Most people would argue that the e-book market has nowhere to go but up, however analysts continue to be surprised by just how fast people are ditching ink for pixels. According to the Association of American Publishers e-book sales from January to August were a staggering $263 million, this compared to just $89.8 million during the same period last year. This threefold increase in sales certainly helps to validate the market, and it looks like the impact of having so many affordable e-book devices on the market is finally starting to kick in.
In January 2009 anyone wanting to read an e-book needed a device worth several hundred dollars, and had to worry about DRM protected content with no guarantee over future compatibility. Today just about anyone with a smartphone can tap into several different e-book stores, Kindles and Nooks have never been cheaper, and some little known company by the name of Apple launched the iPad.
E-book sales still only account for about 10 percent of books sold, but it still paints a clear picture for brick and mortar retailers. The trend is not your friend.
Sony Readers have been hard to recommend lately, especially given the intense competition in the e-book market. With both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offering less expensive devices with onboard Wi-Fi enabled stores, the Sony lineup was starting to look a bit dated. It also certainly didn’t help matters that they announced their public refusal to participate in the recent price war, citing their attention to quality as a defining characteristic. The flagship Sony Reader’s recent claim to fame has been their touchscreen displays, but many have criticized the device for this reason as well since the glass overlay can be difficult to angle against the natural light required to enjoy e-ink displays. Since the current generation Sony PRS-600 doesn’t have any sort of built in backlight, overhead lights create an iPad style glare that can be maddening at times.
With such glaring issues in the lineup many had written Sony out of the market, but according to Cnet’s “most trusted sources”, the company is preparing to launch new models named the PRS-350 and PRS-650, both of which are rumored to feature some sort of touch interface. We hope this means Sony has addressed the glare issues mentioned above, and hopefully they will recognize that there is still a market for single purpose reading devices, and that touch isn’t necessarily the only way to go. No word on if the devices will feature Wi-Fi or 3G, but if they plan to continue charging more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble my guess is they simply can’t afford not to.
What does Sony need to do in your opinion to stay in the game?
If you had asked us what electronic device had no business running a multitouch display, we’d have said eInk-based ereaders. Apparently, we don’t know what we’re talking about, because the Bookeen Orizon is an ereader with a multitouch screen. Why? So you can adjust the zoom level. No one wants to use buttons for that, right?
The Bookeen Orizon will be out in May and will retail for $250. When the current price of a Kindle or Nook is just a bit higher, they must really be banking on people going crazy for the multitouch. The screen is 6 inches and the device will come with 1GB of built-in storage. There’s no book store for this product, but it supports whatever ePub files or PDFs you’d like to put on it.
Even if you don’t need an integrated book store, why get this over a Sony reader? Is anyone really hankering for multitouch zooming on their ereader?
Digitimes claims that as the electrophoresis technology used to produce eBook reader screens matures the demand for color will pick up. Fujitsu already has a color eBook reader, the Flepia, on the market, but only available in Japan. Prime View International is expected soon to launch its own color electrophoretic display based on E-Ink’s color filter solution. And AU Optronics is developing a color e-paper without the use of color filters that is expected to start production by the end of 2010.
While Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader, with their gray-scale screens, have proven popular, color may be what’s needed for eBooks to become mainstream. Geoffery A. Fowler, of the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog, sees color as opening the door to new content providers, such as magazines, which in turn could stimulate new demand for the devices.
Google has announced that over 1 million out-of-copyright books in its online book depositary, Goggle Books, can now be downloaded in the open EPUB format. The move is aimed at making these public domain books more accessible. The EPUB format is supported by an increasing number of devices, including e-readers, netbooks and phones.
“By adding support for EPUB downloads, we're hoping to make these books more accessible by helping people around the world to find and read them in more places,” Brandon Badger, product manager, Google Books, wrote on the Inside Google Books blog.
The announcement follows on the heels of the unveiling of Sony’s new Reader devices. Recently, Sony announced that the EPUB format will be supported by its upcoming Reader devices: the Pocked Edition, the Touch Edition and the Daily Edition. Google Book users can now choose between the PDF and EPUB formats.