Friday, July 30, 2010

EReader Wars

Amazon has announced two new Kindles. These are respectable units with better contrast, longer battery life, and lighter weight. In fact, they weigh around 8oz or 1.5 as much as a Droid X. The best part is the price which is $140 for the WiFi version and $190 for the version that includes a built-in phone connection.

There is speculation about the cost of producing these. Informed opinion is that the $140 model costs at least $100 to manufacture and possibly as much as the list price. That is bad news for anyone trying to sell these at a profit.

I don't think that this is a consideration for the three big book retailers - Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Borders. They could just about give the readers away. In fact, they are giving away software that runs on other platforms. The object is to sell EBooks. The readers are incidental.

I've written about this before but the latest round of prices seems like a good time to repeat myself.

With the Kindle, Amazon had a chance to do for publishing what Apple did for music with ITunes. Their rivals recognized the danger and reacted. Time will tell if they reacted in time but the important thing is that they are still in the game.

Amazon made one big mistake with the Kindle. The IPod can play MP3s as well as content from Apple. Right now the closest thing to MP3s is the open EPub standard. The Kindle will not read EPub books, only Kindle books.

This is important to my wife. She might consider an EReader but she gets most of her books from the library. Our library system has provisions for checking out books... in EPub format. So that means that any reader we get will have to support that format. That means a Nook or one of the readers that Borders sells. That, in turn, locks us out of Amazon.

Now, if Amazon supported EPub then I might be pre-ordering a Kindle now.

What about the IPad? There is no way I am going to buy one to read books. I can expect to save more than $140 over the next year or two and the EReaders are a lot lighter and easier to carry than an IPad. It would take forever to save enough to justify a $500+ device. If I was going to buy an IPad anyway then I would go ahead and download the apps for Kindle and B&N and Borders but that's a different rant.

The next move may be up to the publishers themselves. How strongly will they push the two competing standards? If they do nothing then Amazon may be able to win through its sheer size. If the publishers make at least as many books available through EPub as through Kindle then Amazon may be forced to capitulate.

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