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Last week, The Digital Reader noted that erotic fiction publisher Ellora’s Cave plans to release a custom ereader device at its annual RomantiCon Convention in September. Although it’s rare to see a publisher move directly into the device space, it could bring obvious benefits, like lower costs and direct access to shoppers. It’s also the sort of thing one might expect to see first from a romance or erotica publisher, since those genres tend to have customers who are comfortable buying and reading ebooks. (Only some of Ellora’s Cave’s titles are sold in print.)

There’s not much information about the device on the RomantiCon page, other than that it comes preloaded with 60 short stories and will be sold on the convention floor starting September 30th. Based on the rendering provided, it looks like the device is a sibling to a couple of models from Russian companies Digma and Prology, but tellingly the EC model ships with a Chinese dictionary.

I contacted Susan Edwards, the COO of Ellora’s Cave, and conducted a short interview by email with her to find out more about why the publisher is striking out on its own.

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What was the inspiration for this?

Susan Edwards: Although our books are or will shortly be available through all the major ebook vendors, we do still have a lot of loyal customers who buy almost solely from our website. We wanted to provide them with a non-proprietary reader that they could use for all their ebooks, but that would also make it easy to continue to buy directly from us, where they still get the best price and can take advantage of all of our sales and purchase incentives.

Plus, we do a lot of conventions, trade shows, contests, p.r. and giveaways. We had been purchasing proprietary e-readers for those purposes and thought, why not have our own e-reader? It’s great advertising and it, again, makes it easy for people to come to our site and buy directly from us.

This model, which we’re calling ECave C71, is a very limited edition test run that we are rolling out at our RomantiCon convention. We will give many of them away as prizes, and so will be able to work closely with a limited population of users to make sure the device does everything they want it to before deciding on future models and functions.

Can you provide some details on the device? It looks like the Prology Latitute T-701.

SE: It’s very similar to that one. It wasn’t manufactured by them, but has very similar specs and does use the same operating system.

This first model does not come with a cover, though it fits the sleeves available for the Nook and the Kindle 3. Right now, we’re testing the water with the device to gauge interest. If we decide to go larger scale, we will probably have a selection of our own covers to choose from.

You mentioned a “vibrating key” functionality. What!?

SE: It’s a tactile feedback function, like the clicking sound you get when you tap keys. We chose the vibration rather than the usual click mostly just for fun. We are, after all, primarily an erotic romance publisher, and we like to have fun with that, so we often inject a note of fun around the sexuality of our content.

Have you set a price?

SE: We are still working on determining an exact price point. We would definitely like to sell it for less than other e-readers, with some built-in purchasing incentives: something like a combination of free e-books preloaded on the device and a discount on the purchase of additional e-books. We are looking at different models in a range of prices for the future.

How does EC plan on handling warranty and service issues?

SE: We have a great customer service department, so most of the support issues will be handled via that existing department. Any problems we can’t solve through that avenue, we will work directly with the manufacturer on and we will replace any faulty devices. That’s part of the reason we are starting out small, to make sure we are getting dependable devices from reliable manufacturers who stand behind their products.

The similar Prology and Digma models seems to offer a lot of extra functionality, like a radio, photo viewer, voice recorder app, calculator, and so on. Will those things be in the EC model, or is it going to be customized to work solely as an ebook reader?

SE: The ECave C71 features photo, music and video functionality. It truly is a multi-media device at a fraction of the cost of most tablet PCs. It does not feature wireless connectivity but can be accessed via the usb cable provided or by loading various media onto a separate MicroSD card.

Do you see this as a way to exert some control over your market segment when it comes to ebooks, which is currently dominated by huge companies like Amazon, Apple and B&N?

SE: Many of our customers have been buying, downloading and reading our books on their computers and other digital devices for years. We have always worked to keep up with their preferences by providing our books in whatever format they prefer so that we can retain them as customers. This is really just an extension of that practice, and it very definitely does help us to retain direct access to our market segment.

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Edwards also answered a lot of detailed questions about capability:

  • Connects to your PC via USB; drag-and-drop ebook files onto the device.
  • It will accept protected ebooks that have been unlocked by Adobe Digital Editions. (EC doesn’t use DRM on its own books.)
  • No notes or highlights.
  • The built-in dictionary is in Chinese. Edwards adds, “Since we do have very frank colloquial language in our books, I can’t imagine what some of those translations might be.”
  • Notes, highlights and dictionary may be updated in the future, depending on customer response.

Here are some specs provided by Edwards’ team, which match closely to the specs listed on the Digma product page:

  • 7-inch high clear TFT digital screen 720p (Resolution: 800 x 480 pixels)
  • CPU: Rockchip2729
  • OS: Unix-based
  • 4GB Storage Capacity, Supports Micro SD cards up to 32GB
  • Ebook formats: TXT, PDF, EPUB, CHM, HTML, PDB, UMD
  • Photo formats: JPG, BMP, PNG
  • Audio formats: MP3,WMA,FLAC,WAV,APE
  • Video formats: AVI, RM, RMVB, WMV, MP4, PMP, MPEG, FLV,VOB, 3GP etc.
  • Battery: Li-ION 1800mAh
  • Playing time(with earphone): 6 hours movie, 10 hours music

Based on the tech specs on the Digma product page, the ECave C71 dimensions look to be approximately 190 x 120 x 11 mm—roughly the same size as the Kindle 3, but about 50% thicker.

 
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