Friday, December 23, 2011

eReader Wars

Woke this morning dreaming about digital eReaders. In my dream a company called Digital Mayflower had been the pioneer in eReaders, which is funny because when I woke and looked it up online, there really is a company called Digital Mayflower, though in a different technology category. The trigger for this dream was an Editor’s Pick article that I read yesterday in Wired magazine about eReaders.

About Wired Magazine
In 1994 I took a one day class about the Internet at U of M, Duluth in part because I wanted to be ready for the coming technology revolution. There were many highlights that day, chief of which was searching through libraries in Berlin and Pisa via Archie, doing Veronica searches. When I got home, abstracts for several articles were magically downloaded onto my 20 meg Mac… Right then I knew something powerful was happening.

The second highlight was less profound, but quite practical. The instructor said there’s a new magazine all of us should be reading, and he showed us his copy of Wired. I went out and bought a copy and have been reading it ever since.

Back to the Story
So yesterday I was paging through the January issue which I came in the mail earlier this past week. In the midst of a hundred other topics was this Editor's Pick article by Tim Carmody. In Carmody's estimation, the surprise winner is... the Kobo Touch.

Huh? Never even heard of it. But I'm sure they will make hay with the endorsement, because Wired magazine is no longer a fledgling start-up. It is a million reader powerhouse whose recommendations and endorsements have real clout.

For the record, you really don't need an eReader to read eBooks. Browsers like Chrome can download books from the store or the Barnes and Noble eUniverse. But as Carmody points out, "When it comes to book-length reading, no glowing LCD tablet screen can hold a backlight to the eye-saving e-ink of these readers."

Other eReaders compared and featured included the Nook Simple Touch, the Sony Reader PRS-T1 and the Kindle from Amazon. And why it matters which eReader you choose? Well, the Kindle and Nook each have special relationships with the "mother ship" and the more Kindles there are, the more Amazon sales will soar. Ditto for B&N for buyers of Nooks.

Despite Wired's influence, Kindles have been selling at the brisk rate of a million per day as we head into Christmas, undoubtedly due to the low price point of less than a hundred dollars per unit. Nook countered by lowering the price on its own eReader.

To best understand the eReader wars, picture the theater industry. Hollywood made the movies, but there was a time when no one could view them without the theaters. The distribution network gave the film industry its power. Likewise modern ePublishing. B&N and Amazon maintain the inventories, but the distribution systems determine which resource people will use to buy their eBooks from.

For this reason questions were raised in various blogs regarding the article's selection of the Kobo. Why? Because something is at stake. And here's the first article I found in response: Paul Biba's short and too the point Wired’s Tim Carmody stacking the deck against Amazon ereaders? Slanted review warning! It's a really concise criticism that you'll really want to read if you're still undecided between a Nook, Kindle, Sony and now Kobo.

The heart of Biba's beef is summed up in a paragraph that appears after listing the four eReaders reviewed by Carmody.

What’s going on here? Carmody is taking a completely different category non-touch Kindle and comparing it to three higher-end touch ereaders. In addition, one of the “Cons” he lists of the low end Kindle is that it has ads. This same version of the Kindle is available without ads, but he chose not to mention this and then decides to use the ad version and list it as a con.

Biba's barb ends, "Shame on you, Wired."

On the very same day Carmody posted a few comments of his own at another site.

The January issue of Wired has my first article/review in the print magazine, a roundup of new e-readers. We didn't get to include the new Kindle Touch or the Kindle Fire, because they weren't released until a month ago (magazines take a long time to make!). But I was still surprised at how much I liked the Kobo Touch and how disappointed I was with the $79 entry-level E Ink Kindle.

Kobo put up scans of two pages of the review. (I don't even have my print copy yet! The world is crazy.) Still, very happy to be in my first issue of the magazine — and I'm already writing something for my next issue now.

Personally, I don't care one way or the other what eReader you choose. I already have my Kindle and love its ease of use. What matters more to me is that people continue to enjoy reading. The high volume of eBooks being sold seems to indicate that there are still a lot of folks with this passion.

Books are a labor of love for those who write them, and authors find no small measure of satisfaction in connecting with readers who appreciate their work, in whatever form it is encountered. As an author myself, I am not very particular whether you buy my novel The Red Scorpion at or B&N. What matters to me is that you enjoy the ride.

Here's the page to visit for a brief introduction to my four current books. And if you get an eReader for Christmas, start anywhere.

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