lost about $1500 worth of hardware. I would be reluctant to bring my laptop along with me on casual journeys. Whenever I carry around my laptop around, I am absolutely paranoid! Laptops are coming down in price every year, but you would still need to pay $800-100 for a laptop with a good form factor and battery life.
- The implications of the survey is that some sort of XO laptop for grown ups (which can switch from reading mode to laptop mode) is the ideal form factor for adult readers.
- The vision of consumers being able to read free/low-priced ebooks sponsored by ads sounds tempting, but a lot depends on whether distributors can convince advertisers that people are actually flipping the pages. To do that would require a lot of intrusive monitoring.
- One of the most interesting conclusions is that consumers regard $5 as the pain point for buying ebooks. Yes, that’s important information, but let’s not overlook how much these devices need to cost to be usable as reading devices. The report sidesteps the question by mentioning that most consumers are already going to have a laptop lying around somewhere.
- The report states that ebook price is a bigger driver of the market than devices. If the report is correct to say that laptops (not dedicated devices) will drive the ebook market, that will give the reader a lot of choice about what kind of reader to use. That is both good and bad. It might lead to a proliferation of different incompatible standards, or it may lead to one reading solution winning out over the rest.
- The big question mark is how much time will pass before consumers have a reliable roaming wireless solution for their laptops. If it’s less than two or three years, then who cares about dedicated devices? My wild guess is that we have 5-10 years at least.
Here are some afterthoughts I had about the Kindle announcement.
- The more I read about the Kindle, the more impressed I am by the fact Amazon.com was able to get so many players to back this endeavor.�� EVDO access to wikipedia seems incredible to me.
- Kindle has responded perfectly to the ordinary reader who doesn’t want to mess with file conversions and synchronization.
- Amazon needs to be persuaded to offer some kind of “upgrade” for content purchased through encrypted mobipocket DRM. If it worked in mobipocket previously, Amazon should be able to break the DRM themselves and offer a newer version of it. That’s just plain common sense.
- Annotations are a major new feature and really sets this device apart.
- The fact that publishers will be producing .epub files (even if consumers don’t get to touch these files) will prevent a lot of migration problems in the future.
- The real question is: does Amazon have any plans to natively support .epub files put on your memory card? (Behind that is another question: will mobipocket SW or other freeware be able to do these conversions into the target format? Sony’s planned support for Adobe Digital Edition files in the PRS-505 means that it will be able to read .epub files later. On that subject, Amazon is silent.
- Even if my wireless surfing was limited only to Amazon.com’s customer reviews and wikipedia, that would still be incredibly useful. Amazon.com customer reviews is a useful consumer reference with occasional glimmers of brilliance.
- Amazon could very well abandon work on the Mobipocket software. But the fact that the Kindle reads unencrypted mobipocket files is a big win for the longevity of the mobipocket as a format.
But here are some dirty little secrets about ebook reading in general. I suspect most readers of this blog already know these things, but the general reader probably doesn’t.
- The task of transferring ebooks to a device from a PC or laptop is trivial. You do it once, and then you never think about it again. The convenience factor promised by the Amazon Kindle isn’t that great.
- On the other hand, the convenience factor of bringing RSS feeds to your device through autosynchonization is great. Boy, I’d pay a sum for that (probably $10-20/year). But let’s think this through. A lot of RSS feeds (like our own) benefit mainly when you can click through the links (Newspapers are a noticeable exception). I don’t think whispernet is providing unlimited Net access for that. Also there are ways to turn RSS feeds into readable ebooks of various formats and sync them through your memory card. It just is time-consuming (and by the way, the formatting isn’t that great). Finally, the RSS readers for PDA’s are great. I use Newsbreak for Windows Mobile and the built in reader that came with the Nokia 770. These are just great solutions. I catch up on my blogs all the time at the supermarket lines.
- The similarities among the second generation of ebook readers (Kindle, Bookeen’s Cybook, and Sony Reader PRS-505) are much greater than the differences. Kindle has annotations, the convenience of buying without PC acccess, the ability to autoupdate RSS feeds and wikipedia on the road. But look, 1)you can purchase ebooks without DRM and even books with mobipocket DRM, 2)bookmarking comes standard on all three devices, 3)there are ways to convert an offline wikipedia into a PRC file already. By summer, the loser of the ebook device competition will probably be selling off their inventory for half price or less. In my opinion, any of the three devices would work perfectly well (and in my mind are indistinguishable).
- Even after you buy an ebook device, you’ll still be reading a lot of print books. I’ve gone through 4 ebook reading devices, and I still read most of my books the normal way. That’s not any slight against ebooks; it will just take a while to get through all the books I own. (That is one reason why the question of whether an ebook is readable after 10 years is not merely an academic one).
- A lot of ebooks are free or things you can download off websites for your memory card. The people at mobileread are doing some beautifully formatted public domain titles in Sony/Mobipocket/PDF format. Other online publishers like Feedbooks are providing CC titles. Individual authors, Baen and other smaller publishers are providing formatted titles which you can buy in unencrypted format. In other words, they will work on your device, but they won’t have DRM. Smaller book publishers are betting that the money they save by not going through the big distribution channels offset the risk of piracy. (See my article on chump change).
- The main problem with Sony ebooks is that the formatting sucked. I expect it will be somewhat similar for Amazon. It’s not really the fault of Amazon (or the publisher), but there’s only so much formatting you can do well within the 600×800 display. I’m less interested in the hardware than the type of well-formatted ebooks which will be available. I suspect that will be disappointing.
- The question of who wins the ebook device competition depends on whichever provide the best pdf conversions. Sony Reader sucks, Cybook promises PDF zooming and landscape view in the near future, and Amazon doesn’t say.
- In my mind, the bellwether for ebooks is which format/platform is most popular for comics. Right now, the answer is indisputably PDF.