The Lowdown on eReaders

 

Iliad or Mills & Boon?  Whether it’s a standard electronic reader or one of Sony’s themed ones – choose between the pink romance version (above) and a James Patterson crime special – eReaders are this year’s hot ticket item for Christmas presents.

The eBook reader market has seen many devices since they were first launched but it’s only recently as prices have dropped and technology has dramatically improved that eReaders have found popular acceptance.   Love them or hate them, eReaders are here to stay.

2009 has been a particularly busy year for eReader manufacturers – there are now more than 30 eBook readers available in the market, including the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook (below), Intel Reader and iRex’s iLiad. Several others, like Plastic Logic’s Que, will be introduced very soon.

Not only does this present an overwhelming range of options for potential buyers, it also gives publishers lots to think about.  Should you convert all your books into ePub, the current industry standard which both the Nook and the Sony Reader support?  If you want to sell on Amazon, you also need to convert your print PDFs into Amazon’s proprietary format, while mobiles (including the iPhone) require different formats again.  Publishers also need to think about which, if any, eReader is best suited to their market.  Some are designed for specific users – such as college students (the Amazon DZ) or the visually impaired (the Intel Reader) – others for specific types of content, such as the Que which has a large screen for reading newspapers.

Evolution of the eReader

The first eReader, the Cybook Gen 1, was launched in 1998. It came with an LCD screen which made it hard to read under bright light. Today’s eReaders come with e-ink technology that is static and easier on the eye. E-ink is designed to make the screen look and read like a printed book and its introduction, with the Sony Libre in 2003, is one of the main reasons eReaders have become a viable alternative to the printed book. Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of the Kindle as her “favourite new gadget” in 2008 made Amazon’s eReader one of the most sought-after holiday gifts of that year and brought eReaders into the headlines.

Popular eReaders

Click on this link to see a table (snapshot image below) that compares basic features of several eReaders

For a comparison of four of the most popular eReaders, click here: comparison of four eReaders

 You can get more details on these and other eReaders from the link below:

http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E-book_Reader_Matrix

Waiting In the Wings

A preview of several forthcoming eReaders:

Intel Reader: This eReader has been designed for people who have trouble reading standard print. The Intel Reader converts printed text to digital text, and then reads it aloud to the user. Its unique feature is its hi-res camera through which users can point, shoot and listen to printed text. Intel is marketing its eReader to people who have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities, or who have vision problems.

Plastic Logic Que: QUE™ is the first eReader designed for business professionals. Apart from connecting its users with their business and professional newspapers, books and periodicals, QUE also supports the document formats business users need (including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents) and features powerful tools for interacting with and managing their content.

Qualcomm’s Mirosal display eReader: Qualcomm is currently working on a colour eReader that will support video. It could be ready for launch by the latter part of 2010.

Apple Tablet: There is a lot of speculation that Apple is working on a new eReader. Comments by Apple Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs, indicate that the hypothetical ‘tablet’ may be a multi-capable device, much more than just an eBook reader. Most market watchers believe that the device will be unveiled in February 2010 at the CES exhibition in Las Vegas.

eReaders in Education

Amazon was the first company to come out with an eReader targeted at the education segment. The Kindle DX was launched in June 2009 with a 9.7” screen, PDF support and wireless connectivity. Amazon tied up with several textbook publishers to make their content available on the device and also partnered with a few universities to launch pilot projects designed to gauge students’ reactions. Feedback hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive. Most students, while they appreciated the e-ink display and their suddenly lighter backpacks, were unimpressed with the highlighting and note-taking functions. Universities have also criticised Amazon for removing the text-to-speech application from the device, thus making it inaccessible for the visually impaired.

Who Buys eReaders?

In their recently released report, eReader Holiday Outlook 2009, Forrester has revised its projection for eReader sales in 2009 in the US from 2 million units to 3 million units. It predicts that 6 million units will be sold in 2010 bringing the cumulative US sales to 10 million units by year-end 2010.

Another Forrester study released in July 2009 suggests two things:

The first wave of eReader adopters were older, male, high-income tech optimists

The second wave is a slightly younger, female consumer who buys and reads a lot of books.

These two demographics are completely different in their buying behavior. The first wave (early adopters) like technology and use the device in business travel and urban commuting. They buy lots of books online. The second wave is less tech-optimistic, but they read a lot (on average, five books per month). However, they tend to buy and borrow books from multiple sources, as opposed to buying lots of books online. The two types of users also read very different types of books. 

What Next?

Much like the early days of mobile handsets, today’s eReaders – despite the wide choice – are not very convenient to use, are fairly inflexible in terms of ‘talking’ to different formats and devices and are often relatively unfriendly to the not-so-technically-savvy. Nevertheless eReaders are fast establishing a place for themselves in the popular imagination. While it may be another 8-12 months before a clearer picture emerges on consumer expectations, product capabilities and publisher strategies, it is clear that one major issue in the ‘differentiation’ would be the eBook format that the eReader supports. For publishers this ongoing ‘format war’ has become the main area of concern as they try to decide which formats to choose for their books.

What are the pros and cons of the various formats out there? Who are the main champions of each format? Which format will emerge victorious? Will all eReaders support a common e-book format in the near future? We shall explore these important issues and more in upcoming articles. Stay tuned!

Please take a moment to participate in our eBook format poll here

References and recommended reading:

E-ink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-ink

Notes on popular iPhone e-book apps: http://www.macworldcanada.ca/news/reviews/ebook-reader-apps-ereader,-stanza-and-bookshelf/e71ac2c4c0a8000601b2c86ed5a84a83/pg001.htm

Popularity of e-books on iPhone: http://www.fiercemobilecontent.com/story/books-now-one-every-five-new-iphone-apps/2009-11-02

Intel Reader: http://education.zdnet.com/?p=3352

Plastic Logic Que: http://www.plasticlogic.com/news/pr_quepremier_oct192009.php

Qualcomm’s Mirosal eReader: http://www.slashgear.com/qualcomm-mirasol-color-video-ebook-readers-to-ship-in-2010-1863752/

Students’ reactions to Kindle: http://www.engadget.com/2009/09/28/kindle-dx-called-poor-excuse-of-an-academic-tool-in-princeton/

Universities reject Kindle: http://www.betanews.com/article/Universities-reject-Kindle-DX-as-a-textbook-replacement/1257968058

Forrester Report – eReader Holiday Outlook 2009: http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,53825,00.html

Forrester Report – Who Will Buy An eReader?:  http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,53828,00.html

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