The depressing same-ness of the ebook reader industry

This is what qualifies as news these days in the world of ebook readers.

As for features, the device is simple but practical: SD card support guarantees easy storage of eBooks and music it’s an MP3 players too, and Foxit, a company most famous for its lightweight PDF software, guarantees the device will read PDFs very well—a factor that help mitigate the reader’s lack of a Whispernet-type service.

So, this ebook reader is exciting because it’s sure to be really good at handling a file format that, while common, isn’t particularly well-suited for ebooks.

via Ebooks: $260 Foxit eSlick eBook Reader Makes Its Way to Cheapskate Readers.

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Digital distribution – doesn’t anyone get it?

This has nothing to do with ebooks directly, but everything to do with the same old problems of creating and distributing non-scarce content.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, thinks the solution for online television is “asking online users to verify they subscribe to some form of pay TV before they get to watch content on other platforms. Whether consumers pay through their cable company, the telephone company or a satellite provider doesn’t matter. This, Bewkes says, will preserve a robust environment for video by making sure that no matter where it is watched, it continues to benefit from a dual-revenue stream of subscriptions and advertising.”  Check out the rest of the article.

The problem here is that, once again, the distributor is looking to preserve the old ways of making money without a thought to how to provide more value to the customer.

You know why Hulu is great?  They provide easy-to-access, totally free video online.  They show commercials, but not many of them, and they try to make the ones they do show count.  Most of them are a little longer than your typical tv commercial, but usually quirky and just more interesting than your average commercial.  I’ve found myself actually paying attention to commercials on Hulu.

And of course, the big content providers are constantly trying to kill Hulu.  In the end, they probably will, making everyone worse off than before.

So, why won’t this “dual revenue stream” model work?  First of all, it will be impossible to implement with anything resembling the convenience of Hulu.  How do you prevent sharing of accounts?  That is, me and 1,000 of my friends get one cable subscription, and share a user id?  Well, what the cable companies will do is limit the number of computers you can use, or limit the IP addresses, or something like that.  Inevitably, this will prevent legitimate uses of the service.  For example, in my house we have four computers regularly in use – my personal laptop, my work laptop, my wife’s laptop, and the desktop hooked up to the tv.  Can my one cable subscription allow me to watch on any one of those?  If so, how can it prevent me from giving my user id to my neighbor?

What’s really absurd is the underlying assumption that, without subscription fees as well as advertising revenue, quality video content just can not be produced.  Think about all the television shows that only have one of those – HBO series, for example, or anything on regular network television.  Are these shows of substandard quality?

The next revolution in the way we watch video content won’t come from Time Warner, or any of the other big content providers.  They have too much invested in the old ways of doing things, and are terrified to embrace the new.  For the most part they seem afraid to even try to understand the new.

Online video isn’t about convincing people that “if content has value to them, it’s worth paying for”.  That’s utterly irrational.  Online video is all about taking something in infinite supply and using it to increase the value of things that are finite.  Until the content providers realize this, they will always have to crush the Hulus of the world out of existence before they show people that there’s a better way to do things.

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If convenience predicts success, the Kindle could be so much more

[Forrester Research] says convenience is key. It defines the concept in this way: A “comprehensive measure that considers the total product experience.” That includes researching the product, obtaining the device, using it, and eventually getting rid of it. The study also says that in successful products, convenience is not a benefit, but “a measure of how easy your product makes it for people to get the benefits your product promises.”

They also cite the easy downloading of books without needing a computer as the reason that the Amazon Kindle was an unexpected success.  They call ebooks on Amazon “cheap”, which is funny, but the point remains.

So, if the convenience of the total product experience of the Kindle was what made it so successful, how much more successful could it have been if Amazon had removed the intentional inconveniences?

What if you could install additional software on it?  Software to read other formats, perhaps?  An open web browser?  What if you could plug in an SD card, like every other reader on the market?

Amazon couldn’t do these things without giving up a lot of their control.  If you could use an SD card, then maybe you could use an Eye-Fi card and not depend on Sprint’s network to provide the Whispernet.  If you could use a web browser, you wouldn’t need to pay 99 cents to access a blog.

And that’s not to say that both generations of the Kindle aren’t convenient.  Being able to get a new book wherever you are is tremendously convenient.  And Amazon’s marketing (not to mention Oprah’s) means that, while few have heard of many of the ebook readers on the market, most people are familiar with the Kindle.  For the non-technical user, perhaps this is enough.  Amazon’s sales support that theory.

Article:  How to predict gadget success | Business Tech – CNET News.

Nothing surprising from the Kindle 2

How did Amazon do on fulfilling my wishes for the Kindle 2?  Failure on four of five counts, and no compelling reason for current Kindle owners to upgrade.  SD card support?  WiFi?  Free things staying free and a reasonable pricing structure for books?  All ignored by Amazon.  Clearly they aren’t reading this blog.  They did improve the user interface, to the surprise of no one.

And they haven’t given any current Kindle owners a reason to upgrade.  The battery life is better, and it’s thinner.  It’s easier to use.  It works in the two states that couldn’t get the Whispernet connection before.  All of these things are nice, but not game-changing.

Amazon had (And still has, with future generations of the Kindle) a chance to change everything about reading.  Instead, they chose to release another device with bells and whistles and a pretty package, but locked down tightly to protect their ability to continue overcharging for digital content.

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The new Kindle will disappoint

By managing both the content and the device on which to consume it, Amazon is in a fantastic position to do great things in the electronic publishing market.  Later today, they’re expected to announce the new version of their ebook reader, the Kindle.  The speculation is that it will be thinner, lighter, and easier to use.  “The “Previous Page” and “Next Page” buttons are smaller and less intrusive, to prevent accidents.”, Forbes says.  Most other articles about it are even less interesting.

The new Kindle will probably be the best ereader on the market.  The current model is already arguably the best available, so improvements should cement that position.  But until Amazon stops thinking about how to sell books in a new format and starts thinking about what fundamental changes to the way people read are now possible, whatever they might announce will be a disappointment.

It may be great for their bottom line – Amazon’s stock is doing quite well – but for everyone who isn’t a stockholder, incremental improvements to an expensive device that displays expensive words isn’t nearly as exciting as Amazon would like you to think.  It’s still just a slightly more convenient way for people to purchase and read books.

What about enabling things that just weren’t possible with books made of paper?  Interactive book clubs, automatic updates to serialized novels, communication with the author, or any number of things that become possible when you have an always-on internet connection.  But Amazon, like everyone else in the market, is too focused on protecting the old way of doing things instead of embracing everything new.

Today, and in the days to come, you will hear a lot about how wonderful the new device is, how this one is really “the iPod for books”, and how great Amazon is.  And then you’ll go back to reading books in more or less the same way you did before.

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