Ebooks, heating up? People disagree!

Eoin Purcell

Seriously mixed up day for me on the ebook front, reading wise that is! I still find it hard to deal with the fact that there can be such differing opinions on ebooks as you’ll read here. On the one hand I read this considered post by Trevor Dolby on the Bookbrunch blog:

The simple truth is that at present these devices are not changing the way we read. No matter how much vested interests bellow at me in an attempt to change my mind, they are not going to persuade me that my cat is a dog.

No one can dispute that mp3 players revolutionized the way we listen to music. They did so because the technology was a clear advance. But books are uniquely suited to paper. All these devices do is mimic electronically what the humble ink on paper does. The only USPs are rather minor. You can have 100 books with you at any one time – how many books can you read over a week? And you can get new ones quicker. (I’ll save the price issue for another time.) I don’t think I’m unique in the use of my e-reader. It’s continually running out of battery power, it’s slow, and, crucially, I cannot advertise how clever and interesting I am to young ladies on the Tube, since there’s no cover.

I will go along with him on the basics there, perhaps the devices are not that nice looking or that clever and maybe, as he says in the final notes of the piece:

It is the convergent devices that will take over the market. The unannounced but pretty much certain iTablet and its equivalents will be the devices that we all read books on. OK, you say, so what about e-Ink – isn’t that supposed to be the major distinguishing feature? Well you are not going to tell me that Steve Jobs hasn’t made a call to a small team of boffins in Cupertino and said, Right fellas, I want a program that mimics e-Ink: stable and energy-efficient and looks like “the real thing”.

In five years the Kindle and Sony e-book will no longer exist. On our wafer-thin computers, like large iPods, we will be reading a book while listening to music. The phone will ring or mail will ping, the machine will ask if you want to answer, you will chat, then the machine will ask if you want to continue reading. As for battery life, these devices will recharge continually via wi-fi.

Then I read this piece in Publishers Weekly:

Of e-book downloads through July, 40% were made to computers, down from 48% at the end of the first quarter. Quickly gaining in market share over the summer were downloads to the Kindle. This was especially true in July, when downloads to computers plunged, while downloads to the Kindle soared. As a result, in July, for the first time in PubTrack’s monthly survey of consumers, Kindle downloads topped computers, accounting for 45% of all e-book downloads in the month. Also enjoying a spike in July were downloads to the iPhone, likely due to the release of the new 3G iPhone and accompanying e-book apps. That July spurt in iPhone downloads came after a lull in the spring and brought the iPhone’s market share at the end of July close to where it was in the first quarter. And while Sony created a lot of buzz last week with the announcement of its new wireless device (see p. 6), it has lots of ground to cover before it catches the Kindle, holding only a 6% market share at the end of July.

And as you can see that certainly suggests that we need to keep an eye on the Kindle and Sony and the convergent devices may not be as great as Trevor might wish. Finally I read this piece on the Thomas RIggs % Co. blog, An eBook Reality Check:

According to Bowker, in 2008 ebooks represented only 0.6 percent of all books sold in the United States. The majority of buyers were men, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 34. This year ebook sales will still be less than 2 percent of the U.S. book market.

Here’s something else to ponder.

Most people prefer paper. According to a recent survey, only 37 percent of Americans are interested in buying an ereader. Here in France I’m often at the beach and see one person after another stetched out in the sun reading a paperback. Not an ereader in sight.

Now to me that Thomas Riggs post is the outlier of the pack. You only need to look at the industry stats on the IDPF website to see that although those 2008 stats are interesting, the Q2 2009 figures are almost 3 Times the Q2 figures. So where do these divergent views come from? How can people in the same industry on the one hand think a) ebooks are that big and b) ebooks are big, c) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are growing and d) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are dead.

Still thinking about digital.
Eoin

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5 comments

    1. Mike,

      I tend to agree with you Mike though I’m thinking that any entity that tries to be a book/ebook in a digital sense will ultimately fail!
      That is to say that access is the key to digital, not the package that access is contained in. If you have access to the world of books why bother with just one unit?

      Eoin

  1. Books and music are just not the same.Vinyl scratched, cds are also a bit fragile, and in both cases you had to buy an album that contained some potentially dud tracks. Music downloads gave you the option to buy just what you wanted,when you wanted it and to keep it in perfect condition. Books are different because the object itself is part of the point. Books work flawlessly for what they do. I understand there’s an environmental angle, but I don’t think that the endless replacement of one electronic device with the new upgrade is going to do so very much to combat waste. Now this isn’t to say that ebooks won’t have a place. I can see how useful they might be in the academic research environment, for instance. But I do think the problem is that the technology is being marketed as a blanket solution, a replacement rather than the addition that it is. And I don’t know how other readers feel, but it really annoys me. Figure out what ebooks are really good for and perfect that, is what I’d like to see happen.

    1. I’m with you litlove.

      On the one hand I think ebooks shouldn’t entirely replace print books, the problem is that the portion they do replace has a tendency to be the source of most book publisher profits (the last 30% or so).

      So even moderate success for ebooks can destroy the model for publishers who print thus meaning the shift just HAS to happen! Funny old world aint it?

      I think though the idea of finding what works for ebooks and running with it may be the best plan!
      Eoin

  2. e-ink may be a ‘fad’, but it’s a nice one.

    the difference between reading on my e-ink reader, and reading on my ipod touch (which i actually do), is a little like the difference between looking at a page illuminated by the sun, and looking at a text *on a transparency held up to* the sun. this simple fact has an effect on how long a person can comfortably remain at a given reading task.

    of course i sit in front of a computer screen all day. and of course all i’m doing that entire time, is reading. but i’m not sitting at my job reading ‘middlemarch’. and even as i type here, despite excellent resolution, the lines of text are tending to blur together a bit. not a disaster; i can still type. but it’s not optimal, either. every word has a kind of halo of light.

    think about it like this. electronic books have existed since the mid-70’s. on backlit monitors. and most of the entire world *hated* them. — until amazon launched the kindle. and now people suddenly ‘luuuuuuv’ their backlit monitors. why? because they’re rebelling against e-ink? could it really be an instant knee-jerk backlash, like there was against — i don’t know — the *fork*? no idea. the sony reader didn’t have that effect on people. oh, wait. not many people *bought* sony readers until amazon launched the kindle. *sony* even treated it as its redheaded stepchild.

    most of the people now clinging to the backlit screen a. aren’t serious readers, and/or b. have never experienced e-ink in ‘real life’ and/or c. are not as mobile-on-foot as i am, and therefore don’t mind the weight and bulk of print. no, e-ink is not perfectly blackblackblack on whitewhitewhite. neither are most of the print books on the shelves of those who *have* print books on their shelves.

    my e-ink reader definitely hasn’t changed ‘the way’ i read. it has changed *what* i read. i no longer choose my current book for lightness of weight, while the really long books i *want* to read just sit on the shelf. i no longer choose a book by its pretty cover art. e-books do *have* pretty cover art, but i don’t see it anymore after i’ve begun reading, so now it’s always just a fleeting impression. my e-ink reader has also changed *how much* i read; from ‘very little, these days’ to ‘several hours a day’. this results in my needing more books to read. i think that might be good for authors, but i’m not sure.

    oh. and i love my e-ink reader more now than i did when it was shiny & new. of course i love print. but i’m never home to read it, and it gets trashed knocking around with me, which breaks my heart even in the case of a cr@ppy paperback. yep. e-ink readers could be a fad. but if so, they’re a fad that’s making me very happy indeed. especially given the *increase* in the number of electronic titles available.

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