In the research that led to our report, “Publishers Explore Digital Editions, Devices as New Channel Opportunities,” Mike McGuire and I debated/handicapped the merits of various e-reader devices and their chances of becoming the go-to gadgets for reading books, magazines and newspapers. Our conclusions were, well…inconclusive. With recent events, those inconclusive conclusions are even more…well… inconclusive.
Item one: Google adds book reading capability to the iPhone as well as phones running Android. It’s not an app per se, but if you go to http://books.google.com/googlebooks/mobile/ you see a site that has a number of books whose copyright expired that can be read on the phone’s 3.5-inch vertical display. A few scenarios could result, one in which Google (who recently resolved its feud with book publishers) sells books on behalf of publishers or one in which Google builds a book reading application and Apple sells books in the iTunes store. Everyone gets a piece of pie.
Item two: Amazon launches Kindle 2 which retails for $359. The new device includes text to speech conversion so books can be read aloud. The product will no doubt be met with initial demand (some pent up, some folks wanting to upgrade) but does it have legs in a tough economy? On the heels of the Kindle 2, Plastic Logic whose work in plastic electronics has yielded a new device that has been embraced by USA Today, the FT and book publishers via distribution via Libre Digital. Cost and business model (as in wisely partnering with publishers to offer unwritten, branded models) will roll out during 2009.
The e-reader scrum boils down to the iPhone Swiss Army Knife approach or the apparent Amazon standalone approach. It’s not a dead-on match in terms of features and functionality; from what I hear the Kindle offers up a pretty sweet book reading experience while the iPhone’s is passable as part of its multifunctional capabilities. On a cost basis, though, yet another device that has one purpose needs to offer a fairly exceptional value or experience versus one that texts, IMs, reads emails, allows you to find your lost car, read newspaper feeds and … As Alton Brown, the Good Eats guy says, there’s no room in my kitchen for a unitasker.
But maybe it’s not that simple. Amazon has a large and growing music library. Amazon also has a TV and movie service available through a growing number of partners. And, to enable smaller publishers to find their way onto the Kindle, Amazon offers free transcoding to make content Kindle ready. Add that to a bigger screen, built in WiFi (making it a de facto Web TV device, albeit in black and white for now) and content across varied media categories and things begin to take shape.. Let’s also not forget that Amazon is the music download supplier for T-Mobile’s G1 phone. So, perhaps Google is ready to partner with Amazon by building the rumored Kindle reader for Android (and other) mobile phones.
So, have we reached any new conclusions? No. Have we pointed out the e-reader space may finally be on a path to fulfill its potential? Sure hope so.