eBook Notes For August 7, 2010

1) Since people cannot decide whether they are “enhanced” or “enriched” or “eBooks with extras,” I am coining the term xBook to encompass digital books that contain audio, video, and other interactive elements that require more than an eInk device to read. xBook has the advantage of not being a widely-known trademark and the “x as extra” is easy to explain to people. (Western Skyland Corporation holds a trademark for “xBook.” Western Skyland Corporation is a beard company for Microsoft. Since all but one other trademark held by this beard company is dead, I think it’s safe to use xBook as a generic term since it is not being actively used in the marketplace by the registrant.) Note that xBook should refer to an eBook — ePub or Kindle format — with extras, not an app, such as Vook.

2) I see a bifurcation in electronic books happening. There are ePub versions of Nixonland which can’t be used on eInk devices due to multimedia (in this case, I think video only) embeds. Nixonland is sold in the iBookstore for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. It’s also sold at Amazon, where Amazon states it can be read only on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Amazon also lists two Kindle Editions (eBooks) of Nixonland (here and here). So basically what is happening here is that Kindle owners cannot use their devices to read Nixonland unless they choose one of these two editions — the eBook. That’s just wrong. Kindle buyers should get both editions — the eBook and the xBook — for the price of the xBook (if they so choose), so they can pick up reading just the text on their Kindles if they’re leaving the iPad at home during a trip.

3) I understand print publishing thinking that adding multimedia (audio, video, and interactivity) to an ePub or Kindle book will command a higher price. But what this does is split the market between eInk and LCD screens. It also insults and alienates eInk buyers who have created the eBook market with early adoption and purchases that are really akin to investments. It’s also questionable that such xBooks — as they are currently being produced — have any future. I note that Amazon doesn’t state its xBooks can be used on any Android device with its Kindle reading software. Will that ever happen? And if it doesn’t, what does that do to the potential earnings of these expensive xBooks if they can’t reach the entire market?

4) Jeff Bezos made a compelling argument for dedicated (read: eInk) devices on the Charlie Rose Show:

They want a purpose-built device where no tradeoffs have been made, where every single design decision as you’re walking down the process has been made to optimize for reading.

The number one thing that people are doing on their iPad right now if you look at the rankings is playing a game called “Angry Birds” where you throw birds at pigs and the pigs blow up. The number one thing that people are doing on their Kindle right now is reading Stieg Larsson.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.


I think we live in a multi-device world. You’re going to have a tablet computer like an iPad or one of its competitors. You’re going to have a smart phone, you’re going to have a laptop. The tablet computer isn’t going to replace the laptop because there are times when you want to write a long memo or a long email message or an article … And likewise, if you want to sit down and read a 300-page book the Kindle is the perfect device to sit back and read a 300-page book.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Although I called for the death of eInk devices (more than once, but the first time was here), I’ve been disappointed that Apple did not take the direction I expected with books. In fact, it could be that Apple will take a wholly unexpected turn now that it has joined the IDPF (my own belief is that Apple, Google, Nokia, and HP/Palm will lobby to dump Adobe’s ePub rendering engine for WebKit).

What this means is that I have to now admit that eInk is not going to disappear any time soon.

I could see that when I did a micro-fondle of the Kobo Reader earlier this week. Its lightness and relative-inexpensiveness (compared to past $300 prices!) had an appeal. It was just as Jeff Bezos said of the Kindle: built to do one thing well — reading. The iPad can play music, but who would choose to carry it along for only that reason instead of an iPod?

I wouldn’t cheer this admission, if I was you. Because this brings up the next point:

5) No matter how many different ways I look at it, print publishing can’t escape being screwed. The continued existence of eInk devices — and their continued price drops (and oh yes, will they continue!) — means there will be no escaping book price deflation. Print publishers all think $9.99 is too low for a book. Once Apple dumps the Agency Model pricing agreement — and they will! — every publisher will be grateful if they can squeeze $9.99 out of people afterwards. Jeff Bezos is going to want lower eBook prices for his new lower-priced $139 Kindle. So will Barnes & Noble for its $149 Nook. If these statistics are to be believed, that’s 80% of the eBook market. What will print publishing do? Take its eBook ball and go home? Home to where? Back to print? How do you think the executive suites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble will react to that? So, just as unemployed people have had to take jobs at a fraction of their past salaries, print publishers are going to have to accept a world in which they get only a fraction of what they’ve had in the past. If you can hold the line at $7.99 for a new hardcover as eBook, you will be doing very well indeed. Otherwise, prepare for a world in which your product is $4.99 for frontlist, $1.99 for everything in backlist — said backlist meaning anything older than six months.

6) The question that gets lost: What about Pixel Qi? Where is their screen? What will that do to the market? For unknown reasons, Pixel Qi doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere very fast. And with the price drops on eInk devices, I don’t think Pixel Qi has a place in eBooks any longer. First, its screen alone will probably weigh as much as an entire eInk device. Second, it will likely wind up in tablets that are more expensive than any eInk device. That means we’ll be back to the bifurcation of addressing eInk vs. LCD, as noted above, except with the added twist of an LCD that can do reflective grayscale. Pixel Qi is reduced to being something “nice to have,” but not anything that will impact the eInk device market right now.

7) Google Editions might wind up amending everything I’ve just written.


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