iPad – Week 1

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

It’s been a week, and I do believe I am in love. Well, at least serious infatuation.

One week with the Apple iPad, and I’m wondering two things:

  1. How did I live without the iPad before this?
  2. Why is free WiFi still so hard to find?

Here’s what I love about the new iPad:

What I don’t love:

  • Screen that seems to pick up a little too many fingerprints
  • Shiny display that is difficult to read outside on a nice day
  • Bit too heavy and wide
  • Apps that still haven’t been reprogrammed from the iPhone to the iPad

The Amazon Kindle still holds a place in my backpack, just based on super-light portability. But the iPad sure does offer a lot more function and fun.

And this is just the first week. Not bad, Apple. Very impressed.

For Sale: Print

Marvel Comics on iPad

I have seen the future…and I am selling all of my books.

Okay, not all of them, but an awful lot of them. Books, comic books, magazines, and just about everything print. Y’see, I’ve had an Amazon Kindle 2 for over a year now. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing little machine.

But then I saw the iPad, and it changed the way I thought about books, particularly comic books.

Tablets have been around for quite a while. In fact, at work, we run tablet PCs with Microsoft Windows. It’s a nice technology, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t lend itself to reading full novels. Even comics were a little awkward, since you had to use a little stylus to turn the pages of a digital comic.

Apple’s iPad interface is amazing. It’s intuitive, pleasant, and fades quickly into the background. Admittedly, it’s not quite as good as the Kindle when it comes to reading plain text books. But it’s terrific for reading comics. And if they get that screen just a tiny bit larger on the next version — without increasing the total size of the device — it’ll be about a darn near perfect comic book reading experience.

Lots of comic book friends think this is just crazy, but I happen to think that it’s the way I’ll be consuming comics in the future. Sure, part of the comic book hobby is bagging, boarding, and saving your comics. But if you think about it, that’s just a tradition rooted in print and distribution.

Back in the early days, comic books were distributed on the news stand. If you wanted comics when you were a kid, you went to the nearest news stand, pharmacy, or convenience store and got your issues. The problem was that there were very few comic book stores, so it was difficult, and often very expensive, to find back issues of comic books. Scarcity increases price, so that’s the short version of why some old comics are expensive. More people want them than there are comics to buy, and suddenly, people are paying a million dollars for a single issue of Superman.

Because of this relative scarcity of back issues — and the fact that some comic book stories are one long serialized saga — people learned to buy and collect comics. A supporting industry sprung up that supplies bags, boards, boxes, and just about ever variation in between. Multiply that by a few decades of my personal collecting fervor, and I have a room that’s seemingly overrun with white boxes.

As I stare at the iPad, I wonder how many comics will fit on this device? Better yet, how many will fit on my Mac, which I can transfer over to an iPad or whatever device? How many boxes can I possibly clear out of my collection, and how much of my man cave will I be able to reclaim?

One by one, I have been getting rid of my regular books. I’ve donated them to book sales, shared them with friends, and have basically just purged many of my bookshelves. There are still keepers, but the vast majority have found a second life somewhere else.

High quality digital content is easier than ever to find. You can even do it legally through Amazon and Apple, which means that you’re not stealing from the pockets of your favorite writers or artists. The only thing that is changing is the distribution channel, and bookstores, comic stores, and newsstands are scrambling to adapt to this new profit model. Some will survive, but many will not.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what to do with my comic book collection. It’ll be a few years before everything in my current collection is ready in the digital format. It’ll start with the mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, but it will move quickly to independent publishers. I’m a traditionalist, so if publishers offer comics on DVDs with large runs of back issues, I’ll be buying those disks. They are so compact that it’s easy enough to store huge collections.

The way content — including ebooks — is popping into the Apple iTunes store, I think the future is happening sooner rather than later. And that’s just fine by me.

In the meantime, does anyone want to buy some classic comics? Cheap.

Another eReader Convert

Another day, another ereader convert.

Yup, another co-worker came to the office today to show off his Kindle. He admitted that my relentless raving for the Kindle pushed him over the edge. That, and he ran the numbers, and realized that he’s actually going to spend less on his reading materials. He’s a heavy reader of new non-fiction books, so the cost of shipping alone from Amazon and BN.com was apparently adding up.

He loves the Kindle and was showing it around the room. His favorite feature? His back no longer aches from lugging around books. Nice.

The falling cost of ebook readers is increasing the amount of content that you can get electronically. The improved capabilities coming from the Nook, Kindle, and the Apple iPad are inspiring content creators and even marketers to look at new ways to distribute content electronically. It’s a beautiful circle of ever-increasing growth for electronic publishing. It’s a lot like the early incarnations of websites in the 1990s, except on an accelerated timeline.

Like the early Internet — heck, like anything early in the development stage — the ebook and ereader market is going to experience explosive growth in many different directions. Some of them will be logical, especially in hindsight. Some directions will be surprising, and perhaps even illogical. Other directions will fizzle and be left to Net history and Wikipedia entries.

People jump on new technology like it’s supposed to be fully de-bugged and realized in the first or even second release. It’s never been that way. Consider the first cars or telephones or televisions or even the first computers. These devices evolved naturally, as engineers and users determined was features were valuable and which were unnecessary. It’ll be the same way with ereaders and ebooks. You can wait it out or you can jump in and be part of the virtual team that de-bugs and priortizes our future technology.

Today, one of my co-workers joined the revolution. One day, we’ll laugh about how primitive the Kindle is compared to our more advanced devices.

Nook – Now for Games

Nook with Chess

With all the buzz on the Apple iPad (for good reason) and the inevitable comparisons to Amazon’s Kindle, it’s easy to overlook the poor Nook.

Barnes & Nobles released the Nook amongst much fanfare, but failed to deliver enough units for the holiday season. It was a shame, really, when you consider that the Nook would have made an awesome last-minute gift.

Amazon may have won the hearts and wallets of online shoppers, but there are still lots of folks who like the traditional shopping experience. That’s the advantage that Barnes & Nobles will need to exploit more aggressively to differentiate themselves from the Kindle.

Just today, BN.com announced that the Nook now allows you to play some basic games like chess and Sudoku. Not to pick on the poor Nook because it is a dandy device. But chess and Sudoku in glorious black and white? Seriously? Is that your response to the iPad? What’s next? Pong?

Barnes & Nobles seems strangely intent on battling Apple on their turf (cool games) and Amazon on their turf (download ebooks). I’m no expert on bookselling, but I would imagine that they should be pounding the competition in places where they dominate — brick and mortar stores.

Barnes & Nobles is winning the real estate war. They claim to have 775 retail locations in the US and 636 bookstore locations. Sure, Apple has a handful of stores, but you’ll find that there are far more B&N locations. Amazon is strictly online.

Since it’s one of my favorite stores, I hope that Barnes and Nobles gets serious about making the next version of the Nook a serious mobile ereader with all the appropriate and logical features. And to do that, they need to exploit their unique value and killer app…their stores.

Apple’s 10 Billion…eBooks?

Apple iTunes Store Sells 10 Billion Songs

Ten billion. That’s how many songs have been legally downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store.

This is what that looks like: 10,000,000,000

If it look impressive, that’s because it is. And it is significant because it may represent a small victory in the war over digital piracy. Apple has made it easy and affordable to buy music (something the record industry didn’t do themselves). As a result, people have paid money for stuff that they can easily steal.

If you own an iPod, iPhone or some other Apple device, you know that the Apple iTunes Store is really, really easy to use. Plus, they sell more than just music. You can get movies and TV shows as well.

As the iPad comes out, Apple will begin to roll out ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and other new media content. It’s going to be a broad range of materials, many of which will be purchased by the download. (Currently there is no subscription model.)

From a content perspective, this is a huge opportunity. People have grown used to getting content for free on websites. Few websites have managed to get money out of their visitors. Marvel Digital and Disney Digital have online subscription models, but those are premiere brands with highly exclusive content resources and characters.

As the iPad hits the streets, Apple is going to be working hard to get you to pay for content. Amazon already gets people to pay for ebooks and blogs on the Kindle, so there is a segment of the population prepared to pay for content.

No, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking forward to paying for stuff that I am getting free today, but that’s how it goes. Only so many websites and publishers can survive on the freemium model. Eventually someone is going to have to pay.

Sure, there will always be people who figure out a way to get stuff for free. In fact, many pirates don’t rip DVDs and MP3s because they want the media. They do it because they enjoy the challenge of cracking the code or beating the system. (And DRM doesn’t seem to work.)

With ereaders like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, publishers are going to have to figure out a way to get people to buy digital books and magazines. Free is not a sustainable business model for most publishers. As the music industry will attest, it’s not going to be easy, but it is possible to get people to pay for media.

Price them right, make them easy to get, and maybe in a few years I’ll be blogging about how there were 10 billion ebooks sold on the Apple store.

LINKS – NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

iPad – Content, Marketing & Comics

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

If you’re a Macintosh fan or a Steve Jobs zombie (Jobzie?) today was like Christmas. Maybe even better. Today, as if you didn’t know already, Apple finally announced the long-awaited tablet device “iPad.”

If you follow this blog, you know that I primarily talk about content, interactive media, and marketing. Oh yeah, and occasionally comic books. So let’s talk about what the iPad means for each of my favorite topics:

  • Content: Well, as I’ve said before, it all comes down to content. The best device in the world will only go so far on mediocre content. Touch screens are cool, but they need to be worth the extra cost.
    Positive: As usual, Apple fully delivers on the iPad. Right out of the gate, you’ll be able to tap into the iTunes store for eBooks, videos, games, and music. Plus there’s probably a lot more content on the way. You can buy the iPad knowing that Apple will provide plenty of content in full, brilliant multimedia and color.
    Negative: It’s hard not to compare the iPad to the Kindle when it comes to reading ebooks. At this point, it looks like Kindle’s e-ink has an advantage over the iPad’s screen. It’s just nicer to read books on a reflective surface, as opposed to an active matrix display. Sorry, color just isn’t that important for the enjoyment of text, particularly long-form prose.
  • Interactive media: We’re now in a society where we fully expect to be able to interact with a certain amount of media. And Apple doesn’t disappoint here. The iPad is packed with nifty new tech that will allow us to touch, drag, scale, and game. We are at the tip of the creative iceberg, and it’s exciting to just dream about the amazing applications that will take advantage of the iPad platform.
    Positive: What’s not to like? It’s going to revolutionize gaming and allow you to take your fun wherever you go. As a parent, I love portable movies and games. Apps are what made the iPhone special, and the same tech will work on the iPad. Nice.
    Negative: It looks like I may have to re-purchase movies that I have on DVD so they play on the iPad. Something tells me I will be buying a lot of stuff to feed my iPad.
  • Marketing: At the core, Apple is an electronics manufacturer, but somehow they have managed to position themselves miles above the rest of the industry. Their brand is huge. No other manufacturer can launch a product quite like Apple. Plus Steve Jobs knows how to give a presentation. If you’re a marketer, take a close look at your lame PowerPoint decks and ask yourself if you can somehow do better. (You can.) Apple’s marketing is a brilliant mix of art, science, and magic. This is what they should study in universities.
    Positive: Apple breaks many marketing rules, but somehow they make it work. We can all learn from them when it comes to branding and event marketing. Apple makes it look easy, even though they are probably working like mad in the days leading up to the event.
    Negative: What they do as marketers isn’t really taught in school. And try as they may, very few marketers can match their magic formula for generating excitement around product launches. But is this really a negative? Nah, it gives us marketers an achievement goal.
  • Comics: It’s hard to say how this will affect the comic book business. Comics are already being pirated and distributed through torrents. Up until now, people had to buy printed comics to get a decent experience. Sure, you could read a pirated comic on your computer monitor, but the mechanics were wrong. Monitors are horizontal, while comics are vertical. Marvel’s Digital Comics actually give a pretty good experience, but it still required you to be sitting in front of your computer. I work in front of a computer all day, so sitting at my desk to read is a bit unappealing. Printed comics are still my favorite way to read full-color comic books. But for how long?
    Positive: The iPad could make reading comics really exciting. I would love to read my monthly titles on a nice, clear tablet. I could store them on the device (as opposed to reading them in the cloud), that would free up a lot of space in my house. Set the right price, and I will pay for a digital subscription to my favorite comics. I’m ready, let’s go.
    Negative: The pirates are already killing comics the way they nearly killed music and movies. If piracy doesn’t stop, it won’t make economic sense to create comics. Easy file sharing and torrents could kill mainstream comics as we know them today. The iPad just gives the pirates a better platform for sharing files.

So that’s it. The ‘Net and the pundits are already buzzing about the iPad. I’m going to immerse myself in the excitement and optimism.

Merry Christmas, Apple fans.

5 Reasons You’ll Be Using an EReader in 2 Years

sony-reader-prs505-b

Sony Reader PRS-505

Do you look at ereaders and ebooks and wonder “what’s the big deal?” Then you’re probably like a lot of people who understand the technology, but figure that printed books, laptops, and iPhones are good enough.

Yeah, hate to break it to you, but in about two years, you’ll be using an ereader. It won’t look like today’s Kindle or Nook, but it won’t be that different either. Ereaders are an inevitable next-step technology.

The W+P=W Top 5 Reasons You Will Be Using an EReader in Two Years

1. Prices will drop.
Paying $200 for a device like a Sony eReader when you can read a book for free? Crazy, right? Well, not so fast. Is the book you’re reading actually free or did someone pay for it already? That’s right, someone paid for the media, even if it’s in a public library. As for the device, let’s not judge future prices by today’s prices. If that were the case, nobody could afford a plasma or LCD television in their home. Early home entertainment systems are always expensive, until manufacturers can figure out a way to drive down costs.

Today’s ereaders are relatively cheap for new technology. Expect cheaper prices, starting this year. In two years, they’ll be selling them at garage sales. Tech always starts high and comes down.

2. eBook exclusives.
Why read a digitial book when a perfectly good print version is there on the shelf? Well, just wait until the book you really, really want to read is only available in ebook format. Or the book that you have to read for work or school. Yeah, it’s going to happen, and sooner than you want it to. As you may know, I have published comics in the past. Nothing big, but I did enough to realize that more than 50% of my costs were going to printing and shipping. It’s the same for mainstream publishers as well.

Soon, publishers will release certain books only in digital formats. It’s probably going to start with textbooks, since there are 37 million kids in US schools alone. And they don’t get to choose what they read, right?

3. Free channels will fade.
When was the last time you went to a music store to buy new music? Yeah, same here. If you have an iPod, you’ve probably used Apple’s iTunes store. I love the Amazon store for new music. Every other strip mall in America used to have a record shop. Not anymore.

Now, with bookstores fading into the sunset, you’re going to be forced to do some shopping online. But print books, still need to be shipped. If you buy from Amazon, that price is fixed at $3.99 (before free shipping incentives). And the costs of shipping keep going up, up, up. One day, the cost of shipping a book will be prohibitively high. So high, that it will not make sense to buy a print book over the Net. Meanwhile, the delivery cost of an ebook will tend to remain fairly constant at $0.

Oh, and one more thing about “channels.” You know, when I was a young one, nobody could imagine paying for television. People scoffed at the idea of paying for cable TV, especially when you could just pull up the antenna and get reception. And yet, now paying for cable television is just another bill. In the future an ebook reader will be another device that you keep around the house for your basic reading needs.

4. Picture better pictures.
Right now, the graphics on Kindle are perfect for text. Pictures? Nah-so-good. The images are barely passable and sometimes downright unreadable. Lame.

In fact, the ebook reader of tomorrow probably looks a lot like your laptop of today. Except the ereader of the future will almost certainly have a touch display. Better pictures, movie watching, and web browsing will all eventually be included in high-end ereaders. Asus today announced the DR-570, a color ereader. Brilliant color pictures and 122 hours of battery life, at least that’s what they are claiming.

5. Content creators will want ereaders.
You may not pay for content, including pictures, words, and videos. Radio is free. Television is free (even though you pay for the wire into your house). But someone, somewhere is paying for it. Writers and editors and production people all need to get paid.

So the people who actually create content, like publishers, and the people who pay them (the advertisers) are already lining up behind new technology. Content creators will push hard for ereaders, especially since it will give them a new way to aggregate their content. Yes, piracy will run rampant, but enough people are willing to pay for good content that it will drive down the cost of the devices.

More importantly, content creators will gain access to incredibly detailed statistical reports. Old media is saddled with old-style reporting. New media advertisers want details about user behavior. eReaders will bridge that gap and make the medium instantly useful and credible in the eyes of advertisers. They will bring their dollars to this new medium, making it possible for content publishers to pay the people who create the content.

So, yeah, those are my Top 5 reasons why you’ll be reading from an ebook reader in under two years. There are probably more, but I’ve got a hot date with my Kindle and my favorite blogs. (Yes, I read blogs on my Kindle.)

Caution: Your Kindle May Break

Kindle2-crackedAs of this holiday season, there are a LOT more Kindles out there. Amazon claims that the Kindle was the best selling item in their store. Ever. Some experts put Barnes & Nobles Nook sales at over 500,000 units in 2010.

And guess what? Some of them are going to break.

Yup, it’s a statistical certainty. Even if only 1% of all Kindles break, there’s a lot more of them out there to be broken.

If you check out some of the articles out there, people are already suing Amazon for the Kindle design. As a consumer, you should have a reasonable expectation that an expensive piece of technology has been tested and improved, right?

Well, not so fast. We’re talking about a product that’s been in the wild for under two years. That’s plenty of time to get market feedback, but not really enough to make significant hardware changes to improve the product.

And that’s the trouble with being an early adopter of new technology. YOU are the beta tester.

It’s cool to have a new toy. People want to see it and you get to be a geek superstar. But that comes at a price. Even early iPods broke or had lousy battery life.

Consider Toyota. Toyota worked hard to build their image of reliability, but they did it over many, many years. It didn’t happen in the first year of production.

Don’t be surprised that your basic laptop is more reliable than, say, your Kindle or Nook. Engineers have had years to make these devices more durable. And just because it fits in your backpack doesn’t mean that it will survive the abuse. The outer bezel on the Kindle is nearly flush with the screen, so that 7-inch e-ink display is pretty vulnerable to cracking. (There’s even a discussion on the cracked Kindle display on Amazon.)

Personally, I keep my Kindle in a thick, zip-lock pouch. It’s not  a traditional ebook pouch. I bought mine at an Army Navy supply store. It protects the Kindle from water. Plus it’s so ugly that nobody even looks twice at it.

So, if you got a Kindle or Nook ereader for this holiday season, congratulations. You got a cool, cutting-edge device that will give you many hours of pleasure.

Until it breaks.

LINKS, NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

Kindle Sells Big for Holidays

Kindle DXAmazon’s announcement that they sold a lot of Kindle 2 ereaders comes as no surprise. The big news was that, according to Amazon, the Kindle was the best selling item ever on Amazon.com.

Okay, that’s big news for several reasons. For starters, the obvious is that the reading public seems ready for another tech toy, even if it’s kind of expensive and primarily a single-use device. It’s also big news for Barnes & Nobles, which seems to have missed a big opportunity by not being ready with their Nook ereader for this holiday season.

I went to the B&N store near my house and checked out the Nook. It was, as I expected, just like the Kindle. I mean, other than the somewhat minor difference in navigation (that little color strip at the bottom), it looked and felt like my Kindle. Except…well, except I couldn’t buy one on impulse. Ironically, I did leave purchasing a Sudoku book as a Christmas gift. Print, for my analog father.

Borders recently announced that they’d be selling ebooks. It’s sort of sad, though, since the Borders near my house is now going out of business. I’d purchased a lot of books from that store over the years and I’m sad to see them go, but Borders is starting to look like a casualty of a much larger war being waged among bigger, better armed opponents.

And, addressing the 800 pound gorilla in the room, everyone is talking about the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet. The tech press thinks that it will be dubbed the iSlate or iTablet, since Apple seems to own the domain name iTablet.com.

Anyway, if Apple actually enters the tablet PC market — and offers ebook reading software — this could have a significant effect on how we read and consume books. And if you read comics, a color tablet will quickly change how you buy and collect comic books. The aspect ratio of a vertical tablet will complement how current comic books are formatted.

If the iTablet is like a giant iPod Touch or iPhone, as some experts predict, it will be an amazing, game-changing device.

Lots of excitement out there. Sad to see Borders go. Looking forward to the iTablet. Hope the Barnes & Nobles near my house stays in business.

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.