The tipping point for e-readers

I remember standing at a publisher cocktail party years ago, talking with a publicist about electronic books, and she was shaking her head firmly, saying that e-books were still a non-issue.  At the time, I was utterly hooked on Mario for GameBoy (the original, clunky, white one) and I made the case for a reader something like that unit, with a bigger screen. Something you could hold and transport easily.   Everyone with me just shook their heads.  If I stop and think about that fat, pr_coolers_told GameBoy, I can guess this cocktail party was about a decade ago. 

We’ve all seen the revolution coming for the past two years.  Sony pushed things along, but Kindle set the game afire, and now Barnes and Noble has joined the market with their Nook.   My oldest son, who is the kind of reader a writer dreams of, and was the  kind of geeky kid who had to have every brand-new version of Zelda the day it came out, obviously has a Kindle. He’s on his second, actually, and it’s a lovely machine.  I’ve played with the Sony reader, too, and I like it fine.  Now there is Nook, which is pretty, pretty, and not available in any meaningful way until after Christmas.  They all have their pros and cons, which you can read about in depth in this article from Wired.com.   Since getting my iPhone a few months ago, I find I want that touch screen technology on everything, and at the moment, those e-readers are pricey.

Finally, this morning Christopher Robin sent me a link to an article  firming up rumors that the Apple tablet is likely to be available in the spring.   These snippets particularly caught my eye:

  • Apple has been approaching U.S. book publishers with what Reiner describes as “a very attractive proposal” for distributing their content: an App Store-type 30/70 split (30% for Apple) with no exclusivity requirement. [See UPDATE below.]
  • According to Reiner, publishers are disgruntled by Amazon’s (AMZN) terms, which force exclusivity, disallow advertising and demand a “wolfish cut” of revenue. The typical Kindle/publisher split, he says, is 50/50, rising to 30/70 if Amazon gets exclusivity.
  • Apple’s tablet would make ebooks more attractive for the education market by simplifying functions such as scribbling marginalia.      [Me:  can you imagine, my fellow researchers, how this would simplify your life?]
  • For me there are two reasons to have a reader: space and ease of transport.  When I moved from my old house, it took two DAYS to clear out the books.  I gave away hundreds of boxes of books to local charities and used bookstores.  I swore I’d never let it get that far out of hand again.  While I adore reading, I also like to be able to move around my house, and at the rate I read, that means a lot of books stacking up.   With an e-reader, I can collect hundreds of books in the palm of my hand. 

    The other reason I want one so much is related to the space issue:  I travel, and sometimes far, far away.  Deciding which books to bring with me is one of the biggest problems on every long flight.  Which to carry in the suitcase, which to put in the backpack to carry on the plane, which ones to leave at my destination to make room for those I buy at faraway bookstores?   Books are heavy.  An e-reader allows me to load whatever I like onto my machine, and leaves space to pick up books on my travels. 

    Also, there is something inordinately comforting about knowing I can connect to the internet and get any book I want at any moment.  (This, actually, is the biggest downside.  I already spend more than I ought–even as a writer–on books.  I suspect I am single handedly keeping at least two publishers afloat.  How much worse will that be if I can buy books whenever I feel like it?)   I currently have a couple of titles on my iPhone, just in case I get stranded somewhere and have no book with me.  (One must be prepared.) 

    I strongly feel we’ve hit the tipping point in women’s fiction and romance this season–when we look back, this is the season we will point to as the Great Shift.  Some statistics have shown romance readers in particular are starting to buy a great many more books this way (thanks in part, I’m sure, to groundbreaking imprints like Wild Rose and others, who allowed readers to grow accustomed to the format).   Over the past two years, my royalties from ebooks have steadily risen, and the happy news is that sales for older titles are rising, too.   This is very good news for writers.

    That Apple tablet is my dream machine, I have to admit, but I probably won’t be buying one for quite awhile.  After Christmas, when all the sales are on, I’m going to choose a reader and buy one.  

    How about you? Do you have an e-reader?  If so, which one?  How much do you use it?  If you don’t have one, why?  (No judgment.  Just getting a feel for preferences here.) 

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    19 thoughts on “The tipping point for e-readers

    1. Diana Leneker

      KINDLE!! on my 2nd….gave first one to my sister who loves it too! I also have the APP on my ITouch just in case I get stranded at Home Depot…and who hasn’t at one time or another been stranded by their DH at Home Depot? I love the convenience of it. I often preorder my books months in advance. When they are released I get an e-mail and then I go download onto my K2. Traveling is a breeze as we are usually gone from home about 6 months out of the year. I can be on Maui one day reading a new release…where often the books might take a day or so to be on the shelves there, or I can be at the airport headed home and be able to download the newest releases of my favorite authors without the hassel of plugging a computer, etc. in. I too order way to many books on my K2, but that’s OK. I don’t smoke or drink so money saved there is spent on my books!
      My family now knows what to get me for gifts…..e-gift cards from Amazon! I can’t sit and read a book anymore….just can’t. Physically, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis so holding a book open HURTS! not with my K2. Turn it on, set it on my table, lap, whatever..and I’m reading in seconds. I can even adjust the font size for when my eyes are tired! Best Gift that I have ever received!!!

    2. Debbie

      I just purchased a Sony 505, which is actually a discontinued model. I bought it from a Sony store for $161. I have heard rumors of Target stores selling it for as low as 130. If I hadn’t been able to find this model, I still would have gone with one of Sony’s three newer models. I feel very strongly that I want the e-book itself to really “belong” to me. In other words, I want to be able to house it on my computer, not just on a third party site. Also, I want the format to be readable across a variety of devices. The Sony reader ability to read epub does this. Finally, I have a ton of e-book files in html, converted from Microsoft LIT, that I used for my first reader, an Ebookwise. By using Calibre, I have been able to convert all of those to Epub and therefore was able to transfer over 100s of books to my new Sony on the day I bought it! Finally, I like the freedom to shop around for the best price on my e-books, so I can buy from any site that carries one of the several formats that can be read on my Sony, or even buy in a format that Calibre can convert to a Sony friendly format. Last but not least, touch screen and wireless technology was not important to me in a reader. I just wanted to be able to save space and carry a bunch of books around with me, which is why I was ok with the older model. OK, one more thing…check out the following sites before you make a decision: Mobilereads.com (message boards), Calibre, and Dear Author (go to the ebooks section for archived entries.)

    3. Ruthie

      I have the Kindle2 and LOVE IT! I received it as a Christmas gift last year and gave my husband his own on his birthday this year. We are both voracious readers and can’t imagine going anywhere without it.
      On our vacation to Ireland last month, we downloaded 6 books and read practically all by the end of the trip. I literally can’t leave home without it. I LOVE,LOVE,LOVE my Kindle. I heard that the ‘new’ model has a new perk, that you can download books abroad.

      B&N is coming out with the NOOK. Don’t know too much about it. Each one will have their advantages, I’m sure. Which ever one you’re considering, it’s just so convenient. And it helps the environment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still buy coffee table books, cookbooks and childrens’books. But I’m not accumulating titles that just collect dust on my bookcases anymore.

      By the way, Barbara, I’ve downloaded all your titles available for Kindle. I just wish “In the Midnight Rain” was available. Love that book.

    4. Ruthie

      P.S. TOP CHEF FINALE TONIGHT! GO KEVIN. or Brian

    5. I own the original first version of the Sony ebook reader. My husband gave it to me in November of 2006. I’ve used it sporatically at best. I’m a true lover of books and I’d rather have a real book in my hands. Also..most ebook prices do not make not owning the actual book worth it to me.

      I love the Sony and I love that they were first on the market and they’re making improvements as they go. They just updated my software on the original for free. They provided me a UPS prepaid label and 5 day’s later I had my reader back. I appreciate their loyalty to customers. I also appreciate that I can translate nearly any content to fit my Sony. Good luck doing that with Kindle.

    6. Kim

      I have a Sony Pocket. I really, really like it. Right now I’m using it to read Drood, which is a 700-plus page book, and I am really glad to not have to tote that huge book around. When I flip from side to side in bed with it, or when I read it on the bus or wherever else I happen to be, the reader feels like the perfect size. It’s clear enough for me to read without my glasses, too.

      And yet. I still have not paid money for an ebook. I’m in Canada, and Kindles were not available here until just recently (and I think my pretty navy Sony is aesthetically nicer). But my local library uses Overdrive, so I can take out books on the reader. Nice, clean ebooks never smell like smoke, and I never have to return them–in three weeks (or earlier if I finish the book), the digital file expires and it’s ready to be “checked out” by another library patron. No overdue fees!

      Right now, ebooks themselves are too high-priced for me to spend money on them. For a book I want to buy, not just check out of the library, I buy a paper copy. I think when publishers bring the prices down, that’ll change for me, too.

    7. I have the Kindle 2 after passing along the original Kindle to my oldest daughter. I was given a Sony eReader before they had Mac software, so I past that one along to my youngest daughter. I read almost nothing in traditional book form anymore. If a Kindle version isn’t available, I wait. Holding trade size paperbacks or hardcovers is difficult for me (tendinitis in my wrists). Also the Kindle is easy to read while riding my stationary bike. Only 10 oz and I can turn the page with either thumb.

      I love the feature on the Kindle where I can highlight and make notes and then print all of that off of the Internet. It only works for books I purchased from Amazon, not on books that I put on the Kindle from other sources.

    8. Interesting wrinkle on the discussion; some publishers plan to delay the release of some e-books:
      http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/publishers-delay-e-book-releases/?partner=rss&emc=rss

    9. Good point, Diana, on the arthritis angle. Many conditions make it difficult to hold and read print books. I recently decided to wait on a big, new hardcover because it was physically huge and I didn’t want to deal with reading it in bed. Oh, I see Robin said the same thing–reading regular books is painful.

      Ruthie, I think I might have the rights back to In the Midnight Rain. Not sure what’s involved, but I could probably figure out a way to get it published as an ebook. Thanks for the nudge!

      Debbie, thanks for such an insightful post. I appreciate it.

    10. Top Chef! Ruthie, what a show, huh?

    11. An interesting article on e-readers, Barbara. I’ve been looking and thinking about one, and, like you, plan to wait until the after-holiday sales to take the plunge. I’ve kind of been putting the purchase off, waiting to see how the market shakes out–which brands last and which ones fade away. Looks like the Kindle and Sony are here to stay. The Nook is very intriguing. But an Apple tablet? Ooh-la-la.

    12. Ruthie

      Barbara,
      I’m so bummed on the outcome of TC. Had a feeling Kevin wasn’t going to win half way into the show. His help was horrible and he was angry and frustrated. I’m sure this contributed to his sub-par performance. That said, then it should have been Bryan. Mike??? No!!! He’s not leadership material.

    13. I’ve not yet invested in an e-Reader because none of them are especially user-friendly for handicapped people, and I have a problem with glare-related eye strain caused by electronic screens and monitors. When I consider buying a book that is available in e-format only, it has to be print-enabled or I can’t read it (which is also one of the reasons I oppose DRM-protection for books; it prevents the reader from printing them out.) I’m also not crazy about the inconsistent pricing of e-books.

      I’m hopeful that in a few years the e-reader manufacturers will address the needs of handicapped users, and publishers will agree on a reasonable price for them. Until then I’ll be sticking to paperbacks and what I can print out.

    14. Debbie

      I just noticed that QVC is offering an eReader as the Today’s Special Value today (Friday, December 11th.) I’ve never used the brand they are selling, but I have heard a few nice things about it. In any case, it reads epub and pdf. It also allows you to share books, ala “Nook”, with up to 5 others. And, the colors are mag!

      The nice thing about this is that QVC has a great return policy, 30 days no questions asked (and if the truth be known, I have been known to stretch this) and the Reader is payable over 3 months, which means you can get it and try it out for a month while only paying a third of the price. My experience is that refunds are prompt.

    15. I bought a Sony at the beginning of this year. Well, I had a friend in the US purchase it for me and send it down to NZ. Ended up costing me about NZ$630 but I swear it’s worth every penny. Unfortunately, I’m completely unable to purchase ebooks through the Sony bookstore, which, to be honest, really rips my nightie.

      I still tend to buy my favourite automatic keeper authors in paperback but with the price of books here I love being able to purchase ebooks in supported formats and put them on my Sony for later. If I’m lucky enough to find new favourite authors then I tend to look out for their paperbacks as well.

      To be sure I really would use an ereader, though, I downloaded a couple of ereader applications to my Palm and bought some books. Of course, I found I really enjoyed the portability etc, and being able to read at night. Screen size however, was totally the downer there, and not being able to read in broad sunlight.

      Makes me laugh now, though. I was one of those who always pooh-poohed the idea of ereaders etc and ebooks becoming popular and swore I’d never cross over, but here I am :-)

    16. admin

      Lynn, it was my impression that Kindle’s screen is non-glare, a different technology than previous electronic screens. Is that not true?

      Yvonne, funny how that happens! :)

    17. I started using my iPod Touch as an e-Reader last November, and I haven’t bought a paper book since. I never in a million years dreamed I’d like eBooks. But the Kindle intrigued me, and a friend pointed out I could use Stanza on my iPod. Now I have the Kindle app and the eReader app also. I buy all my books from fictionwise, and it kills me when they don’t have a title that works in my format. But I don’t go buy the book elsewhere. I just wait. The most frustrating thing about eBooks was figuring out which format worked and which didn’t. Especially since PDF became some strange thing called digital editions, and that doesn’t work on Stanza. No problem once I joined fictionwise. :-) What a great post. I think you’re right about the big shift. I love that I have five books with me at all times, and my audio books are in the same place.

    18. “Lynn, it was my impression that Kindle’s screen is non-glare, a different technology than previous electronic screens. Is that not true?”

      It’s supposed to be non-glare, from what I heard, but while it’s not backlit it does reflect some light. With the Kindle version 1, which a friend lent me for the weekend to try out, I found that the dark background color of the display (I think it’s called an electrophoratic screen, but don’t quote me on that) very hard to focus on because it looks like you’re reading a page in the dark. If there was a way to adjust the contrast between the font and the background, I didn’t find it or make use of it.

    19. I bought myself a pink Sony for Christmas. Now I’m wondering how I’m going to manage the hardback final book in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy :)

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