Posts Tagged ‘Kindle’

Why would the Atlantic publish on the Kindle?

In a publishing discussion forum I participate in, a friend recently posted her concerns over a recent announcement regarding exclusive content for the Amazon Kindle:

An article in today's New York Times announced that the Atlantic will sell some short stories exclusively on Kindle… This concept bothers me for a couple of reasons. First, the Kindle seems to be the most restrictive of the e-readers… Second, selling a short story exclusively to the Kindle is essentially creating a work that only a privileged few can ever read.

She's right that the Kindle is more restrictive than other readers, but not by much. The only advantage Sony's e-reader has over it in format compatibility is in its support of ePub files, for example. Wikipedia has a handy chart that compares all the hardware's compatibilities.

As for why anyone would choose to make their content available on only the Kindle, check out this table of who owns the e-book market: a quarter of all e-book readers are Amazon Kindles. That's twenty-five times greater than the Sony eBook Reader, and many more times still than the unproven nook. If the Atlantic wants maximum exposure for their content, it makes sense to go with the market leader. (And it's possible Amazon offered them some strong incentives to provide this exclusive content — something e-publishing fledgling B&N couldn't afford while investing in launching their own product.)

However, though there's something to be said for getting in on the ground floor, I think it's too early to be pledging allegiances just yet. It was just last year that early adopters of the HD-DVD format found themselves orphaned in the face of Blu Ray's victory, as this comic strip recently reminded me, for example. How many of today's e-readers will soon be similarly unsupported? The Atlantic may see the potential in taking a risk with a particular product, but I'm more than happy to wait this one out, and then through my weight behind a sure thing.

If e-books were a technology that needed my support to survive — so many people skipped the Sega Dreamcast in favor of its eventual successor that there was never the sales to warrant a successor — then I would be less hesitant. But given the nook's overwhelming presales, I don't think electronic publishing's pioneers will suffer for my economical patience.


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The present and future of e-readers

It's been an interesting last week for e-readers.

First, the Barnes & Noble Nook, due in stores November 30th, is enjoying such great demand that, unless you preordered one, your order will not be fulfilled until 2010. I expect demo units will still be available in retail outlets, as I doubt B&N would miss the opportunity to market to the 2009 holiday crowds, thus generating even more sales for 2010.

Then, as a response to growing competition, the Kindle got a firmware update that offers better battery life, PDF compatibility, and easier landscape orientation. However, just like Amazon's removal of 1984 from some readers' Kindles, this update was pushed automatically to users, leaving them to wonder: who's really in charge of their e-readers?

And, despite all these advances, here are eight reasons e-readers could fail:

  1. Price of devices
  2. Price of e-books
  3. Smartphones
  4. Apple's rumored tablet computer
  5. Popular authors aren't sure about e-books
  6. Digital rights
  7. Open publishing standards, or not?
  8. Librarians and small bookstores

In evidence of #5, last week I attended a book signing by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore. As we discussed the unknown future of the publishing industry, he offered his own anecdote: Vector Prime, his only Star Wars novel and the one that infamously killed Chewbacca, sold 145,000 copies in hardcover and 500,000 in paperback. The title's e-book sales to date? 147. There are no zeroes after that — Vector Prime has sold under two hundred digital copies.

Despite these experiences, I don't think it's likely e-books will fail. As the technology progresses to offer a more pleasant user experience, and prices drop to more affordable levels, we may see e-readers become as commonplace as Star Trek's PADDs. But, as with the rest of Gene Roddenberry's vision for the future, we're still a long ways off.

Choose your own digital adventure

The move to an electronic format holds many potential ramifications for literature. Is it the same content in a different medium? Or does the move from text to hypertext offer more possibilities for storytelling?

When I was a kid, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books. These young adult novels were interactive, giving the reader control over the main character's actions by offering branching paths. Do you follow the forest's beaten path, or forge your own? Do you fight the giant lizard, or do you run away? The page you flip to next is determined by your choices.

Interactive fiction is well-suited to hypertext, with each choice becoming a link to a new Web page. Using this format, Choose Your Own Adventure-style games have become playable in such digital venues as a Web browser or even the Xbox 360. So why not the Kindle?

ChooseCo, the company behind the original Choose Your Own Adventure brand, has also recognized this opportunity and is bringing their series of novels to Amazon's e-book reader. House of Danger is currently a free title, with additional CYOA books selling for $6.99, roughly the same price as the print edition.

Rather than try to change the definition of what a book is by adding multimedia or other gimmicks, ChooseCo is taking advantage of the native capabilities of both hardcopy and digital formats by offering their books as they were meant to be read, only better. This is the best example I've found of the possibilities of e-books.

What other possibilities do you see for e-book readers like the Kindle to change how books are presented and read?

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)

Smartphones squash e-book readers in popularity

With a touch interface, accelerometers, and an online store that boasts over 100,000 apps, the Apple iPhone is fast becoming a mobile gaming device to compete with the likes of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

But despite the App Store's "games" category enjoying more new releases than any other category in the last year, in September and October 2009, the most popular genre of new app published was book-related. Specifically, "In October, one out of every five new apps launching in the iPhone has been a book… The sharp rise in e-book activity on the iPhone indicates that Apple is positioned [to] take market share from the Amazon Kindle as it did from the Nintendo DS." (This may not be significant data, however, as many of the book apps are duplicates of public domain novels. For example, there are over 30 apps that offer Sun Tzu's The Art of War.)

The trend toward smartphones as e-readers may have already begun. Publishers Weekly recently printed a chart of who owns the e-book market. The iPhone and iPod together have captured 22%, which makes it the second most popular e-book reader, behind only the Kindle itself. It also makes Apple's product line 22 times more popular than the Sony eBook Reader.

Are Amazon and Barnes & Noble approaching the market the wrong way by hawking dedicated e-book readers? Why spend $259 on a Kindle when you can get a multipurpose iPhone 3G for $99?

Issues with the international Kindle

I'm having trouble understanding the concerns raised by the international Kindle, as related in Publishers Weekly. I think that publishers are worried that the correct editions of their catalog will be available in the right territories, lest readers cross borders to buy books that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Is that correct? If so, didn't Apple address this issue six years ago with the iTunes Store, or Microsoft with the Xbox Live Arcade — both of which are available on an international basis? Customers need to supply contact and billing information to make a purchase, and the online stores use that data to determine which products to list. What am I missing?

Is the issue that digital rights are not currently being negotiated on a regional basis, in which case a digital edition currently available only in American markets will now be sold globally, competing with the print editions exclusive to other regions? How is that different from now? As an American, I'm pretty sure I can go to and order a book; if so, then the opposite must be true, and a Brit can order an e-book from the USA store.

The PW article repeatedly reported that the e-tailer (never heard that word before, and can't say I care for it) "has worked with publishers" on this matter. A quotation from an affected or involved publisher might've helped give the article some perspective.