Forgive the cliché, but it seems the one constant in the realm of publishing these days is change. Every day brings at least one new story about digital publishing and ereader technology, but today two especially interesting ones came to my attention.
Branded e-bookstores coming to Germany. One of the reasons independent booksellers have trouble breaking into the ebook market is a lack of branded eBookstores or e-readers. (OK, there's Google's eBookstore, which independent booksellers can use to create their own stores, but just try shopping there directly from your Nook or Kindle!) A German company plans to help independent bookstores sell iRiver Story HD readers that are linked to their own eBookstores. Will it be a hit? Will there be a similar service stateside? I'm probably not the only one eager to find out. If your local independent bookstore sold a branded ereader, would you buy it?
Ask an author on your Kindle. Amazon has rolled out a new Kindle feature that allows you to ask an author questions about their book. The answers will appear on Twitter and on the author's Amazon page. Currently in Beta, the feature is only available for a handful of writers (photos here) but it has interesting ramifications for the business (and, possibly, for authors' productivity). So far, there haven't been many questions posted to the authors' pages, though I'm sure that will change. Whether the questions will be interesting to other readers or the authors themselves remains to be seen.
Anyone else a tech news junkie? What am I missing?
Last month we asked you to fill out a short survey about your e-reader use, and now I have the results. You may have noticed that the BookPage print edition (starting in January 2011) includes a note on whether each book we cover is available in e-book form. We know that more and more of our readers are choosing to enjoy books digitally, but we wanted a better sense of how many.
Looking at these numbers, it's clear that a significant portion of our online readership—50% of those of you who chose to fill out the survey—own e-readers. For the most part, those of you who don't already own an e-reader don't want one. If you have one, Kindle is king, although you still buy a mix of e-books and paper books.
DO YOU OWN AN E-READER?
WHICH E-READER DO YOU OWN?
IF YOU DON'T CURRENTLY OWN AN E-READER, DO YOU WISH YOU DID?
DO YOU PRIMARILY BUY E-BOOKS OR PAPER BOOKS?
By the way, these stats are more relevant than ever, as next weekend the New York Times will unveil their e-book bestseller lists. According to Publishers Weekly, there will be separate fiction and nonfiction e-book bestseller lists, along with a combined e-book and print bestseller list.
For a perspective on how e-book sales will grow, read this post from Michael Hyatt, Chairman & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, who believes growth will be slower than industry execs think.
Also, read why Web Editor Trisha Ping has known for nearly two years that she will never travel with print books again.
Question for readers: Are you surprised by these survey results?
Today we have a guest post from Freddie O'Connell, web guru extraordinaire who is hard at work on a bigger, better BookPage.com version 2.0, coming to your browser in 2011. We asked Freddie to share a little bit about his experience working on literary sites with our readers.
I am an unabashed lover of books. My shelves at home are literally overflowing. I have, on occasion, sought professional safe haven among books, working for a time at Davis-Kidd when on temporary furlough in the aftermath of the dotcom collapse. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for NetCentral, the e-commerce subsidiary of Books-A-Million. And now, I'm excited that we're working closely with BookPage on a variety of projects. Just as exciting has been our completely unrelated relationship with some exciting debut authors.
So, as an agency, we've been immersed in thinking about how readers discover books online but also how writers think about communicating about their writing to audiences online. And as an agency that focuses on our customers getting found, we must think about the way the ecosystem of sites around authors and books and book recommendation services like BookPage are engaging with their content.
In our extended collaboration with Adam Ross, author of the remarkable Mr. Peanut, we encouraged him to think about his website as a place to include a book equivalent of DVD extras, which he did naturally. So the site includes a beautiful elaboration of the Sam Sheppard case for curious readers, as well as a gallery of unused and international covers of the book. And he also took naturally to blogging and Twitter.
After launching Adam's site, we watched in awe the rise of a writer who had written the book that everyone wanted to write about. Not all critics unconditionally loved Mr. Peanut, but they unconditionally wanted to express their thoughts. So we had a few Google Alerts configured to help us track the buzz about the book on the Web, and we quickly realized how haphazard the modern editorial process is for content sites the world over, some of whom link to Amazon as affiliates, some of whom link to the publisher page for the book, a few of whom were enterprising enough to link to Adam's site directly, and some of whom link to nothing at all. As an agency that wants our customers to be easily discovered (whether by link or by search engine, many of the latter of which rely on the former), we think about these issues all the time. In this case, we've achieved good success, ensuring that Adam's site is reliably on the first page of Google search results for people searching for [adam ross].
We were thrilled when, not long after the release of Mr. Peanut and the launch of Adam's website, we were approached by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who loved Adam's site (and his book) and wanted us to create a site for her book Mad Men Unbuttoned, which is a series of essays drawn from moments in the show that elaborate on the cultural indicators to which they're clearly or likely attached in some way. Natasha reaffirmed that what was true for a fiction writer like Adam is true for nonfiction writers as well: good writers are a pleasure to work with because they're constantly thinking about the process of communicating. It didn't hurt that Helen Stevens, our Chief Semantic Stylist who gives visual life to our ideas, was already enamored of the show. She quickly captured a style that suited Natasha and her book delightfully.
One of our ongoing challenges with Natasha, though, is that she already had a blog, The Footnotes of Mad Men, that inspired the book. So when people are linking to referential material, should they link to the blog or the book site? This gets at one of the overall challenges of link building for multiple points of relevant content. Rich content sites, including news and reviews sites, aren't often structured to facilitate easily managed and usable related content. We'll be covering the topic of how there is no standard or protocol for linking readers to related information on our own blog soon.
And now we're deeply immersed in making the BookPage experience a more rewarding experience for those who love to read. We need to ensure that our friends at BookPage can deliver a fresh and meaningful experience to those arriving at the front page while still ensuring that longtime readers can discover gems from among the deep and extensive archives of reviews and recommendations compiled over more than a decade of being online. Beyond that, we need to include ways for you to interact with this rich repository of material.
So we have a ceaseless and ceaselessly interesting flow of ideas coming from the writers we work with, those who recommend the best elements of their writing, and those who love to read the written word. This is made perpetually challenging, too, by the march of technology, which gave us first the Kindle and then the iPad, possibly upending Steve Jobs's observation that "people don't read anymore." We expect that the concept of the book will evolve, and we'll need to evolve our strategies for usable, discoverable access to books along with it.
We want you to discover the book recommendation service that will help you discover your next great book, no matter how you'll be reading it. So by all means, keep reading!
An article in today's Wall Street Journal has been making the rounds on Twitter and in blogs—the piece is about the habits of e-reader owners, and as Penguin imprint Dutton tweeted this morning, the conclusions are "maybe not what you'd think."
The major conclusion? Studies show that e-reader users read more often than they did before they owned the device, but they read slower. (This does not surprise me. I read the first 100 pages of Mockingjay on a Kindle and the second 100 in a hardback; I made the switch because the lag time between pages was starting to get on my nerves.)
Marketing and Research Resources reports that e-reader owners read 2.6 books per month, whereas old-fashioned (i.e. print) readers read 1.9 books per month. (A comparison: according to our 2010 Reader Survey, 65% of BookPage readers read at least 4 books per month. 20% of you read at least 8!)
An e-reader study found that 40% of e-reader users read more than they did with print books. 55% of the group said they'd use the device to read even more books in the future.
E-reader users: How have your reading habits changed since you got your Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.?
For more on this subject, read Lynn's iPad vs. Kindle blog post.
The device will now come in two colors -- white and graphite -- and prices start at just $139 for the wireless-only version. (The WiFi and 3G version is still $189). This is a dramatic price cut for a device that cost $259 just a few months ago.
The new Kindle ships August 27.
Other changes: a smaller size (with the same 6-inch reading area), lighter weight of 8.5 oz, better contrast and an astounding one-month battery life. No word on whether the lag time between "pages," my one major issue with the Kindle 2, has been improved, however.*
Critics might ask why the web browser is still described as "experimental" or why they're not interested in accommodating or developing multimedia e-books, but I think Bezos is right to focus on building the best reading device he can instead of trying to compete with devices like the iPad.
Perhaps I need to forget about the iPod Touch I'd been saving for and get a Kindle of my own? Then again, the advances in e-readers are coming so hot and fast that it might be worth my while to hold out for $99 or less.
Anyone tempted to finally take the plunge and buy the new Kindle?
*ETA: Publisher's Lunch mentions "20 percent faster page turns" but I haven't seen this noted elsewhere.
Though I agree that it represents a somewhat creepy invasion of privacy, I can't stop reading Amazon's new list of what readers are highlighting on their Kindles. The Amazon e-book device allows readers to highlight a passage in a book simply by dragging a cursor across it, and somehow (we don't really want to know how, do we?) Amazon is tracking these selections and reporting them to the whole wide world.
At Amazon.com, one list displays the Most Highlighted Passages of All Time, with "all time" presumably referring to the two and a half years since the Kindle was introduced. A second list aims to identify what's trendy by reporting Recently Heavily Highlighted Passages. The current number one on the "all-time" list is this passage from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: "Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying." Why did this passage hit home for 1,742 Kindle users? Are they unhappy in their jobs? Searching for fulfillment? Mad at their boss? I also couldn't help but notice that the dominant book on the all-time list is The Shack, with SIX of the top 10 passages. Here's a sampler of what readers choose to highlight from William P. Young's allegorical Christian novel: "Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception—what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too." Hmm. Perhaps they were highlighting that passage so they could figure out what it means?
My personal favorite passage is this one from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been highlighted by 581 Kindle users (so far): “Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done, to have advanced true friends?” It's a lovely sentence and one that I might have marked myself.
Do you highlight passages in books as you read them? And what do you think of Amazon's new effort to track and report what readers are doing on their Kindles?
I don't watch a lot of late-night talk shows, but last night I flipped to the Late Show just as David Letterman was making fun of the Kindle—more specifically, joking about how the iPad will run Kindle out of business. During his monologue, Letterman ran a "commercial" about all the great things you can do with your Kindle. . . besides reading.
His suggestions (to watch the complete segment, view this YouTube clip; the commercial start around 3:10):
Of course, at BookPage, we've already made our thoughts known concerning Kindle vs. iPad. (If you missed Lynn's report, check it out here.) What do you think. . . is Dave right, and Kindle's on the outs?
My new iPad was delivered bright and early Saturday morning -- part of the nationwide synchronized rollout of Apple's latest device -- and the UPS delivery lady seemed almost as happy about it as I was. "This is better than payday!" she told me. "Everybody is so excited to be getting these."
In the two days since the delivery, I've found a lot to love about the iPad, but for Book Case readers I want to concentrate on my reaction to the iPad as a reader and booklover. I'll frame my reactions with comparisons to the Kindle, which has dominated the market for e-readers until this weekend.
The iPad is super-thin, beautifully designed, lightweight (1.5 pound) and easy to use. It looks and functions almost exactly like an iPhone or iPod touch, so if you're familiar with either of those devices you'll know what to expect. The screen is strikingly sharp, the colors gorgeous and the battery life amazing. The iPad arrived at my house fully charged and the battery was still going strong after an entire day of steady use. The glare on the screen is considerable, however, and because of its 7.5 inch width, holding it like a book can feel a bit clumsy at first.
The Kindle is lighter (10 oz.) than the iPad, uses e-ink rather than a backlit screen and has push button controls rather than a touch system. The screen display is black and white only (or, as some users have described it, gray on gray) -- a sharp contrast to the vivid colors of the iPad. Though the Kindle might have the edge in being easy on the eyes for hours of nonstop reading, in every other category, the iPad is a better designed, more functional device. And in addition to reading, the iPad allows users to access the Internet, read email, watch TV shows or movies, and run thousands of specially designed mini-programs (apps). Whether you consider that a plus, or an intrusion on your time for reading books, is up to you.
THE IPAD vs. KINDLE VERDICT: iPad wins this round
The iPad uses a new e-reader program called iBooks. I loved it almost from the first moment I tried it out while reading a beautifully illustrated edition of Winnie the Pooh (which comes free with every new iPad). Each page is clearly defined on the screen, whether you're using the iPad in landscape or portrait mode. And when the reader turns the page -- by dragging a finger across the page from right to left -- the page appears to curl from the edge and turn, exactly as it would on a real book. It's hard to say why this visual trick is so enticing for a booklover, but it works. Other nice features: tap on any word and you can instantly look it up at dictionary.com, bookmark it or search for it elsewhere in the text. And increasing the font size or style is one-click easy, a big help for older readers who aren't quite ready for large print books. The iPad is also especially well suited for children's books and is sure to be a hit with young readers. Children's books have been among the top ranked reading apps for the iPhone and that's likely to continue with the iPad.
VERDICT: iPad wins again
Apple has the goods -- a cool new e-reader and appealing software -- but at least for now, it does NOT have the books. Especially not a wide selection of books that would appeal to an eclectic reader like me. The very first book I wanted to buy was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which my book club is reading this month. Though I have a hard copy of the book on hand, I thought it would be interesting to compare the experience of reading the same book on the iPad and in traditional printed format. But, darn, Apple doesn't have this acclaimed book available in its iTunes store, because Random House hasn't reached a deal with Apple yet. What to do? I went back to the iTunes store and downloaded the brand new (free) Kindle app for the iPad, which enables me to read Amazon's Kindle books on my Apple device. Then I went to Amazon.com on my browser, found the book almost immediately and downloaded it to my iPad. Amazon has the shopping experience for books down to a science, while the iTunes store seems constrained, hard to browse and to search. The experience of reading Kindle books on an iPad isn't ideal -- for one thing you don't get the advantages of the iBooks software -- but for now it gives users the best of both worlds: the vast book selection of Amazon paired with Apple's sleek new device.
VERDICT: Amazon/Kindle, hands down
Which of these devices would be best for you depends on several factors, most notably whether you want a gadget only for reading books and periodicals or whether you'd prefer to have other capabilities.
Also, I have to admit that while I love my new iPad, I ultimately put it down and picked up a hard copy of The Book Thief to finish my reading. After several hours of reading on the iPad, I'll readily admit that I yearned to pick up an old-fashioned book and hold it in my hands, a posture that's so ingrained in a long-time reader it's probably been incorporated into our DNA. After all is said and done (and read), a book is still the most portable, most readable and most satisfying "reading device" of all.
On Dec. 26, Amazon reported that it sold more e-books than physical books on Christmas Day. Also, the Kindle was the top gift sold on Amazon this holiday season (and apparently the top-selling gift on Amazon.com of all time).
These stats—at least regarding sales of e-books vs. physical books on Christmas Day—did not surprise me. One of the lures of e-books is instant gratification, and if anyone got an e-reader under the tree this year, I would bet that one of the first things they did was some online shopping for an e-book.
I received only physical books this year (including Jane Austen's Little Advice Book -- Aww), although I have big plans to blog about my experience reading on BookPage’s Kindle.
Since I know readers of The Book Case are some of the busiest readers around, I wondered how you received books this year. Did you get a new e-reader? Or did your family and friends stick to gifting classic ink-and-paper books?
Also: What was your favorite book you received? My family didn't give me too many books this year (probably because my bookshelf is about to topple as it is), although I was intrigued by Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes; my cousin excused himself from our Christmas dinner table in order to race through the final pages...
Though the new e-reader from Barnes & Noble generated considerable excitement this week, a more transformative innovation is just around the corner, one that could land dedicated e-book devices in the technological scrapheap along with eight-track tapes and rotary phones. That innovation is Apple's tablet computer, rumored to be in the works for years, with an anticipated release date in 2010.
Before you splurge on a shiny new Kindle or Nook, you might want to spend a few minutes reading Daniel Lyons' recent column in Newsweek, "The Hype Is Right: Apple's Tablet Will Reinvent Computing," for an informative peek at what the future might hold. According to Lyons (and many others), the new tablet computer will become our morning newspaper, our TV and our book, all rolled into one portable and attractive package. This will not only affect how we read but what we read, Lyons says:
Look at how people have turned their creativity loose on the iPhone. In just 16 months, thousands of developers have created 85,000 applications for that device. The same will happen with tablets. These powerful devices with constant Internet access will enable us (and force us) to rethink media. What is a newspaper? What is a book? What is a movie?
How about you: have you purchased a Kindle or Nook? Will you consider doing so? Or will you wait for the next big thing?