22 July 2009

Kindle Killer?

There's been a lot of news lately surrounding "Big Brother" Amazon and its wildly successful Kindle. Recalling e-books afer purchase? Consumers were refunded, but it definitely rocked the boat when they couldn't find a replacement for some of the titles.

Plastic Logic, based in Mountain View, California, is making the eReader, available in 2010, that hopes to compete with Amazon's Kindle. Guess who partnered with them? None other than the world's largest book store chain, Barnes & Noble. Four months ago, Barnes & Noble aquired the e-book retailer Fictionwise and is now starting its own massive e-bookstore on its website, BN.com. In an announcement Monday, B&N stated that over 700,000 books would be offered and available to be read on a variety of today's popular devices including the BlackBerry, iPhone, various desktop and laptop computers. Before the aquisition, Fictionwise offered over 600,000 books in its catalogue.

Some good news, for now, is that over 500,000 of the e-books offered on BN.com can be downloaded for free! How? Well, through an agreement with Google to provide e-versions of public domain books that they have scanned from university libraries.

How many books are offered for the Kindle device? Ah yes, 330,000. Oh, and Google's public domain collection? It can't be read on a Kindle. Barnes & Noble is going for the throat.

According to some though, BN.com isn't likely to dent Amazon.com's Kindle sales.
"I don't think they will be stealing market share from Amazon," said Sarah Rotman Epps, a media analyst with Forrest Research. "If anything I think they are contributing to the whole growth of the category of digital reading."
Yes, more consumers will be reading on their mobile devices, and it makes sense to market to those readers, as opposed to zeroing in on consumers buying dedicated reading devices, like the Kindle. But who is providing the content available to both a dedicated device as well as other mobile devices? BN.com.

What about pricing? As for the device itself, Plastic Logic has their lips sealed. As for the content, the $9.99 charge that has become the de-facto new and bestseller e-book price set by Amazon.com for Kindle sales will remain the same, according to William J. Lynch, president of Barnes&Noble.com.

Pricing is a huge deal, in e-book sales. Pulishers don't want to be undercut sales of hardcover editions -- which average a hefty $26. Erosion of publisher margins = unhappy people.
“The pricing policies won’t remain static,” Mr. Lynch said in an interview. “We’re working with our publishers on various pricing models. As the pricing model evolves over time, we will adjust.”
The concern of publishers' MVP titles being sold at "mass market paperback prices" is strong, says David Young, chief executive of the Hachette Book Group. This coming from the publister who pumps out books by Stephanie Meyer and James Patterson. It's still a valid concern though.

Personally, I think BN.com should offer "library model" pricing. Offer the e-books for 1/10 of the paperback pricing for a limited time, say a month. After that, you can either pay 3/4 of the paperback price, or delete it and owe nothing. I think it could be popular, and drive sales as well as e-book volume up. At the least, it would make this battle amusing.

So, now that that's out of the way, on to the tasty part of this: the device. (Queue sexy music.)

(image via Plastic Logic)

Nicely targeted at the business user, as well as the personal user, the eReader is 8.5 by 11 inch letter-sized, extremely thin at 1/4 inch with a full touch, glare- and eye-strain free plastic screen sporting the latest EInk technology. One flick of your flinger to turn a page. Small side menu on the left that pops out to reveal a toolbar and on the right, tabs for recently read books and documents. Wi-fi and 3G connectivity.

Wait, 3G connectivity? What is this magic you speak of? It was announced today that the mobile broadband connection on the device will be provided by AT&T's network. This could be a debate in itself (I won't go there), with the heat that AT&T takes, but in reality these devices will be using such a small amount of the network. What's intriguing is wi-fi access. I could see the 3G as being very useful if you don't have access to a hotspot.

Will Barnes & Noble be able to pull ahead in this race despite the Kindle's head start? Will the recent Amazon.com e-book blunder and pulisher gouging tarnish their reputation enough to aid Barnes & Noble? Who knows! Things just got more interesting though.

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