Since jumping on the ereader bandwagon several years ago, I’ve operated under the assumption that most people who regularly buy ebooks were like me – technology-obsessed bibliophiles who were simply fascinated with the technology.
While that may have been true years ago, if indeed it ever was, I can’t help but notice that the demographic tides have turned. My mother and younger sister are the only ereading converts I’ve been able to make in my family. Amongst co-workers, the only fellow Kindle disciples I’ve found have been ladies. When taking the train to work every weekday, I share that knowing ebook-lovers nod with women far more often than men.
Is it just me? Consider:
• Of the Top 10 best-selling books in the Kindle store, nine out of ten are written by women. Amongst free books? Also nine out of ten.
• In the Nook store, the top magazines outside of National Geographic are Us Weekly, Star, Cosmopolitan, and Women’s Health.
• According to numbers released by the New York Public Library, romance novels account for more than twice the number of the next highest genre in terms of ebook rentals.
That latter point may actually be the big contributing factor to the boom in female ereader owners. They’re the perfect platform for people to indulge in romance novels. It may be slightly embarrassing to have a paperback featuring a long-haired barrel-chested Fabio type in your purse, but ereaders don’t betray your reading proclivities to the public at large. Even better, they can be purchased cheaply and discretely without fear of being judged by the folks behind the counter at your local bookstore. It’s a guilt-free experience.
The numbers bear out this trend. According to a report by Nielsen BookScan, just two percent of all printed books sold in 2009 were romantic novels, compared with 14 percent of all ebooks sold. And that was in 2009, when the nascent ereader market was still in its infancy! There were just 3.6 million ereaders in circulation by the end of 2009 compare to an estimated 11 million this year. That’s a lot of cheddar for romance writers who timed the market right.
In many ways, ebooks have given us expedited access to literature in a way that’s never been seen before in human history. You can purchase a book, just about any book, from nearly any location in the continental United States (provided you are within distance of a cellphone tower of course) at the drop of a hat. When you consider that only five centuries ago books were priceless heirlooms that could be reproduced only with considerable care and effort, it’s a staggering leap in the proliferation of information.
As marvelous as it is, ebooks don’t come without costs. While many of older generations like to wax philosophic about the missing smell and feel of holding a treeware book in one’s hands, I think one of the real unfortunate side effects of the digitalization of books has been the removal of the human element. Heading down to the local library or used bookstore afforded readers the opportunity to interact with other bibliophiles that is often lost in this newer generation. Gone is the chance to ask somebody what they are reading or to grill a librarian for suggestions in a new favorite genre.
But despair not! Stepping in to fill this void is Goodreads, a marvelous fusion of old-school book clubs, social media and book recommendation engine. The site is predicated on the notion that you’re more likely to pick up a book if it comes recommended by a real person, especially somebody you know and respect. Goodreads gives you the ability to track what friends and like-minded strangers are saying about their latest reads, so you can pilfer those suggestions for yourself. The site boasts 4.4 million users with more than 120 million books on their collective shelves, so nary a title can slip through their collective grasp.
What sets this experience above and beyond reviews on Amazon, for instance, is the that it’s tied to social media. Every time you put in a review it updates your Goodreads feed and, if you opt to allow it to do so, will post something on Twitter or Facebook as well. They offer a variety of widgets, which you can drop on to your blog or Facebook page to show off your ever-expanding bookshelf, recent favorites and/or reading challenge goals for the year. A budding competition with the latter has been a major driver of my own reading efforts this year.
There’s also no need to get together every week for a book club — now you can just start a group and get the discussion going online at your own pace in a nice forum style. The site even boasts a nice variety of lists, allowing you to see what people with similar tastes are reading at any given moment and potentially hit them up for new reading groups.
If you’re a serious reader, a Goodreads membership will get you a long way. Just being able to catalog the list of books you’ve read along with immediate post-read reviews of the material, goes a long way towards enriching your experience. The ability to weave your friends into the experience just takes it to that next level. It comes highly recommended.
Based purely off the number of companies that seem to want to jump into the ebook game, you would figure that it’s a highly lucrative business with plain benefits for a company line. That may still be true, but according to reports, at least one major bookseller has stumbled, and may soon fall.
Just after the new year, Borders suspended payments to a number of its suppliers on book shipments it took in the month of December. In response, several publishers, including Rowan and Littlefield, have since suspended deliveries to Borders stores, choking off their supply and causing Borders’ stock to plummet on the New York Stock Exchange.
The source of the company’s financial woes is obvious, with third-quarter sales down 17.6 percent in 2010, even compared to the anemic numbers in 2009. They reported double the losses during that period to the tune of $75 million.
Borders is reportedly trying to work out some sort of financing with publishers, but the most likely outcome in this scenario seems to be a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Borders as we know it will disappear from the face of the earth, but it does mean debt shedding and some restructuring, which will likely result in a number of store closings and reduced orders with publishers. Said publishers have a vested interest in keeping the nation’s third largest book seller alive, but their ability to help them do that only goes so far.
While a number of factors likely contributed to Borders’ troubles, their tepid approach to ereaders has to be cited as one of the biggest. They managed to put together a partnership with Kobo in 2010, launching the Kobo eReader and Borders eBookstore over the summer. Priced at $150, the Kobo had its brief moment in the sun as the value ereader in its class, but both Barnes & Noble and Amazon subsequently marked down their prices and squeezed the Kobo out of the market.
It probably goes without saying that purchasing a Kobo eReader at this juncture is ill-advised. The last thing you want is an ereader that doesn’t offer you a store from which to purchase books. There’s always the long-shot possibility that Barnes & Noble could buy them out and roll them into the fold with the Nook, but that is far from a foregone conclusion.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story, because it could send ripples all throughout the epublishing industry.
The eReader market is quickly changing from one dominated by a few monolithic competitors into a highly volatile playground for small market also-rans. Consider Plastic Logic’s Que. Originally slated to be positioned opposite the Kindle DX in Barnes & Noble stores, Plastic Logic recently released a press release saying it was still-born even before it was able to hit the market.
“We recognize the market has dramatically changed, and with the product delays we have experienced, it no longer make sense for us to move forward with our first generation electronic reading product,” said Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta. “This was a hard decision, but is the best one for our company, our investors and our customers.”
While it resembles defeat in a way, this was a smart tactical move by Plastic Logic. The newspaper-sized eReader category, including the Kindle DX, has failed to gain much mass market acceptance. Users are more apt to expect an experience similar to Apple’s iPad from a device the size of the Que, replete with integrated multimedia elements and animated page turns. Devices sporting eInk technology are rapidly skewing cheaper and more portable, neither of which are the $649 8.5×11 inch Que’s forte.
Plastic Logic seems to be of the belief that their proprietary plastic electronics technology will carve out a niche for them when they do have a launch-ready product, but that remains to be seen.
Of course, while Plastic Logic is bowing out of the eReader race, albeit temporarily, the product category has seen the entrance of a new competitor: the Bambook, by China’s Shanda Literature company. While their approach to hardware appears fairly derivative, with a 6-inch display and Wi-Fi and 3G connections, their real game-changing twist is their approach to selling books.
While American eReaders continue to lean heavily on the big six domestic publishers for the content populating their devices, Shanda Literature utilizes direct relationships with many of their most promising authors. Their “cloud bookstore” offers just 10,000 books by traditional Chinese publishing houses, while playing host to the original published works of a whopping 1.1 million independent authors.
This is a revolutionary approach to selling the written word. In the Kindle bookstore, Amazon takes a 65 percent cut off the top, leaving just 35 percent of revenues for the publisher and author to squabble over. Meanwhile, Shanda Literature shares between 20 to 50 percent of their revenues directly with these independent authors. That democratic approach to revenue sharing is certain to make Amazon look like a money-grubbing corporation by contrast, should domestic authors ever get wind of this news.
Looked at together, this pair of stories underscores something very important about the eReader market. The key to the survival of entrants large and small is going to continue to be with innovation in the sales and distribution of eBooks themselves, not with hardware, which is made obsolete so quickly.
On June 21, Barnes & Noble made an aggressive pricing move, announcing a new version of their hot-selling Nook. This was a stripped down version of the Nook as we know it, without the 3G connectivity that lets users download books from anywhere in the continental United States. At just $149 though, users should be quite happy to do with just Wi-Fi. Even better, they lowered the price of their 3G-capable Nook to just $199, lowering the prices across the board.
Naturally, Amazon couldn’t just stand by and let Barnes & Noble get the better of them. They wasted no time and that very same day announced that the price for the Amazon Kindle 2 had been lowered to $189. It was an interesting strategy, undercutting the Nook model most similar to the Kindle 2 by $10, while not offering their own 3G-neutered Kindle for the particularly budget-conscious. The price of the infrequently mentioned Kindle DX remains at $489.00.
Let’s be realistic here though, neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble are getting into the business of undercutting each other just for fun. The overnight success of Apple’s iPad, which sold three million units in its first 80 days of sales and is projected to sell as many as 29 million by 2012, has created downward pressure on the pricing structure of standalone eReaders.
According to the consumer electronics analysts, mainstream consumers were having a hard time justifying the cost of a straight-forward eReader when there was a relatively cheap and much sexier alternative on the market that could draw not just from one content provider, but all of them at once. Operating margins for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are about to get much thinner, as both companies race to the bottom in price. They can afford to sell their hardware as a loss leader, much like game consoles do, as long as they’re able to make back the money on their cut of all books sold through their bookstore.
With iBooks having firmly established itself in the retail space and Borders jumping into the fray with their own Kobo readers and book offerings, the market is about to get a lot more competitive and thus, consumer-friendly. Those on platform-agnostic hardware like the iPad should be mindful of where they purchase content – it could very well tip the scales one way or the other!
The lack of a real commercial presence in brick and mortar retail stores has long been on a knock on the biggest eReaders in the market – the Nook and the Kindle. With the Nook largely relegated to Barnes & Noble retail outlets and the Kindle lacking even the most basic of demo units in retail space, prospective buyers were often relegated to tracking down friends and acquaintances who owned one of these sanguine devices. And when your ability to sell a device relies largely on the satisfaction of its tactile feel, that can throw a real wrench into your operations.
That’s why it was big news in April when Barnes & Noble announced that they’d brokered a deal to give the Nook bona fide shelf space at Best Buy’s 1,070 retail outlets across the country. Best Buy had previously been the exclusive home of Sony’s line of eReaders, but customers can now check out kiosks that promote the virtues of the dual-screened Nook.
Not one to be left behind, Amazon immediately turned around and inked a deal with upscale value retailer Target. You have to imagine my shock when I actually saw one of the Kindle’s kiosks at a local Target store several days before I saw a press release announcing the deal. I like to think I’m top of all the latest eReader news; to have something that big snuck under my nose seemed like a major coup. In actuality, my local store just happened to be one of the 102 South Florida stores that they chose to be among the first of what will eventually be a nationwide sweep.
It’s evidence that, despite the launch of the highly-lauded Apple iPad, the Nook and the Kindle are still slugging it out for market share in the dedicated eReader category. In fact, recent reports for both companies involved have been encouraging.
Amazon reported a 68% increase in net income for the first quarter this year, a shockingly high increase given the unemployment rate and general (ill) state of economic health. The Nook had a slightly more direct validation of its popularity, with a report out of Digitimes Research indicating that, of the 1.43 million eReader units that shipped to retail in the month of March, as many as 53% of them were Nooks. The sheer fact that Barnes & Noble hasn’t sent out any press celebrating this fact seems to indicate that there is a disconnect between units shipped and units sold, but the overarching point is that the eReader market is every bit as robust to start this year as could have been expected.
Am I the only one who is going to feel at least a little sad that carrying my Kindle 2 around in public won’t make me a mini-celebrity? With so many people purchasing eReaders and the major eReaders now freely available in big stores for people to try, nobody is going to stop me in the coffee shop or the airport to ask if they can try my Kindle! I guess the phase of the early adopter is finally ending…
It’s hard to browse the Internet, pick up a magazine, or watch the evening news without seeing some mention of the invasion of tablet PCs recently. With news of a Google tablet, offerings from Microsoft and Hewlett Packard (HP slate), and hints from Toshiba, consumers will have no shortage of options for tablets.
As competition rises, tablets are promising to do more and more. You can browse the web, watch movies, read books, play games; all on this small, thin touchscreen device and you can do it from anywhere you can imagine. For eBook and eReader enthusiasts, our eReaders will have many of the same capabilities that our laptop and desktop computers have.
But are tablets offering too much? Are we getting too distracted by the ability to do more things? One thing I kinda liked about the Amazon Kindle was that I didn’t have fast and easy access to games or the Internet. So, when I was on the Kindle reader, I did just that: read. I’ve never been great at reading on a computer because I had the option to do other things.
Tablets don’t really offer anything new, aside from the user interface and experience. Instead of pressing a button or clicking a mouse, you’re actually touching the content. You end up feeling closer to the content and to the device itself. So much so that your computer and your smartphone might start to feel as neglected as your children.
Another thing to consider when looking at the new tablets is the type of screen. It wasn’t long ago when the E Ink technology used by the Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook was the hot new thing. While it lacks color and a backlight, it can be read easily in sunlight and it extends the battery life exponentially. Now vivid touchscreens are the trend, but if the main purpose is to use it as an ereader you lose the feel and appeal of a book-like screen. But, like most consumers, I have a hard time being wowed by a dull grayscale screen when compared to a bright, flashy touchscreen. Does this hint at the death of E Ink technology? Will Amazon bail on E Ink and go with a more modern color touchscreen for the Kindle 3?
Tablet PCs may soon take over the eReader market. Especially since the tablet manufacturers are able to keep the prices so close to the price of the available ereaders. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Kindle and Nook swing back against the iPad, the Google Tablet, and other “Ipad Killers”.
Over a year ago, KindleChat.com was launched as a site devoted to the beloved Amazon Kindle. Since its launch, there have been many advances in the world of electronic readers. Amazon released the Kindle DX, Kindle for PC, Mac, and Blackberry and upgraded their wireless service to provide global coverage. Barnes & Noble released a strong competitor into the eReader market called the Nook. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) brought us news of several new eReader devices: Hearst’s Skiff, Plastic Logic’s Que, and Samsung’s E6 and E101. The latest entrant to the eReader game is Apple’s iPad, which has already amassed thousands of pre-orders.
It’s no question that the success of Amazon’s Kindle has caught the attention of other manufacturers. But competition can work in favor of consumers; one year ago the Amazon Kindle was the choice if you wanted a solid eReader. The only problem was the high price. The B&N Nook prompted Amazon to shave $100 off their initial price tag, and now the advances that are promised by the iPad are certainly getting Amazon in gear to develop new features.
Where the consumers suffer is having to choose which eReader to buy. And if you start swapping brands then you’re faced with losing all of the content that you purchased for the previous eReader.
We have certainly enjoyed the success of KindleChat.com and would like to thank you, our readers, for your support of our site. We have chosen to expand our format to encompass all eReaders so we can provide the most helpful information for each device and not appear biased toward one particular product. We are pleased to announce eReaderChat.com as our new home! We ask that you update any bookmarks or links to point to our new web address. We apologize ahead of time for the inconvenience.
We again thank you for your support and understanding and we hope that you continue to enjoy reading our content as much as we enjoy writing it.
Kindlechat wants to welcome Kalpanik S. to the writing staff of this website, hopefully bringing new insights through articles relating to the Kindle e-book reader. I look forward to Kalpanik’s first article as I’m sure you will. A website with multiple writers usually brings a nice balance as well as differing views on new releases and news to the reader base. If you would be interested in joining the KindleChat writers email me at minezamac at gmail . com.