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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kindle Takes Charge

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

Amazon recently announced two new Kindles slated for release at the end of August. While the Kindle seems to hold the edge in eReader sales it is definitely not standing still.

The new model comes in two flavors, which I’ve dubbed regular and lite. Both models are thinner and lighter than the Kindle 2, although still heavier than the Kobo. The devices have sharper contrast and faster page turns, making it easier to read on them. The device is also quieter, with the button clicks being tamped down.

The regular version comes with Wi-Fi and Amazon’s WhisperNet and the lite version forsakes WhisperNet as it only comes with Wi-Fi. The regular version is priced at $189 - the same price as the Kindle 2. The lite version is priced at $139, $10 lower than the Wi-Fi Nook, the Kobo or the Sony Pocket Edition. The makes the Kindle the lowest price eReader currently available.

An article in Wired Magazine (Amazon Strikes Back at the iPad With New, $140 Kindle) talks about the strategy behind the $139 price point.

…Bezos anticipates millions of new customers who can live with waiting for a Wi-Fi hot spot to replenish their content. He says that the introduction of the Wi-Fi version is purely a price play, a way to sell Kindles to families and couples who already have one in the house.

“At $139, you’re going to have multiple Kindles, not just one,” Bezos says.

More interesting to note is a comment by James McQuivey, a Forrester Research analyst who

…expects the new low Kindle price will “shatter the bottom” of the e-reader market.

“Anything that doesn’t have any kind of connectivity, like the Sony Pocket Reader, has to drop to $99 by the end of the year,” he says. “Why would you buy that non-wireless device if you have the choice for the same or less money to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled Kindle?”

Why indeed? Even I’m tempted and as regular readers know I’m not a big fan of Amazon’s proprietary book format.

The loss of the Cool-er eReader was just the first of many casualties in the eReader wars. Foxit (the PDF company) recently announced that it was killing off it’s eSlick eReader, a device I’ve heard little about.

New entrants, like the iRiver Story and the Copia family of eReaders face an uphill battle and will either need to compete aggressively on pricing or introduce new features in order to succeed. The trick with new features is to keep the price point low enough to keep potential buyers from jumping to an iPad instead and it remains to be seen if anyone can pull it off.

As I stated in The $50 eReader, iPad competitors will force the price of the iPad down, as well as making tablets more affordable. This in turns puts pressure on eReaders and the only way to compete will be price. Amazon has an advantage in this type of market since only Amazon sells Kindle books. Therefore they can afford to discount the eReader, knowing that they will eventually make up the different in eBooks. Add in WhisperNet and Wi-Fi plus all the Kindle Books already available and this is a tough combination to beat.

At least the Nook is trying. In September Barnes and Noble will

…begin an aggressive promotion of its Nook e-readers by building 1,000-square-foot boutiques in all of its stores, with sample Nooks, demonstration tables, video screens and employees who will give customers advice and operating instructions.

Obviously B&N is hoping that the hands on approach will entice more readers to buy the Nook once they’ve tried it for themselves.

This is better than the approach taken by Sony, which

…refuses to get caught up in a price war with Kindle, intends to compete on quality.

It has also been remarkably quiet on the Kobo front and it will be interesting to see how the newest entrant to the eReader and eBook market reacts to the new Kindles and their aggressive pricing.

In the meantime I’m still holding out for that elusive $99 eReader.

posted by David at 1:01 am  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Price drop fuels Kindle sales

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

Amazon.com issued a press release on Monday (July 19th) stating that they have

“… reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle–the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189″

Regardless of whether it was the introduction of the iPad (which as I asserted in a previous post [The $50 eReader] hasn’t - and won’t - hurt Kindle sales) or the lower price point on the Kobo, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have recently reduced their eReader prices.

So what’s next?

The Kobo, while still a viable alternative, needs to lower it’s price point in order to make up for the lack of wireless connectivity. It recently received a favorable review from Engadget

“…its thinness, lightness, and comfort in the hand is far and away its strongest feature, and one that it beats a lot of its more robust competition prettily handily.”

“The rubbery “quilted” back is tacky enough that you can hold the 6-incher comfortably with just one hand, a move we’ve never perfected with the Nook, Kindle 2, or iPad.”

“Kobo’s device is, in practice, pretty awesome feeling”

but Engadget also mentions the lack of wireless access, calling it a

“huge drawback..”

It will be interesting to see who makes the next move, especially now that Sony has reduced the price of the Pocket Edition of their eReader to $149 as well. Of the 3 eReaders priced at $149 - the Kobo, the Sony Pocket Edition, and the Nook, only the Nook has wireless access in the form of Wi-Fi. Despite it’s bare bones approach, the Kobo clearly has an edge in usability. Combine this with a price drop and some firmware tweaks and the Kobo has the potential to become the eReader of choice for the budget conscious reader.

Also of interest in the press release is the increase in sales of Kindle eBooks.

Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.

Due to it’s proprietary format the Kindle is the only reader capable of reading Kindle eBooks which makes it easier to track usage of the Kindle. As I stated in the previous post (RIP Cool-er?) the AAP reports growing sales of eBooks in 2010 vs. 2009. The Amazon press release makes reference to this, stating that

“Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.”

Other interesting stats provided in the press release:

On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books. [76%]

Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.

Clearly other eReaders have their work cut out for them if these stats are any indication of overall eBooks sales. All the other eReaders together, all of which support the more open ePub format, appear to account for fewer eBook sales than the Kindle alone. Of course the Kindle has the dual advantage of Amazon marketplace and easy, instant access to that marketplace via Whispernet.

I envision even more changes in the eReader market in the near term, especially given that 2 major sales opportunities remain for 2010 - back to school and Christmas.

Who knows? Perhaps we see a $99 eReader before the end of the year.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RIP Cool-er?

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

I first wrote about the Cool-er eReader (Price Matters) about a year ago but even then the prognosis didn’t sound good, especially after Wired Magazine paned the reader.

“Cool-er E-Book Reader Leaves Us Feeling So Very Cold”

The one thing that the Cool-er did have going for it was price but with the recent proliferation of eReaders that apparently wasn’t enough, especially with the way the increased competition has resulted in a price war of sorts.

There’s hasn’t been much press on the Cool-er since it’s release - the release of the iPad from Apple, not to mention the Nook and the Kobo eReader - seemed to have dominated the news. However a quick search seems to indicate that the problems that plagued the Cool-er weren’t fixed.

As a result, while it is disappointing to learn that Interead, the company behind Cool-er, has been ordered to to wind-up it’s business, it is not all that surprising. eReaders and eBooks are a tough sell and a substandard product just won’t cut it - not unless the price differential is substantial.

The AAP - Association of American Publishers - reports in their May Statistics Press Release

“Year-To-Date E-book sales of the 13 submitting publishers to that category currently comprise 8.48 % of the total trade books market, compared to 2.89% percent for the same period last year”

Clearly eBooks are becoming more popular, helped in large part by the publicity surrounding the iPad and Apple’s foray into the eBook market with iBooks. With almost 300% growth year over year, there is obviously room for more than many players in the eBook market.

Unfortunately it appears that Cool-er will not be one of them.

posted by David at 1:01 am  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

eReader Price Wars?

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

The $50 eReader just got a lot closer.

There was a flurry of activity yesterday in the eReader market.

First Barnes & Noble came out with a $149 Wi-Fi only version of the Nook, putting pressure on the recently released Kobo eReader. While the Kobo has gotten some good press and has some nice features, it only has the ability to sync books via Bluetooth. Without Wi-Fi or 3G access the Kobo will be fighting an uphill battle. Barnes & Noble also dropped the price of the 3G version of the Nook from $259 to $199.

To add insult to injury (for both the Kobo and the Nook) Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $189 shortly after the Barnes & Noble announcement came out, putting it below the $199 3G enabled Nook and within spitting distance of the $149 Kobo and Wi-Fi only Nook.

While this isn’t the $50 eReader that I referred to earlier, this widens the price gap between eReaders and the iPad making it more unlikely for these devices to be in competition with each other.

It will be interesting to see how Kobo reacts to these price cuts. Also Sony has been relatively quiet recently but these new prices will put pressure on the lower end Sony Reader Pocket Edition ($169), let alone the Touch Edition ($199). Neither of the Sony eReaders have Wi-Fi or 3G access and the Pocket Edition only has a 5 inch screen despite being practically the same size and weight as the Kobo reader.

Regardless of what happens, readers and writers benefit from the increased competition.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The $50 eReader

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

I just came this article in Wired magazine, speculating about whether a $50 Kindle could beat the iPad.

The idea of a $50 Kindle postulated in the article is very appealing. It was less then a year ago when I wrote about getting the price of an eReader below $200. The Kindle is still above this mark at $259 but the Kobo eReader (great user review here) is well below at $149 - $110 less than the Kindle. Heck, you can almost get two for the same price.

However there are a couple of items that I take exception to.

First, the idea that the Kindle and the iPad are in competition. The iPad is more akin to a laptop or a net-book whereas the Kindle and other eBook readers are just that - eBook readers. Admittedly some of the new readers coming to market are trying to be all things to all people and those are the readers that are more likely to fail. Not just because they will be competing against the iPad with its ease of use and cool factor, but because they will also be competing with all the iPad competitors.

The competitors, like the Dell Streak, will be lower in price, making them the more likely competition for higher end eReaders. It also seems likely - pending what happens to Palm’s Web OS post HP acquisition of course - that most of the iPad competitors will be running Android rather than Windows. Since both the Kindle and the Kobo have apps for Android, it is possible that Android based tablets could cannibalize sales of those eReaders.

So one way to dominate the eReader market is to make the least expensive eReader out there, an approach that Kobo seems to understand. The other way is to make it as easy as possible to read books using the same platform. Both Kobo and the Kindle have this down pat, with both eReaders having apps for the iPhone, Android phones, the Blackberry, and the iPad, as well as software for PC’s and Mac’s.

Apart from price, Kobo also has an advantage in it uses the open ePub eBook format, making situations like the author of the Wired article experienced unlikely. When Mr. Sorrel’s Kindle broke, he complains that

This effectively means I have lost all the books I bought, too.

As pointed out in the comments to the article, this isn’t true as he still has all those other options for reading his Kindle books. Unfortunately he is limited to replacing his Kindle with another Kindle if he wants to be able to read his books on an eReader rather than a phone or a computer. The ePub format is supported by the Kobo, the Sony Reader, and the Barnes & Noble Nook. If Mr. Sorrel had been using one of those devices he would have more options available.

As for the cellphone as an eReader replacement, this works for casual use. However most people will prefer a larger format that is easier to read in more conditions and has a longer battery life. Also accessories like the M-Edge Guardian Case for Amazon Kindle extend the usability of eReaders to places like the bathtub or the beach.

In short there is still a strong market and business case for a low-priced dedicated eReader. The more bells and whistles vendors try to add, the more they are competing with the tablet market and the more likely they are to lose.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Monday, May 31, 2010

One eReader per Child

I came across this article and it appears that the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project has succumbed to the recent tablet frenzy. While I applaud the concept I can’t help but wonder if a tablet is the best way to go. Admittedly there are some valid reasons for moving from a laptop to a tablet. A tablet has fewer moving parts and the lack of a physical keyboard allows language issues to be addressed by software as opposed to hardware. However the article got me thinking - what is OLPC trying to accomplish? So I looked up their mission statement.

To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

There seems to be two main elements to the mission statement - collaboration and learning. Admittedly a networked device lends itself to collaboration but when it comes to learning there are other options. What about an eReader? I’m not suggesting that eReaders replace the laptop or tablet but it could be a good way to supplement or enhance the program. Perhaps it could be one eReader per child and one (or more) laptop per village.

The One Laptop Per Child project has its share of skeptics, who have questioned everything from the possibility of manufacturing a laptop for $100 to the point of computers in countries that lack basic infrastructure.

An eReader could help address both the cost and infrastructure issue. I did a little searching and found a group called Worldreader.org. While any eReader could be used, the Kindle, which is the eReader used by Worldreader.org, is the perfect choice for this program due its ability to use existing mobile phone networks to provide new and updated content.

Worldreader.org is developing the systems and the partnerships to get e-readers — and the life-changing, power-creating ideas contained in e-books — into the hands and minds of people in the developing world, where profit-seeking entities are not focused.

It seems to me like Worldreader.org and OLPC have a lot in common. While any program of this nature is to be applauded, it would be a shame if the assistance became too fragmented to benefit those who need it the most. Certainly it appears that some synergies could be obtained if these two groups worked together. Worldreader.org is just getting started and there are a number of challenges that a group like OLPC has likely experienced and could help with. In turn the OLPC project could benefit from the trials and experience that Worldreader.org has already garnered regarding eReader use.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Walled Gardens: Apple vs. Amazon

Originally posted on The Writers Vineyard

I’m going to ask for your forgiveness in advance. I know that the iPad was released this weekend and people must be getting sick of the hype and all the articles about it. Even I’m starting to get a little saturated. In a way it reminds me of the Tiger Woods coverage - enough already!

Anyway, those of you who follow my blog and have read some of my previous articles about the Kindle and other eReaders, know that one of the complaints I’ve always had about the Kindle was the fact that their eBook format was proprietary. You had to read it on the Kindle (or using Kindle software) or you were SOL. In fact, my latest blog post was about the Kobo eReader and how Wired magazine referred to it as the “Kindle Killer”. The article was referring to the Kobo eReaders price vs. the iPad, as they both support the open ePub format (which is the format Champagne books sells on their website).

So it was an ironic albeit unpleasant surprise when I came across this article on CNET - Why Apple’s iBooks falls short of Kindle–for now. The article basically states that despite Apple’s much hyped iBooks, Apple falls short of Amazon in terms of being able to allow people to consume their content on the device (iPad, Kindle, etc) of their choice. So far Amazon is winning that battle, as you can read Kindle books on the iPad and iPhone via the Kindle app, as well as on your PC or MAC, not to mention the Kindle itself. At the moment the iBooks app only exists on the iPad so if you purchase a book using iBooks and don’t have access to your iPad then you are SOL.

Of course to be fair this is exactly the position that Amazon was in when it first launched the Kindle and it is only now, just over 2 years later, that the Kindle enjoys such widespread access.

So coming out of the gate, Amazon has the advantage. It will be interesting to see how Apple responds and adapts to this, particularly regarding eBooks in the ePub format purchased outside of iBooks.

At the end of the day, as eBooks become popular, approaches like the one advocated by Kobobooks - a “device-neutral” approach - will make the most sense. The Kindle is part way there but unless they allow other vendors access to their file format, they’ve reached their limits. Whereas the iPad is just getting started.

posted by David at 3:28 pm  

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kobo eReader

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

It’s amazing how fast things are moving in the eReader world. It was only the beginning of this month when I wrote about the possibility of a $150 eReader and now Chapters-Indigo Books & Music, Canada’s own bookstore, is launching a new eReader called the Kobo for $150.

A quick search of the internet lead me to some favorable reviews for the Kobo, notably this one from Engadget, fresh from the CTIA show in Las Vegas.

…the 6-inch E Ink reader is fine hardware in its own right, with quality plastics throughout, a nice patterned rubber back, and a big friendly d-pad for paging through books.

Although the Kobo lacks 3G or even Wi-F, it does have Bluetooth for wirelessly syncing the Kobo with select smartphones, allowing you to update your reading list on the go. The Kobo also has applications for the iPhone, the upcoming iPad, Blackberry, the Palm Pre, and Android phones (speaking of which The Gender Divide is available as an Android app from For-Side.com - I’m not sure if the link provided is the best one so if you have an Android phone and can provide a better link please let me know in the comments section).

The Kobo has a lot of nice features that make it attractive as an eReader:

  • Price - $150
  • Comes loaded with 100 free eBooks
  • A quilted back for a ‘comfortable, enjoyable reading experience’
  • Minimal but responsive and intuitive navigation options
  • 1GB memory, enough for 1,000 eBooks
  • Expandable memory via SD Car

There are a number of other features, including some interesting navigation options. Visit the Kobo eReader home page for more information, including a comparison to the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and the Nook.

Although the Kobo can’t compete with the Kindle store yet in terms of books, it does have the advantage of having a retail presence in Canada (via Chapters-Indigo) and the US (via Borders), as well as a strong international presence (check out this posting from iReader Review comparing the Kobo to the Kindle.

However the most interesting thing about the Kobo is its aspiration to be more than an eReader. eBooks downloaded from the Kobobooks website can be read on many of the Sony Readers, the Nook, the COOL-ER, and several other platforms using Adobe Digital Editions. This article in Digital Trends states that

Kobo envisions a broad ecosystem of devices and applications, and users will be able to sync their purchases and reading via their Kobo account across all of them.

It will be interesting to see how this new entrant to the market - and it’s approach - impacts the market. Certainly Kobo is going out of their way to make it easy for people to read books they’ve purchased on any device. As stated on the Kobo website

We are a device-neutral platform. Finished reading on your eReader? Using a Kobo app on your smart­phone, desktop, or tablet. Your eBooks and even your bookmarks follow you so you’ll never lose your place.

This is definitely the direction that eBooks should be taking.


Right after I posted this I came across 2 more stories on the Kobo.

Wired Magazine - $150 Kobo eReader: The Real Kindle Killer

The real Kindle-killer will be a cheap e-reader, and it just arrived: The $150 Kobo eReader.

What we really like about the eReader is the interface. The chapter lists are big and clear, the main “I’m Reading” page gives a newspaper front-page-like overview of the newspapers and books you’re currently reading, and you can even choose to display you books in an iPad-like bookshelf metaphor. When you power down, it shows the book’s cover instead of those awful Kindle screen-savers.

It looks like a huge threat to the Kindle, and Kobo seems to have trimmed just the right features to get to this low price. Only hands-on testing will tell if it’s as good as it seems, but right now we don’t see much reason to buy Amazon’s locked-down machine.

Gizmodo - Kindle looks pretty nice for $150

 While the Kobo eReader lacks 3G, little else should disappoint. The build is clever, with a quilted, vinyl back and the option to skin the face with a cloth or leather facade.

…the menus just look polished, with touches like leaving the book’s cover on the screen when the device is at rest (a nice feature we see in the Nook) and virtual bookshelves

posted by David at 10:50 am  

Monday, March 22, 2010

iPad - A new computing paradigm?

I’ve been following news about the iPad with interest, as I think it has the potential to open up computers and the internet to a new group of people. However it sounds like the iPad may also usher in

…a new paradigm in mobile computing.

 An article in PCMAG.com discusses “lean back/lean forward” computing.

Today’s PCs offer the lean forward mode. We sit at our desks or hunched over our laptops when we work. Even if we’re just reading or watching a movie on our PCs, we’re largely leaning forward to experience and interact with content. But if we’re watching TV or even using an e-book reader like the Kindle, we sit in our chairs and lean back.

It’s an interesting way of looking at things, especially since I was leaning forward at my desk as I read it. Much of what I do requires me to use the ‘lean forward’ mode however reading email and browsing the internet could easily be done using the ‘lean back’ mode.

The article goes on to predict that 50% of iPads will be sold with physical keyboards. Personally I think that’s a little high, especially when I consider possible iPad users.

Many tech-savy people have slammed the iPad for it’s limitations (no flash, no camera, no multitasking, etc) but for many technophobes, the iPad is perfect. According to DVICE, Apple’s target market is people who don’t like computers.

The iPad works almost exactly like an iPhone, and that’s worked out pretty well so far for both Apple and its customers. The iPhone OS is easy to master — after a couple of minutes using the multi-touch interface, you’re an expert. Buttons are consistently shaped and in logical locations, there are no “hierarchies,” and that font is everywhere. It’s the epitome of easy.

The author of the article goes on to state

I can’t tell you how many times my wife has asked me to do something that I would consider simple on my MacBook because she couldn’t be bothered to figure it out. But she downloads apps and launches them on her iPhone with ease. She loves her Kindle. The iPad has real appeal to people who shy away from computers in general, even while the computer-savvy regard it — if not dismiss it — as an expensive toy.

And that’s it in a nutshell. I can’t really see those people using the keyboard very much - it just increases the complexity of a simple and easy to use device. Sure, it won’t be as efficient as using a keyboard but that doesn’t matter - it will be easier to use as is.

The iPad will be shipping soon and it will be interesting to see what the sales are, who is buying, and how it is used.

posted by David at 11:57 am  

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