As suggested in our research report, “E-Readers Will Take off With Holiday Shoppers in 2010,” Gartner stated that the pieces were not in place for e-readers to be the must-have holiday gift for 2009 and that 2010 was a more likely time for product take-off. Early indications confirm our research with Sony and Barnes and Noble having delays in fulfilling orders for this holiday season. The new IREX DR800SG is currently missing in action with a few reports that it will be available “soon” both online and from retail partner Best Buy. The net is, the majority of new entrants to the space will have missed both Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2009, two prime days for shopping.
Amazon proudly boasts that the Kindle was its leading product choice during the early shopping season. One has to wonder how forthcoming Amazon is in telling buyers they can only buy books from Amazon.com (that is without illegally jailbreaking book files) and that most books available for free from public libraries will not work on the device. And while Amazon has added PDF support to the Kindle via a firmware upgrade, it will not read Adobe ACS4-encrypted PDFs (which is what most libraries utilize). Those issues aside, the Kindle won’t be facing much competition for those looking to ride the early wave of standalone device e-reading.
Even with Kindle winning a one-horse e-reading retail race, it will be a hollow victory. For starters, a number of “enhanced” e-readers, such as the Alex, will be announced at the 2010 CES show in early January. These Android-powered enhanced readers divert from the pure standalone category by offering a second screen for viewing videos and even web content to provide developers a more fertile platform for value-added book applications. Also consider Google Edition and its cloud-based approach to manage all of a reader’s book content and provide access across all devices. If successful, Google flattens the device opportunity and could force the Amazons of the world to be “Google Edition” friendly. And then we must consider the moving target that is the launch of the alleged Apple Tablet. The rumor mill’s magic 8-ball now says second half of 2010 for an Apple Tablet launch. In the meantime, Creative, Dell, Microsoft and most of the Taiwanese PC manufacturers have an e-reader, enhanced e-reader, tablet or netbookish device on the drawing board.
The simple caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) seems like the watchword for those currently shopping for e-readers. What seems cool today could be a paperweight next holiday season. Publishers must not lose faith in the digital opportunity despite the market cacophony; pushing for open standards and creative value-added e-reading applications should be the publishing world’s immediate course of action.