E-book readers became very popular in 2009. These devices had been around for a decade – the Franklin eBookman was released in 1999 – but it was the launch of the Amazon Kindle 2.0, and the larger Kindle DX model later in the year that seemed to propel both e-book readers and e-books into the mainstream consumer consciousness. The Kindle reader quickly became Amazon's best selling product and, with the huge growth in the e-book reader market, other manufacturers either upgraded their existing readers or developed new ones to get their share of what was clearly a hot, emerging market.
With so many different e-book readers available, and considering that they are "hot gadgets", it's no surprise that there is a lot of focus on the hardware. It would be easy to get so wrapped up in the technical aspects of e-book readers that the broader – and more important – implications are overlooked.
The fact is that, as well as changing the way that books are read, e-book readers will change the way that books are published, purchased and delivered. Without getting too melodramatic, e-book readers probably represent the biggest change in books and reading since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1442.
Changing The Way We Read
When it comes to reading, most potential customers will probably be more interested in how e-book readers compare with reading a "real" book than how one e-book reader compares with another. The e-ink technology displays used in modern e-book readers really are very good and produce a reading experience that is similar to reading printed text on paper. A recent survey of U.S. e-book reader owners found that 80% of them preferred using their e-book reader to reading a traditional paper book. That's a fairly solid endorsement of the reading experience.
Changing The Way That Books Are Bought And Delivered
Most e-book readers feature either 3G or Wi-Fi wireless connectivity these days. That means that, as long as you have a connection, you can buy and download an e-book whenever and wherever you like. Much is made of the fact that e-books consume no paper, ink or bindings. The fact that the delivery of a physical book can double its carbon footprint is often overlooked. The fact is that e-books are both environmentally friendly (even allowing for the materials and energy used in the production of the reader hardware) and cheaper than conventional books.
As far as publishing goes, e-books change the traditional cycle of hardback release followed, usually a few months to a year later, by the paperback edition. The cheaper e-book edition is now available alongside the newly published hardback version. This is something that has caused the big publishing companies – who want to protect their profits from hardback sales –something of a dilemma. However, they will need to embrace the new technology and adapt their business models to suit.
The Disproportionate Influence Of E-Book Reader Owners
The fact is that the owners of e-book readers, although currently in the minority, are a very influential group. People who read a book a month are not about to rush out and buy an Amazon Kindleor Sony Daily Edition reader. People who own an e-reader read a lot of books. They are the target demographic of both booksellers and publishers and will therefore be as instrumental in shaping the future of books as the e-book reader manufacturers themselves.