It has been clear for quite some time that the e-book reader space has gotten pretty hot. There are companies making readers right and left, and I must have seen dozens of them while wondering around the CES. There were readers of all types, almost all of them e-Ink equipped, and if the sheer number of devices is any indicator then the mainstream consumer is going to flock to digital books in droves. Wanna bet that doesn’t happen?
We geeks love e-book readers. They are gadgets, after all, and we can’t get enough gadgets. Mainstream consumers are a different beast, however, and they are going to require something very specific to even have a chance to win them over. Content. Not just a big selection of content, but very specific content.
Mainstream consumers want best-sellers and other recent releases. They want any book they can pick up in one of the thousands of stores where they shop. They want any book they can pick up in a public library. They want to see a book, and buy it for their reader on the spot. Not go searching to see if it’s available for their particular reader, and definitely not to see if the format is compatible with it. They want to see a book, and buy it.
This is why the Kindle has been pretty successful; at least consumers can buy a book from Amazon (s amzn) simply, and have it work on the reader. Barnes & Noble (s bks) is banking on this too with the Nook. They both have a huge selection of digital books, and buying them is a simple process.
Once the book buying process gets less straightforward, the mainstream consumer will drop out. The first time they buy a book, only to find it won’t work on their particular reader, and it is game over. Frustration and reading books do not go hand in hand, it is a major failure for the consumer.
So we may be seeing gobs of readers getting released, but the reader is only one piece of the consumer experience. And not even the major piece, as there are paper books everywhere they can read. And make no mistake about it, they will continue reading those dead-tree versions if it is easier. I’m just sayin’.