There Are Officially Too Damn Many Ebook Readers

A couple of years back, we condemned digital photo frames as the spam of CES - this year, in the wake of the Christmas of Kindle, every company has its own ebook reader. And that's a bad thing.

There will soon be two kinds of happy ebook-reader owners. The people who paid a fair amount for a reputable ebook reader from one of the companies they already buy books from, and the people who spend like $US50 on a no-name ebook reader that supports a lot of formats, who gets every book they can think of as a pirated copy over BitTorrent. Everyone else - both the buyers of tier-two ebook readers and the makers of them - are going to be screwed.

You know we have an ambivalent attitude about the big-name ebook readers. The Kindle is the best ebook reader you can buy right now, if you're in the market, but it's still hampered by a slow e-ink black-and-white display - not to mention a heavy reliance on Amazon's own book sales operation, which bothers some people. We respect what Jeff Bezos and Amazon have done to teach the world about digital book reading, and we understand why Barnes & Noble has to get in this game in order to plan for the future - or simply survive.

But the introduction of e-ink-based readers by many big tech companies and a handful of feisty little ones threatens to sow confusion in the market place, encourage piracy, and screw over any company who gets in and then can't really hack it against Kindle and Nook. And all of it will be a pointless exercise when long-lasting slates are a reality.

E-ink is an interim technology, a stopgap measure to keep our attention till we have full-colour video tablets (slates?) whose batteries last for "days". A flood in the market might ensure that everyone buys one by this coming Christmas, but it'll become increasingly hard to distinguish the good from the bad, will emphasise cheap devices over quality of interface and service, and will render most people completely confused and off-put.

They will buy some $US100 reader, then wonder why they can't borrow books from their friend who has a Nook, or can't get the same stuff that's sold on the Kindle. While I assume most of these new ebook readers support the ePub standard, buyers will easily run into dead ends in the labyrinth of DRM (understandably) required by the publishing business.

Some of these people will give up on buying books altogether, even if they don't stop reading. Yes, a flood of cheap e-ink readers will grow ebook piracy more than ebook sales.

In fact, cheap e-ink readers will essentially be targeted at people with libraries of pirated books, for people who read the fine print of file compatibility, and ignore all the wireless connectivity and insta-bookstore stuff that consumers are currently excited about. Many of you would say that's not a bad thing, and I think piracy is as inevitable as publishers going digital - whether they like it or not.

The worst thing of all is that these ebooks will all struggle to get out the door (like so many ebook players "introduced" last fall), or will die on storeshelves, the stuff nobody wants. Price will move some units, for sure, but most of them will be also-rans, like so many MP3 players released this past decade that weren't iPods.

Maybe this glut of ebook readers isn't offensive to you - most of you don't have to step over them on your way to cover 3D TVs that are also everywhere at this show - but there's no reason for them, and the more we try to keep track of, the more annoyed we get. Your choices: Go Kindle, wait for a cheap-as-hell reader, pray for a slate, or buy a book. A real paper-and-ink book.


Comments

    again someone saying everything should just be done buy one All Controlling Company, their way, so it can be done properly without confusion...

    tempted to spam "APPLE FA.." but I'll be good.

    so what? after the ipod all the other manufactures should have just given up?? before the touch, creative and others did ones that beat them in every avenue (except marketing, which is fair enough).

    Piracy is no excuse, no industry has been bothered enough to create a industry standard DRM for all competing companies to use. if a DRM method can be used by ONE all controlling company, the same method should be able to be used just as effectively by all competing companies in the industry, I agree that each one making their own DRM is a clusterf#$K that will not work for any DD industry.

    I bought the wife a Kindle for christmas last year and she loves it (so much so, that she vows NEVER to buy a "traditional" book again!), but I have always been happy to use eBooks purchased via Mobipocket's eBook store...

    The thing is, the Mobipocket eBook store has a pretty big collection and it's software is available for most mobile devices, but the same software hasn't been updated in 1-2+ years (depending on the device) and it's REALLY starting to show its age, on my most devices.

    Furthermore, Amazon (the company that now owns Mobipocket) has all but admitted that Mobipocket will not continue to grow and expand in the years to come.

    So I started to shop around for a new eBook reader and suitable store (just to see what alternatives there are to the Kindle range)...

    Wow - what a mess!

    Not only are there dozens of different formats, but there are at least ten different types of DRM/copyright protection (even the new ePub" standard supports MULTIPLE types of DRM/copyright protection!) and if a device supports "format a", it may not open eBooks from "eBook store name" simply doesn't support the "correct" type of DRM/copyright protection!

    Now I'm pretty technical, so for me this is not a very big issue, but to the average consumer?

    Nope, eBooks will NEVER replace "traditional" books whilst there are so many different formats AND types of DRM/copyright protection...

    The manufacturers need to get together and AGREE on not only a UNIVERSAL standard, but also a UNIVERSAL type of DRM/copyright protection - maybe THEN eBooks will actually have a chance at "becomming the future"!

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