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Summary:

By the middle of this year I expect we’ll have a big selection of e-book readers to choose from. There were dozens of readers on display at the CES 2010 this month, and it seems that every gadget maker is working on one for the market. […]

Alex

By the middle of this year I expect we’ll have a big selection of e-book readers to choose from. There were dozens of readers on display at the CES 2010 this month, and it seems that every gadget maker is working on one for the market. I am still a firm believer that in the e-book world content is king, and that just having a reader on the market is not that big a deal. A reader with little available content is just a hunk of plastic, consumers want the ability to get the books they crave. Giant e-book sellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have a big advantage in this area, with each offering hundreds of thousands of titles on their respective online stores. But the formats between the two stores are not compatible, and like any other retail segment competition could help keep prices competitive. Don’t believe that? I was in the market for some new e-book releases, and was surprised to find how widely the prices varied.

First up I was in the mood to pick up James Patterson’s latest — Witch and Wizard. I hit up Amazon, B&N, the eReader store (a subsidiary of B&N), Fictionwise (another subsidiary of B&N) and the Sony Reader Store. Here’s what I found:

 

While the three major e-book sellers have obviously gravitated towards the $9.99 price for new releases, in the future if a consumer owns a reader that is tied into one store then there is no guarantee the price will be competitive. A lot of reader makers are embracing ePUB format for books, and that’s a good thing, but that’s only half the battle for new releases. These books will almost certainly be infested with a DRM scheme, and just because a given reader can handle the ePUB format it will still stick the owner with whatever DRM system it supports. That will likely tie a given reader to a particular store. And as you can see, prices may vary.

It’s almost looking like the smart money is on putting multiple readers on a given device, like an iPhone, so that content can be read from more than one source. Of course this makes keeping an online library much harder for the consumer.

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  1. This reminds me of Betamax vs. VHS all over again. The consumers that invest in this market first will have to repurchase their e-readers as the market settles on one ubiquitous format.

  2. Android is getting multiple readers as well, it seems.

    An EnTourage eDGe can read books from it’s own store (using the built-in e-reader software), as well as ereader.com and fictionwise.com (using ereader.com’s software for Android). I seem to recall there was a fourth store it can buy from, a well. (and, of course, there’s all of the places that just sell PDFs).

    If Amazon would get off their butts and release a “Kindle for Android”, then that would just about be perfect.

    I’ll probably be buying an Adam instead of an eDGe, but that still gives a good selection of e-books to buy. And, while it’s true that having to keep track of which e-book I bought from which store, I’d rather have the choices than not. I also think it’s not only in the best interest of the consumer to have access to multiple stores … it’s also in the best interest of the e-book seller to be on as many platforms as they can support.

    We just need a convenient way to organize all of them. An app that will run on Windows, Mac, Linux (at least Ubuntu), Android, and perhaps iPhone (if that’s what the “Apple Tablet” will run) that lets you organize all of your e-books, no matter what source they came from. It may not be able to actually display the content, but that’s ok. It just needs to help you keep track of which books you have (in all known formats), where you got them, and what viewer(s) can read them. Sort of like your own personal e-library catalog :-)

    1. Calibre runs on Windows, OSX, and Linux and does exactly what you are asking. Stores, catalogues, converts between formats, includes reader software, provides a content server if you want online access, and handles syncing to a variety of devices.

      http://calibre-ebook.com/

  3. Some random comments…

    I think that multiformat readers will end up winning the war… I have seen a couple readers that support epub, mobi, prc, pdf, lit, and txt.

    Stripping DRM is easy, especially in PDF files. My thinking is that if I buy it, its mine, same as a paper book, and I can convert it into whatever format I want to consume it in.

    I use Calibre as a ebook library management tool on my netbook. It will read just about anything, supports content management to most readers, and does conversions to most formats. I have settled on converting everything to ePub for actual consumption on my readers. I am not thrilled with the tight integration between content providers and readers, like the Kindle, as it is open for abuse.

    Publishers need to just get over it. ebooks are here to stay and they can either embrace the opportunity or lose sales. For example, Robert Jordan’s series “The Wheel of Time” is very popular, however Tor does not really like ebooks and is very slow to release them. A ripped copy of the latest book, was available within days of the hard cover being released and with scanners and OCR technology the rips are very well done.

    I purchase a lot of books, and have a large library (over 4000 books). I am consuming most new books on ereaders, since I do not buy hard covers (no space, and cannot justify the significantly increased cost). Some I will end up purchasing again when they are released in paperback. If the publisher releases ebook versions in a timely matter (not 3 months delayed) and at a reasonable price (similar to the paperback price, $6-10) I will happily buy them. If not, I most likely can find an alternate source, or just borrow the book from the library.

    1. Thanks for mentioning Calibre. Looks like a good tool.

      What do you use for stripping DRM?

      1. Depends on the DRM… :-)

        For PDFs, mostly qpdf, pdfedit, pdfcrack. A lot of the DRM is basically locking the PDF so you cannot easily convert it.

        I don’t like PDFs since they don’t play nicely with some of the readers I like. Ebooks should live in a format that is easy to reformat to suit whatever size of screen at whatever font size you are consuming it on. Like I said, I have settled on ePub as a standard format.

        DRM is stupid for the most part since it is just data. Serious heavy weight locking and encryption needed to actually secure the data gets in the way of actually consuming it.

        Beyond the philosophical objections I have to DRM on something that I purchased, my big concern is being locked into a particular media, format or playback device. Who knows what I will be consuming on 10 or 20 years from now. As long as I have the data in a readable form I can convert it to suit.

      2. How about DRM for ePub or for eReader?

  4. Every week I compare prices for the eBook editions of the top 15 fiction and nonfiction hardcovers as published by NY Times – looking at four major eBook stores (Kobo, B&N, Amazon & Sony).

    It’s quite illuminating, especially for those who own Sony devices and think they’re getting a good deal in their store, or Kindle owners who just assume they get the cheapest books.

    http://www.thelewisfour.com/search/label/price%20check

    1. Converters exist for most formats. Mobi, prc, rtf, and lit all convert really well to ePub. PDF is a bit hit and miss. Strangely enough txt is the worst format as you tend to get giant blocks of text without formating, which I find rather unpleasant to read.

    2. Check out Inkmesh.com — it will compare e-book prices among numerous websites, so you don’t have to take time in going to each e-book store individually.

  5. Quentin Dewolf Monday, January 18, 2010

    the problem is that until all available books can be read on any device then you are always going to want a book that is not available for your device making price irrelevent. Small laptops/tablets/$200 netbooks can now read everything and are color.

    1. Quentin – until DRM is dropped (happened in music, has not happened yet for books, music videos or movies) DRM is a way of life. For now, ePub and Adobe Digital Editions for DRM is as close to universal as you can get – it opens up to the majority of readers on the market except for some smaller players and of course the Kindle.

      1. Agreed, but what major retailers use this so far? That’s the rub, the sellers have to use it.

      2. @jk: My understanding is that the Entourage ebook store uses ADE for those items where the publisher has requested DRM. So that’s one, anyway!

      3. Unfortunately, besides the fact that the eDGe is not shipping yet, their store did not have the Patterson book I wrote about. The previous Patterson novel they did have, for over $21. It’s not going to be straightforward by any means.

      4. I just glanced at the eDGe store (didn’t realize it was online). They made Sony seem affordable, and that’s really not a good thing. Luckily, eDGe users can shop at KoboBooks or Sony, and soon B&N.

  6. JK — KoboBooks and Sony’s Reader store use Adobe ADE encrypted ePub exclusively. Barnes and Noble has MANY (but not all) in an ePub format now, but use a form of ADE not yet compatible with other devices – they have mentioned on their forums that they are working with Adobe to include this scheme in the next ADE server release which will allow their books to authorize for Sony and other readers.

    There are others, but these are the big three right now. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a DRM advocate, but I am a realist, and seek the DRM solution with the least headache. I did the same thing with Apple, I bought music from iTunes since it worked on PCs, Macs, iPods and iPhones, you could share with multiple devices, and all of those devices could play non-DRM files as well and you could even burn to CD and re-rip which while slightly decreasing the quality did provide a way to strip the DRM without violating the DMCA.

    I see ADE as being close to that scenario – more content on more devices.

  7. All the various DRM and format schemes make a huge point for general purpose ebook readers running a light weight but fairly standard OS… like say Android. That way you can read multiple formats and be reasonably confident that if a new formats becomes popular someone will release a reader program for that format, or add that format to an existing program.

    Plus you get to control your ebooks (where they are stored, how they are backed up, which devices you want to load them on, etc).

    With proprietary readers you are stuck with whatever formats they support and there is no incentive for them to release updates to support competing formats.

    1. The major players do a pretty good job here, in that Amazon, Sony, B&N and Kobo all allow you to download files to your computer and store them. The only question is what happens if they discontinue their offerings and turn off their activation server. Already activated content will be fine, but if you get a new reader/pc/netbook/mac/etc you wouldn’t be able authorize your content for that new device… see Microsoft and Plays for Sure for an example of a company wrecking paid content for former customers.

      1. and that is evil, plain and simple. Why is it every time we get a new media format, the media publishers try and restrict it more than previous formats?

        If I buy a book, it is mine… I can lend it, sell it, trade it, reread it as many times as I want.

        If I buy an ebook I want the same rights and freedoms. I do not want to be dependant on one proprietary device or service to be able to continue to read my books. Which is why my first preference is DRM free books, followed by removable DRM.

        I will not buy content that is locked to a dedicated reader, or kept online for my “convenience”, or that has terms and conditions that allow the retailer to remove a book that I have purchased.

        Ebooks should be treated exactly like paper books.

        What is ironic, is that I see the rather draconian measures some of the larger publishers are adopting, backfiring and driving more authors to self publish. It is happening is the music industry and the means test for a writer is lower than for a musician. They can also go direct to the retailer.

        Rather than trying to restrict and control, perhaps the publishers should consider how they can add value and adapt to the realities of a changing consumer market.

      2. @Bj: One issue I have with stripping DRM completely is the huge issue of download piracy for these books.

        As an author-to-be, we see hundreds of print and e-formatted books being given away on some internet sites now. Just like piracy of movies and music, the lost royalties due to the author can be crippling to their income.

        At least with a paper-book, you can’t give it away/loan it to ten thousand people in an hour.

        As a realist, I don’t know if DRM is the answer – the music world has plainly gone away from it, so maybe the book world should too.

        But I did want to defend the authors who earn out their advances and future royalties over sales, not pirated downloads.

      3. Replying to Pam’s point… [reply system does not seem to allow 3rd level nesting...]

        I am not advocating piracy. I don’t condone or support it. However, I do not agree with handing away my rights to my property to a 3rd party that may decide to change their terms and conditions, go out of business, or fail to continue to support their product on new technology as things change.

        A bigger reality is that people need to wrap their heads around the FACT that data is just data. Back when a book, was the result of a trained scribe (likely a priest) labouring for months or years it had a different value and was very hard to copy. Now with ebooks piracy could become a big issue. However, trying to deal with it with DRM is going to fail, since adequate layers of protection defeat ease of use. It has not worked for music, it has not worked for movies, it is not going to work for books.

        One big thing books have going for them is the consumers. A typical novel is going to provide 4-6 hours of enjoyment. Paying a dollar or two/per hour is a no brainer and most people genuinely want to support their favourite authors and keep them beavering away writing new books.

        If the ebooks are available at a reasonable price, in a timely fashion I cannot see piracy really taking off. On the other hand, when publishers let books go out of print, refuse to release electronic copies (especially true of backlists), or delay them… people will create them.

        If the option is paying $6-10 for a professionally done ebook in the format of your choice, knowing you are supporting your author, that is easy to acquire, or hunting down a pirated copy, that may have formatting issues, or need converting, I think most people will buy the book. But if people get used to the piracy route and get good at it, because that is the only way to get the ebook, piracy will grow and flourish.

        Change is happening in the publishing industry… to books, magazines and newspapers. The companies that adapt to the new realities will do well, those that refuse to change will get buried. It is up to the publisher, and retailer to make their content and delivery system compelling enough that it offers value over the alternatives. Look at Apple and iTunes… they seem to be doing ok.

      4. bj says:

        Look at Apple and iTunes… they seem to be doing ok.

        ————

        While that’s true (they are doing “at least” ok), what’s important to remember is they BUILT their dominance WITH DRM, maintained it in the face of publishers handing Amazon the right to sell the SAME MUSIC without DRM, and now continue to maintain it after receiving their own permission to sell non-DRM music.

        That kind of defeats the argument of DRM killing off publishers. The scary part is transference, not obsolescence. Look, when tapes went the way of the Dodo Bird, MOST people lost access to their music as tape players got old and weren’t as easily replaced, or if they were easily to find they just didn’t want to. When CDs begun to dominate, few people had burners and computers and were connecting tape players to the input jack and burning their content, and even those with the expertise just bought new copies of important stuff since the quality went.

        CDs were great, because it’s trivial to rip. DVDs are almost as trivial to rip, but now we have the DMCA to contend with. Music on CD seems to have been the last pre-DMCA media form. DVDs, BluRays, eBooks, DRM encoded MP4 movies bought from Apple, etc all have this issue. It’s not DRM that I object to, when it’s done right (Apple and device sharing, eBooks shared on multiple readers and consistant implementation of Adobe Digital Editions, etc), it’s the lack of transference, or a consumer’s bill of rights per-say.

        If eBook sellers promised to:

        1) Continue DRM
        2) If they discontinue their current system and continue to sell content transfer your material to the new system.

        I’d be a lot happier.

        Look, if Microsoft cancelled Plays for Sure, came out with the Zune, and let people get Zune content, they’d silence many critics. The remaining critics weren’t going to do Plays for Sure anyway.

        Look at Sony… they dropped their file format for ePub and their DRM for ADE. They gave EVERYONE the books in the new format for free, and updated discontinued players.

        That’s DRM I can live with…

      5. I actually was pointing to Apple and iTunes as an example of innovation and value add, not about their late adoption of and jumping on the anti-DRM band wagon. They made it cheap and easy to find and buy single tracks, rather than having to buy entire albums.

        If publishers, and/or retailers make it cheap, easy, simple, and convenient to buy ebooks from them rather than searching out pirated copies, or ripped books… consumers will reward them with money.

        I already buy some ebooks directly from one publisher since it is easy and I can buy advance copies before the hard cover is even released (actually pay a premium price over a regular ebook for that, $15 rather than $6). That is a great example of innovation, and the creation of an extra revenue stream.

        Another example: My dad, whom while not a technophobe is far from computer savy, just bought an ereader since his library offers ebooks, and he can download them rather than driving 45 miles into town to borrow books.

  8. eReader Engineer Monday, January 18, 2010

    The iSlate invitations have now went out. The invitation CLEARLY indicates a COLOR eReader is on its way. Not just any reader mind you, no, this is the Jesus eReader !

    Apple will once again set the bar extremely high for an existing technology. They will redefine the space. Look forward to getting all your eBooks in VIVID COLOR from the geniuses in Cupertino. No more lame B&W crapware from the book retailer. You deserve better and Apple will make sure the consumer gets what they really want. Only Apple is capable of launching something as game-changing as the iSlate on January 27, 2010.

    It will be a new brighter more colorful world that awaits you on the morning of the 28th ! It will never be the same again.

    Apple You ROCK !

    1. I hope Apple can keep pressure on the publisher to release the Color version of all those eBooks for similar price to the BW version, lets say $12, would be reasonable. And keep the price steady for a few years like they did with all those iTunes music.

      I am sure the book publishers are just as greedy as the record industry and Apple tamed them quite well, so a repeat in the book sector of iTunes will be schweeet !

    2. Apple’s announcement is CLEAR AS MUD! A color ereader?? From Apple??? Move along, nothing to see here.

    3. It’s not an e-reader, but a netbook without a keyboard. Do you really want to read books for hours on a slate with its LCD screen? You can do that now with your desktop or laptop or netbook. Not sure what the slate/tablet will do differently in terms of reading a book.

  9. If Amazon adds ePub, the game is just about over. They are the last remaining holdout.

  10. Matthew Miller Monday, January 18, 2010

    The nice thing about using a device like the B&N nook is that I can buy ebooks from stores like eReader, Fictionwise, or Kobo using the discount codes I get just about every single week as a newsletter subscriber and read these books from all of these stores (and the Barnes & Noble store) on my nook without even having to use Calibre to strip the DRM. I get coupons from B&N too so I only buy books at discounted prices now for my nook.

    Plus, with the nook I can check out the excellent collection from my local public library for free using ADE. It seems to me that Adobe Digital Editions is the driving force behind having a consistent ebook format across multiple platforms, with the exception of the Amazon Kindle.

    1. Just one small correction… Calibre is ebook management software… it does NOT remove DRM. It does a great job of converting ebooks between most of the formats, if they are DRM free.

      I am very interested in the Nook since it is running Android and is easy to tweak to all other software to it.

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