Tag Archives: iPad

Here Cometh Google: Thoughts on Google eBookstore

Google made its long awaited entry into the world of ebooks today, with the launch of Google eBookstore. The program has a number of things that make it unique in the ebook world. Check out Publishers Weekly or Google’s own blog post for the nitty gritty.

Unlike the stores for iPad, Kindle, and Nook, Google eBookstore is not tied to any particular piece of hardware. They’ve made free apps available for Android and the iPhone/iPad. They also support the Adobe eBook platform, which means that their ebooks can be read on Nook and Sony readers. Google eBookstore also supports any Javascript enabled browser. The only real noticeable absence is the Kindle, no big surprise there. Though my hunch is Google also won’t make a Windows Phone 7 app available any time soon.

Other than the basics, here’s my initial impressions of the program:

  • The integration with independent bookstores is awesome. Independents can partner with Google eBookstore to sell ebooks on their own websites. I love this, no more guilt if I find a book in a great independent but then don’t want to go home with it right then. Powell’s has already signed up for the program, and my hunch is that there will soon be a stampede of independents to join them.
  • There is a whole lot of noise about how this program lives in the cloud. You buy the book once and then can sync it across multiple devices (Kindle offers a similar feature through Whispersync). I get why this is cool. It’s difficult. But was there a problem before all the fancy devices came along? Nope. It was simple to open my paper book right where I left off… and it was never much of a hassle to take it with me, especially since then I didn’t have to carry all this other crap (smart phone, tablet, laptop) with me.
  • You can’t get to Google eBookstore from the Google home page. You have to click on “More” in the top navigation, then “Books” and then a link that actually takes you into the eBookstore. Plus, the URL they chose for the program is: books.google.com/ebooks. Overall, kind of buried. It seems they don’t expect customers to treat this store as a destination, but it’s about having Google ebooks surface as people search, or as they shop on partner/independent sites.
  • The merchandising is worse than clunky, like the featured categories at the bottom of the store home page with amateur graphics and no cohesive design elements to pull it all together. Again though, none of it feels like this bookstore is being built as an eye candyish destination.
  • I found 1,537 reviews of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. One of the three editorial reviews at the top of the page is in Chinese, so not a whole lot of help to me. Also, even on the full reviews page, each review is given just two lines. I’m not sure why they don’t show the full text of about 10 reviews per page, and let me scroll through them. Again though, this approach seems to speak more about search, than a shopping destination.
  • The program also boasts “more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale.” That line threw me at first. If there are hundreds of thousands of titles for sale, where does that leave the other 2.7 million titles in the store. Apparently, these are all free. They’re public domain. Of course, every store for ebooks has all the classics available. The question really will be how much of a differentiator will the millions of obscure, public domain titles be. This plays well into a search strategy, where these books will surface. Each one may not pop up often, but presumably when it does it’ll be massively qualified… and free.
  • One of the headlines on the main overview page is: Discover the world’s largest selection of ebooks. Ummmm… is that possibly a swipe at Amazon? Their original tagline was: Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. It also highlights how Amazon has drifted from its original selection, selection, selection mantra to focus on the exclusivity of its platform.

All around, a big new competitor just entered the ebook arena. For a product that just launched, it feels pretty complete. Though understandably the window dressing is still to come.

It’ll be fascinating to see if ultimately the ebook market sticks with the one-stop shop (Kindle or possibly iPad) or if it prefers this multi-faceted approach where the book itself is merchandised and sold by one company, the order for it is fulfilled by another, and the device on which it’s read is manufactured by a third.

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Amazon Introduces Kindle 3

Amazon announced the third-generation Kindle today. On their home page, they detail what’s new, summed up as amazingly small and light. This new Kindle also includes the revised e-ink originally introduced in the Kindle DX, and claims battery life of up to one month.

It’s available for pre-order now, but won’t release until August 27. All around, it looks like a sleek, dedicated ereader, one that’s miles ahead of the clunky, first-edition Kindle.

Other things that struck me, not all of which are noted by Amazon:

  • The second-generation Kindle is no longer available, it’s still there but just sold by third-party sellers (many of whom have priced it far beyond what it’s now worth).
  • Similar to the Barnes & Noble Nook, there is now a Wi-Fi only Kindle available for $139.
  • The third-generation 3G Kindle remains priced at $189 (same as Kindle 2). They’re obviously underpricing the Nook, which has similar models available for $10 more.
  • They’ve incorporated a more prominent D-pad, that’s similar to, but much smaller than that on the Kobo reader.
  • The Kindle DX is barely mentioned and difficult to find on the Amazon site. It seems the DX has waved the white flag and surrendered to the onslaught of the iPad.
  • Includes native support of the PDF file format.
  • The page featured on the faceout shot of the new Kindle is from a book called “The Art of Choosing,” complete with a quote from Joseph Campbell. Chapter title: Past Is Prologue. Is this a not-too-subtle reflection on Gutenberg, his fancy device, and how customers can handle a world where every book written gets published.

All around, this looks like the no-brainer choice right now for a dedicated ereader, though Borders/Kobo and Barnes & Noble will react soon. It’s more certain than ever that the $99 ereader will be here by the holiday season.

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Odyssey Editions Covers Reminiscent of Early Penguin

Invisible ManI’ve been fascinated by the announcement from Amazon and the Wylie Agency. For those not following the story, Wylie published 20 novels on Kindle as an exclusive deal through Odyssey Editions, a new imprint created by the literary agency. Calling it “E-Book Editions of Modern Classics,” Wylie is bypassing not only traditional publishers, but also Apple, Barnes & Noble, and a slew of the other usual suspects. And their list does indeed include some modern classics, such as Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer.

I won’t dwell on the details of the arrangement, that has been covered exhaustively elsewhere. (I’ve given links to some of the better reports below.) But one thing stood out for me: the covers. When I saw them I immediately thought of another publisher, one at a similar stage in publishing history when a new format was first catching on: the quality paperback.

Penguin Books: Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row by John SteinbeckPenguin originally also launched with stripped down covers that featured little more than the author’s name and the title of the book. As detailed in this fantastic article from Smithsonian, Penguin used different colors to denote fiction, biography, mystery, etc. but other than that the covers are essentially blank. These stripped down covers branded the publisher much more than any specific author or book. Similarly, it seems Odyssey itself is the brand for the 20 ebooks it just released. While no plans to publish new titles have been announced, one can see this minimalist cover conveying some of the trappings of these first 20 titles to any new titles it may publish. Instant classic anyone?

My hunch is that Wylie studied the Penguin model, and is imitating it. Other similarities between the two ventures are apparent. They are both new imprints that launched during a down time in the economy. Each chose a limited number titles and placed a premium on quality fiction. The titles they initially published were all previously available in other formats, all that’s new is the packaging and the reduced price it brings.

The one major difference: Penguin needed to sell 17,000 copies of a book to break even. Since launching last Thursday, Odyssey Editions is most likely already profitable.

Of course, the cover design for Odyssey Editions has to be a lot more versatile than that for early Penguin. Though they look fine on the Odyssey site and Kindle itself, on the Amazon site they’re far too small to be legible. Also, the Kindle logo covers the Odyssey logo in the lower right corner of each cover. Is a slight redesign is forthcoming?

It’s surprising that more publishers haven’t gone this route of clearly branding their titles as ebooks continue to rise in prominence. How else can publishers distinguish what they bring to the free-for-all ebook market?

Notable coverage of the latest ebook kerfuffle:

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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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Is This the iPad Version of a Picture Book?

The SCBWI conference was both amazing and exhausting. I learned tons, and will write a full post about it later. For now, check out this snippet from the newly released Alice for the iPad.

I’m not sure what to think about it. On one hand, it entirely misses what reading the book is all about, fancy animations are nothing more than fancy distractions. Narrative has never been interactive, and it’s not because we haven’t had an iPad to get us there. Interactive narrative could have happened just fine while humans still enjoyed their stories exclusively around campfires.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that it looks cool. The iPad is indeed a snazzy device for games. But you don’t read games, you play them–which makes me wonder about picture and board books. Some already are mildly interactive. What would the wild rumpus from Where the Wild Things Are look like on the iPad?

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Is the iPad a Kindle Killer, or Mouse Killer?

Apple announced sales of 300,000 iPads as of midnight Saturday, the first day it was on sale. More than 1 million apps and over 250,000 ebooks have also been downloaded, in spite of reported wifi woes. TechCruch’s list of the best apps for the iPad includes the iBooks app first, and the Kindle for iPad app second.

No word yet on whether anyone has started reading any of the books they downloaded, or if they’re too busy playing all the cool games. My hunch is most folks are still tinkering with the Captain’s Log, which turns your iPad into a Star Trek (à la Next Generation vintage) social networking device, and not getting much reading done.

All this only underscores the veracity of my bold prediction that the iPad would only appeal to a niche market. Ahem, I confess bewilderment at all the hoopla, though reviews in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal did get me thinking that I’ve missed the point. The iPad is for those who consume content, not those who produce it. It’s a super-fancy, interactive, mini TV that hopes it’ll not just be a Kindle killer, but ultimately a mouse and keyboard killer.

It’s just not a device for techies, which I must reluctantly admit to being. (I do use three different laptops and two different desktops between work and home… and my e-mail account to pants ratio is a tad lacking, a sure indicator per David Pogue in the New York Times.) The iPad isn’t meant for me. The lack of a USB port and Flash support, along with the hefty price tag, are all deal breakers. Though the Apple Store still seems to be shipping the devices in just 5 to 7 business days, if I change my mind.

Overall, the best bits in all the iPad frenzy are videos. One where Stephen Colbert points out that Apple got the cover of Newsweek for free, while Amazon had to pay for the back cover. And then there’s this one, which answers the question that had to be asked:

Yes, definitely feeling a bit techie. There’s no need to buy an iPad for mindless entertainment, hours of it can be found on the Will it Blend? site, featuring the guys originally of YouTube fame. Hmmm… maybe I should get me one of them blenders.

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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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