Tag Archives: ereader

Are Enhanced eBooks Really Enhancing Anything?

One of the things I hear often about the children’s book market is how picture books are suffering. Shelf space is evaporating for them as Barnes & Noble and Borders scale back their number of stores. And kids–at least those who read at all–are jumping into full-fledged novels much younger than they did even ten years ago. End result: Less demand for picture books.

The iPad is often touted as the savior for a re-imagined picture book, the enhanced edition. I’m still not all that sure that I get what a book can do on the iPad that makes it better, but I started to think that maybe I should get me one just to make sure I’m not missing anything. Then I came across Oceanhouse Media. They produce ebook versions of Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears.

Here’s an example of what they’ve done with the Grinch on the iPhone:

I love that Oceanhouse is trying to take picture books into this new medium, but, um… why not just get the paper book here? Both kid and mom look so uncomfortable, squished around this screen. The only real advantage isn’t an advantage at all. Parents no longer need to read the book to their kids. The app will do that for them. Mom is there in the video of this Grinch app, but she’s pretty much superfluous.

So… rather than going on a rant about how I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my mom and Where the Wild Things Are or, a few decades later, my nephew and No, David!, I’ll just say I don’t get it. On their site, Oceanhouse indicates that they’re not particlarly interested in developing concepts for single apps, but would like to hear from owners of “branded content.” That pretty much says the value in these apps is Seuss or the Berenstain Bears, not the app itself. It’s all in the branding, not the so-called enhancement.

Maybe this new medium will one day re-invigorate the picture book, but what we’ve seen so far isn’t it. These apps need to do something new, something unheard of before, something not possible before. They can’t just reformat picture books with little cues about objects in them, but need to invent a totally new art form. In the meantime, I’ll stick with picture books. Maybe everyone on my list this year will get one, new titles by new authors.


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eReader Price Wars, First Round

The long anticipated ereader price wars began this week. Apple has cornered the market for the multi-purpose device and can demand a premium for the iPad, but how the dedicated-ereader market plays out will come down in no small part to price.

Barnes & Noble started things off by dropping the price of the Nook to $199, and introducing a Wi-Fi only version (the regular version also has 3G) for $149. It’s a big plus that the Nook supports the non-proprietary ePub and Adobe DRM (plus the old standby PDF) formats. It’s also the only of these three ereaders with a color screen. Barnes & Noble needed to get cheaper than Amazon to remain in this game. Selling a device for $110 less than their previous cheapest offering is a steep move in the right direction.

Amazon responded the next day by dropping the price of the Kindle to $189. I’m surprised it took them this long following the iPad release, and even at the new price I’m still not a fan because of the proprietary Amazon ebook format. Any books bought from the Kindle Store can only ever be read on an Amazon device. Of course, there are ways you can get around this restriction, but they’re of questionable legality, and more importantly far too much of a hassle just to take your books with you when you move.

Borders also entered the fray by offering a $20 Borders gift card with the purchase of the Kobo ereader which is still priced at $149. This device also supports ePub, Adobe DRM, and PDF formats, though it can’t connect via Wi Fi or 3G. You need to plug it into a computer or sync it with a smartphone to load more books on it. I like that this device isn’t so married to a particular store, and in theory it should work seamlessly with both the Kobo and Borders ebook stores. Kobo also does the best job of offering a side-by-side comparison, though they haven’t yet updated the prices on this page or added the new Wi-Fi only Nook.

The mountain of unread paper books by my bed means that I have no fear in delaying this decision, yet again. My hunch is that by this year’s holiday one of these devices will come with enough gift cards to essentially make it free. All three will undoubtedly soon follow the Kobo and Borders model of not dropping the price, but piling on the perks. Why buy one when I can wait and hope someone else gets one for me?

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Kobo eReader: Is It the Real Kindle Killer?

What a difference an eReader launch can make? The Kobo eReader is available today in Canada, and the lack of attention on this side of the border is almost deafening. It seems that gadgets need bells and whistles to attract much hoopla, and the Kobo eReader is almost old school in the world of ebooks.

Michael Tamblyn, vice president of sales and merchandising at Kobo, recently presented at BookNet Canada’s Technology Forum 2010. There, he called it a device “for people who love books more than they love technology.” He goes on to highlight the company’s philosophy of letting the reader choose the right device for them “not just from month to month or year to year, but even within the course of a day.”

And at $149, the Kobo eReader is cheap enough to back such claims.

Kobo also hosts an ebook downloads store that currently features 2 million titles. Perhaps the best feature about this startup is its approach to ebook format. The Kobo eReader supports standard ePub, PDF, and Adobe DRM formats. If down the road you want to move your ebooks to another device, even one not made by Kobo, you can do this relatively easily. The iPad and Kindle are designed for lock in. Anything bought in the iBooks and Kindle Stores can only be accessed on future devices made by Apple or Amazon. The Nook supports more open formats, but like the Kindle it costs $110 more. Unlike all these other devices, the Kobo eReader can’t directly download new books. You need to either connect it to a computer or use Bluetooth to sync it wirelessly with a phone. Though the Kobo eReader does comes preloaded with 100 books.

Other features include the same size (6-inch) screen as Kindle 2 and similar e-ink technology. This is one of the deal breakers for me with the iPad. I don’t want screen glare for those few, though hugely enjoyable, all-day reading stints. The iPad does look like a snazzy games gadget, but I don’t need any more incentive to waste time playing stupid games.

Kobo is definitely a company to watch in this space. They’re small now, less than a year and a half old and very much in startup mode. Their approach is firmly grounded in giving customers what they want first, empire building second. The titans with whom they compete seem to be far more concerned with empire building. The Kobo eReader won’t be available in the US until summer. They’ve partnered with Borders, so US consumers will be able to check the device out before buying it. And at $149, it just may get me to take the plunge. At the very least it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kindle and Nook pricing as the competition heats up.

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Barnes & Noble Nook, Rest in Peace

You can’t help but feel sorry for the Nook. It launched to so much fanfare back in October, was heralded as a Kindle Killer with its color screen, and almost instantly sold out for the holidays. Then in January along came iPad, and all talk of Nook ceased. Chatter about iPad competition is all  Kindle. No mention of the poor Nook, though admittedly Kindle Killer is way more catchy than Nook Negater.

The iPad continues to gain speed. It just went on presale and apparently sold a gazillion units, and the number of ebook apps in the iTunes Store now outnumbers the game apps. Is there no stopping this iPad monster?

I was a little surprised when I went into my local Barnes & Noble to see a poster announcing that the Nook was “now available.” (It ships in three days for free from their website too.) I always thought one of the advantages of the Nook was that you could play with it before you bought it, but after this store visit that seems unlikely. There was a sad display with a television that looked like it was made in 1970 playing a video about how wonderful the Nook was, set at whisper quiet volume. No one was at the booth, and it all had an abandoned feel. Why would we want one of them Nook things when you can look at all them real books?! It’s no wonder that Barnes & Noble is already waving the white flag. They’ll soon launch an ereader app for the iPad.

So, it seems the days of the Nook are indeed numbered. And what is it with ebook readers and adult-themed names: Nook, iPad, Kindle. Come on guys, you can do better.

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