Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Toying with the Future of the Kindle!

"Indian cave painting that is remarkably modern looking. Behold the future of the human race and the Kindle!"

A prominent local independent bookstore owner sent me an email just the other day explaining that book sales were undergoing a "temporary" lull over the introduction of a new "toy." She meant of course the Kindle as well as all e-readers and what she was intuiting is that said Kindles, et. al, are just a passing phase.

Is she kidding?

Does anyone really think Kindle and E-Readers are going to go away anytime soon or at all for that matter? Isn't this the same as saying the music industry has decided to give up downloads in order to go back to vinyl or 8-track tapes? Should we give up digital cable television for the old rabbit-eared reception broadcast over VHF waves? Maybe we should all hand in our personal computers for adding machines and slide rules?

How about you dear reader, what do you foresee as the future of the Kindle? Do you see it going away soon? Fading into the sunset like last year's most popular T-shirt? Do you think of it as a toy? Under what circumstances will the toy simply disappear, the literary sales paradigm once more ruled exclusively by paper books that can also be returned to the publisher for cash on the barrel-head of they don't sell within six weeks?

Here's my opinion: The Kindle will disappear when we finally reach the end of days, and both electronic readers and paper books give way once more to cave paintings and stone tablets.


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  2. Will the Kindle go away? Not sure. Can't say no, but I doubt it. Not for a long while anyway.

    What I don't think will go away, though, are ereaders as a general category of device. Whether they are something that's solely dedicated to reading or multi-function devices will remain to be seen. Personally, I think we will see a rise in tablet devices that do several things, one of them being an ereader.

    My concern with ereaders like the Kindle and the Nook and several others are that they are tied to specific book stores. I know that as long as an ebook is DRM free it can be converted to be read on any device. But that seems like more work than a typical reader wants to go through. Convenience is a big seller for ereaders. A three step process to get to a book really cuts into that convenience. But back to the original point. What happens to Kindle owners if Amazon fails, as unlikely as that may seem? To Nook users if B&N goes belly up? Kobo is Borders doesn't make it.

    That's my big question with ereaders because I think that as a general category of devices they are here to stay.

  3. Kindles will always be around...however they will evolve. I have access to all my Kindle books via Iphone, PC and my Kindle.

    Publications such as teen magazines and video game cheat books will go digital most likely. Childrens' books wll go digital as well, and be even interactive.There's already a Kindle commercial tailored around a boy who is 9 or 10 who gets a Kindle from grandma. (That totally sucked for me. My daughter saw it and she is 8 and was like hey!)

    Print will always be around. There is just such an intamacy about the smell and the touch of a paperback book.

    Thats just my musings...

  4. As someone who works in newspapers and loves books, I understand the argument that people love the touch and feel of a newspaper/book. That's why print will always be a round. And for the near future I agree. I don't think physical books will just disappear.

    But what happens when the boy from the commercial, or even your daughter, get older. If most of what they've grown up with is a digital book stored on an ereader then the physical book won't have the appeal it has for most of us now. That's when I think you see the physical book essentially disappear. I think people are expecting there to be this big crash in the printing of physical books (And I'm not saying this is you, Bri). I don't think that's how it will happen. The disappearance of physical books will be very gradual. Barely noticed by those who aren't paying attention.

  5. Your bookseller is clinging to false hope.

    Publishing is entering a singularity, and no one really knows what things will look like on the other side. We only know they will be radically different.

    Ebooks aren't the cause of the industry's problems. The underlying problems have been there for years.

    The biggest is that there are simply too many books chasing too few readers. This has caused waves of wrenching consolidations as publishers trimmed lines, authors were dropped from contract, and publishing employees were laid off, and imprints folded and larger houses acquired smaller ones in attempts to gain economies of scale. I expect more such consolidation.

    It was paralleled by consolidation in retailing. The big chains like B&N and Borders increasingly squeezed the independent bookstores, who couldn't match the pricing power of the big boys. They in turn were pressured by discount retailers like Target and Walmart, who are in turn under pressure from warehouse outlets like CostCo and Sam's Club. And Amazon is pressing everyone.

    The most recent development is a possibility that Borders may try to acquire B&N. That would seem unlikely on the surface: Borders is smaller and a lot weaker than its larger competitor. But over 40% of Borders' stock is owned by a hedge fund that has committed to raise the money Borders would need to make a go at its bigger rival. The hedge fund will want to combine the two, cut costs drastically, and try to boost the stock price of the resulting company to sell their holdings for a substantial profit. Whether the resulting entity will be able to survive is another matter.

    Add in a down economy with less disposable income available and book sales dropping across the board, and you have a recipe for upheaval.

    Ebooks may become the saviors of publishing, but bookstores will be hammered. I don't see print books going away. There are whole classes of books that are not good fits for reading electronically. Consider volumes on art, design and photography. They tend to require color, which dedicated readers save the B&B color nook don't offer, and a much larger viewing area than any like reading device will possess.

    But I *do* expect to see ebooks cannibalize the mass marker paperback. Stuff issued in that form is well suited to electronic publication. What happens to bookstores if the MMPB goes away, replaced, if at all, by Print On Demand editions for those who simply must have a physical book? Can the typical bookstore whose stock is predominantly MMPB editions survive? What will they sell instead?

    I don't see the Kindle going away. I do see increasing diversification in reading devices. The Apple iPad and the B&N nook color are the tip of an iceberg. Dedicated readers like the Kindle, nook, and Sony Reader lines use eInk technology for the screens, which offers dramatically increased battery life and a reading experience a lot of folks find superior to reading on LCD screens.

    But ebooks predate dedicated readers. I still use a Palm OS PDA as my preferred reading device, as it does more than just display ebooks. Lots of other folks do the same things with smartphones, as an increasing number of ebook reader apps become available. It was no surprise when Amazon released the Kindle app for the iPhone. Amazon wants to sell lots of ebooks - far more than the market with an actual Kindle device can buy.

    Current experiments focus on ebook "apps" that can take advantage of the underlying hardware. The popular ePub format is a container, and what it contains doesn't have to be text and static illustrations. There's no reason an ePub file can't include audio and video, and we're seeing the first fledgling experiments along that line.

  6. @ Jarrett,

    Interesting perspective...I have never considered that. Thanks for sharing. And giving me an idea to blog about.


  7. I agree that Ebooks are here to stay, and hope they will be the catalyst for the moribund publishing and bookselling industry to take a long hard look at their value stream. At the moment it seems to me it makes sure it takes good care of everyone except the writer, and particularly the new writer. Small wonder the industry has no future when it never invested in one.