5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.

USA Today – EBooks to Increase

usat_logo2Interesting article on eBooks and Amazon in USA Today.

Tension grows as publishers target Amazon Kindle pricing
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2009-12-11-ebooks11_CV_N.htm

Forrester Research estimates that domestic consumers will buy 6 million e-readers in 2010, up from 3 million this year. “For the first time in history, consumers are realizing that reading books digitally can be a pleasurable experience,” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says. And that means “the sky’s the limit” for sales of e-readers and e-books.

There are quite a few similarities between the Kindle and the iPod in terms of fixed pricing. Consumers love the low price of MP3s in Apple’s iTunes Store. So Amazon has been copying that by selling new bestsellers at around $9.99, while the print version is about $25. Publishers are unhappy about this for many reasons, but it’s a trend that’s going to be difficult to prevent.

The big rumors are that Apple will eventually release a tablet computer that may even rival the reading quality of these ebook readers. If that happens, there’s going to be a pricing war to sell the cheapest books, magazines, and other content for ereaders. After all, once someone commits to one of these online stores (like iTunes), it’s probably difficult to get them to leave.

I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. It’s unlikely that I’d leave the Amazon experience to shop in the Sony store. If I had a Nook, I’d shop the BN.com online store, since it has a really terrific selection of books. And I’d definitely shop on iTunes, since I already buy most of my music there.

Some Links:

Forrester: eReaders to Take Off in 2010

eReaders to reach 10 MillionForrester Research just released a report that suggests eReaders — like the Kindle, Sony eReader, and the Nook — will take off in 2010.

According to Forrester, “we expect sales in 2010 to double, bringing cumulative sales of eReaders to 10 million by year-end 2010.” Wow, that’s a lot of eReaders, many of which will undoubtedly be sold in this coming holiday cycle. (“Merry Christmas, grandma, here’s 1,500 books. Don’t forget to charge the battery.”)

Most people have a hard time imagining the potential of an eReader. That is, until they hold one in their hands or take a long flight. My guess is that these first eReaders, including my space-age Kindle 2, will seem rather quaint in a few years.

Right now, the eReader is just another single-use device. But pretty soon, we’ll see them double as digital planners, video players, and web devices. With more eReaders, there will be more reading options.

Yup, this is the start of something great.

Flexible Future – Readius eReader

Readius-hand-smRight now, we’re in the early stages of ebook technology. The playing field is rather flat, as consumers haven’t truly made a decision about who will be the leader in the field. Mainly because the grass in the field still hasn’t matured enough for a real game.

A new ereader by Readius shows a lot of promise because — get this — it rolls up. Yeah, like a little newspaper. How cool is that?

Okay, in concept, it’s really cool. In practice, the first Readius is chunky and uninspiring. It’s sort of like early “portable” computers that weighed 20+ pounds. My first portable was like lugging around a cinder block

But this is new technology. And if you’re willing to squint a little and tilt your head to the side, the darn thing looks a little like the future of ereading. Because after all, isn’t an ebook supposed to be about breaking out of rigid standards and into a more flexible future?

My Books Get Three Stars

Two of my photo reference books received a three (out of four) star rating by a reviewer from Comics Buyers Guide (CBG). In the September, 2009 issue of CBG (#1657), the reviewer wrote, “I would recommend these books and photo reference to all prospective artists.”

Whoo! That’s good stuff. CBG is the world’s longest running magazine about comic books, so hopefully it inspires people to check out my books. You can advertise all you want, but a good review from a respected reviewer and publication goes a LONG way.

So far, I have published three photo books, which you can check out on my buddyscalera.com website. More to come in the future!

Old Videos from Wizard World

Back when I was at Wizard Entertainment, we produced a bunch of videos to promote the Wizard World Chicago Comicon, which the company had purchased. It was a great experience to produce these videos. Here are two that I uploaded to my Flickr.

Wizard World Chicago 1999

Wizard World Chicago 2000

See more stuff at http://www.buddyscalera.com

Book Expo 2009 – A quick recap

Book Expo 2009Last weekend I went to the Book Expo of America 2009 in New York City. It’s a show that comes around every three years, so it’s not one that I want to miss. As the author of several books (and hopefully more in the future!), I attend the shows to network and connect with publishers.

Since last show, however, we’ve seen the launch of ebook readers, including the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle. Many publishers offered ebook versions of new releases, which seemed to draw little attention from media reporting on the event. And yet, neither Sony nor Amazon nor Google (which is now selling ebooks!) had any significant presence at the Expo, which is more or less a professional trade show.

As an author, I would have liked to have seen at least Sony and Amazon at the convention with big informational booths. Y’know, preaching the digital gospel and stuff. I even brought my Kindle with me, just in case Amazon was giving away free sample books or whatever. Sadly, there was nothing there but a little standing kiosk. Nothin’ fun for us early adopters.

Side note: One of the convention organizers said that the word “BEA” was one of the most Twittered words in the country that weekend. That’s kind of cool. And there were several digital-focused panels, including a couple on blogging and Twittering, which was interesting to see.

Despite the ups and downs of the recession, the show still seemed vibrant and alive. It felt a little less crowded than in previous years, but there were still a lot of publishers and interesting exhibitors. It’s a brightly lit Candyland of fun for people who love books. You can’t actually buy anything at Book Expo, but you can certainly plan some of things you’d like to see under the Christmas tree this year.

And, yes, a little reassurance that (despite the digital revolution) there are still people out there who plan to buy books. At least for a little while.

LINKS – NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS

BEA Attendance Update…..

Thank God It’s Thursday: Book Expo ’09

Book Expo America 2009 – A Summary

Kindles + Kids = 37 Billion Reasons

When I talk to friends and co-workers about the Kindle 2, they are amazed at the ebook technology, but doubtful that they’ll be using one anytime soon. At a price of $359 (and during a recession), they’re right. They probably will NOT be using an ebook this year. Or next.

But you know who will? Their kids.

According the the US Department of Education, there were approximately 34.9 million children in grades K-8 in public schools in 2008. By 2014, they estimate that number to increase to 37.2 million.

That’s a lot of students. That’s a LOT of textbooks.

According to some Internet sources, it can cost anywhere from $800-$1,000 to give textbooks to students every year. Some sources say an average textbook is about $52. (It’s hard to offer a good credible source. If you have one that supports or disputes this claim, please offer some links.)

So simple math here based on 2014 enrollment estimates:$1,000 times 37 million is $37 billion.

Anyway, kids. Yeah. Expensive, aren’t they?

Kids don’t need paper to get the benefit of the education that’s been written. They need information to get smart. We can give them Internet access, but that’s just one resource.

My Kindle ($359) weighs 10 oz. My laptop ($1,200) is about 5 lbs. That may not be much for me, but it is for a 10-year-old.

In a few years, it’s likely that we’ll see government-issued ebook readers replacing overstuffed backpacks. It may be the Kindle or the Sony e-Reader, but it will probably be some new manufacturer that has big government contracts.

Something more durable and utilitarian. Something that’s less hackable and more controllable than the average PC.

Teachers will assign chapters and reading over the school’s wireless network. Schools will only pay for the chapters they assign. New editions of textbooks will be downloaded directly from the publisher’s website via secure FTP.

Less paper. Less storage space. Less money spent on giving textbooks to 37 million students per year.

Say what you will about public schools, but most people in the US attend these schools. Our country generates a lot of smart people because there are a lot of smart people running and teaching in these schools.

A back of the napkin calculation shows that we may be looking at $37 billion in textbooks in 2014.

You can bet there are school administrators crunching numbers too. And while the economics of first generation ebook readers don’t make sense now, that will soon change. Prices will drop, technology will improve, and the economics will become compellingly obvious.

You may never read books using an ebook reader. But your kids in grammar school? They will.

Links….Not Necessarily Endorsements:

Don’t Sue Me, I’m Just a Blogger

Some day, I may write a scathing, irony-laced blog posting that draws the ire and fury of some individual or business. It’s not likely, mind you, but it could happen.

Maybe I need MediaGuard blog insurance, which is now being offered by Chubb Specialty Insurance. Nope, I’m not making this up. This, my dear readers, is a sign of modern times.

Y’see, community generated content doesn’t have a big corporate sponsor backing it up. So if a politician is angry at how an article was written, there are ways to address those concerns. The political party can threaten to pull their advertising from a newspaper…but that’s not really going to scare a blogger. Or they can threaten to sue the media organization.

Right now, here in North Jersey, we’re watching a blog-saga unfold in real time, as a prominent political figure is suing a citizen for things that she’s written in her blog. Check out: Free speech, thin skin and cyberspace and 80 take speech fight to streets from our daily newspaper, the Record.

In the case of a newspaper or media outlet, they may have lawyers on staff. If not, there are plenty of corporate lawyers in the yellow pages. Media moguls have a budget and can fight a lawsuit, if they so choose.

But what if you blogged something that someone didn’t like? Do you have the funds to defend yourself against a lawsuit?

Which, of course, brings us to our MediaGuard insurance.

Nowadays, bloggers are no longer just technogeeks who have the ability to understand web development. Nope, blogging takes little technical ability to get started. As a result, there are lots of really influential and important blogs out there that generate lots of traffic and attention. Blogs like the Huffington Post and Perez Hilton get more traffic than some newspapers have readers.

A mention on one of those sites…good or bad…can have a effect on someone’s career. And, of course, that alone could make someone want to sue them. Or you.

Blogger insurance. It sounds funny today, but will you need it tomorrow?

My First Self-Published eBook for Kindle

I’ve officially entered the eBook age. As an author, I have published my first eBook for the Kindle. Gimme a big “whoo hoo!”

To explore the technology, I wanted to get something up there on the Kindle store. So I took the complete scripts for my comic book series “7 Days to Fame,” reformatted it, created a Kindle account, and published it on Amazon.com.

7 Days to Fame eBook cover

7 Days to Fame eBook cover

Check out my 7 Days to Fame – The Complete Scripts eBook for the Kindle. It sells for a whopping 99 cents.

To be honest, it wasn’t very hard to reformat for the Kindle. Mostly it just came down to reformatting for the smaller screen and checking for bad line breaks and hiccups in the code. Just a few hours of work and now it’s done.

This isn’t the first time I was part of an eBook. There’s a transcript of a podcast interview that I did a few years ago with Paula Berinstein called Writing Comic Books: A Writing Show Interview and I was a technical consultant on the photo book Artist’s Digital Photo Reference – Landscapes.

But for me, this is much more fun, since I actually did the reformatting myself and published it. It’s…addictive.