Thursday, October 21, 2010

Putting the Week's Flood of Ebook News in Context: USA Today's ebook overview, Shelfari is iPad Friendly; Ebooks Make Us Better Readers; Ebooks Capture 9% of Market

This Special Report from Planet iPad draws from these events this week:

USA Today Ebook Overview
Reporter Test Drives 5 Ebook Readers
Amazon for iPad App Enhanced for Shelfari
'Ebooks Make Us Better Readers' Column
Ebook Sales 9% of Book Market, Nearly Double Last Year

USA Today covered ebook readers on Wednesday, pulling together quotes from a variety of book lovers sharing how they use iPads, iPods, iPhones, Kindles and Nooks. The story, by Bob Minzesheimer, was chock full of revealing anecdotal reports, then drew in commentary from author Stephen King and the CEO of HarperCollins along with information from the book publishing industry to put it in context

The story covered the “traditional” e-ink, black-and-white world of Kindles and Nooks, and lumped them together—properly so—with the triad of multiple-use devices from Apple. Reading between the lines, and with the Nov. 2 release of a special illustrated edition of Dan Brown's popular Lost Symbol, the evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that the nature and definition of “a book” is beginning to change.

The USA Today summary gently skirted an important issue regarding the iPad and its kin which may turn all of the ebook forecasts on their ears: there are Kindles and Nooks and other dedicated ebook readers, but the iPad, iPod and iPhone and its competitors are multi-functional devices already capable of going beyond long strings of words adding up to paragraphs, chapters and whole books.

Connected devices—from Kindles to iPads—are suddenly turning up in the happy hands of “new adapters” of technology, the second wave behind the “early adopters” who take the high-risk plunge into new tech toys first.

In fact, Planet iPad stumbled onto its own anecdote to add to USA Today's list.  Planet iPad friend Dick Schoeninger of suburban Philadelphia, in a useful coincidence (for this reporter) used his computer and Skype in an airport in Arizona to contact me. I had recommended the free Amazon Store book Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery, which he was about to finish. He'd read it on his brand new Android throughout a business trip from the East Coast. He wanted another recommendation for a freebie ebook to keep him company on the long plane ride home.

I recommended Henry Chang's Chinatown Beat,  pulled out of one of the daily Planet iPad free book listings.  Dick, a mid-60s exec in publishing for the insurance industry, says he took very quickly to reading a full-length book on the Android.

And that's one more anecdote to add to the stack USA Today piled up, all tales of various individual book lovers taking to the ebook revolution in their own unique ways.

The multiple-use character of iPads, iPhones and Androids—so far—suggests strongly that an “ebook” is not what it once was just a few months ago.

The still undefined “Enhanced Book” lurks just around the corner in the future. It might show more of itself with the release Nov. 2 of the new version of  The Lost Symbol.

Another peek at the “Enhanced Book” beast came on Wednesday in an email blast note from Shelfari, the book readers' social network owned by Amazon. The email touted that “Book Extras” are now integrated into the latest Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

The Shelfari email led to a link which  includes helpful images guiding readers through the mazes to find the Book Extras on the Apple products and on Amazon's Kindles and the Kindle for PC app. Of course, the paths differ from device to device. Shelfari is a social network of collaborating and contributing members and readers.

Book Extras are “curated factoids” by the Shelfari community that give readers “helpful information” such as lists of characters in the book, character descriptions, important places, popular quotes, themes, and so on. “Curated,” according to Webster's Dictionary, means to “select, organize and care for” a collection of something, as does the Curator of a museum.

Shelfari's being “curated” by “the community” is apparently a fancy way of saying the factoids will come from users in much the same way that Wikipedia is curated by its users and contributors.

And in yet another news item out this week, “enhanced book” features figured largely in a report from the Huffington Post: 7 Ways Electronic Books Will Make Us Better Readers, by Steve Leveen, founder and CEO of Levenger, seller of “Tools for Serious Readers.”

But the future shape of the Enhanced Book, whatever it may prove to be, doesn't change the comparative reality of ebook readers as most are today. And that is the venue for the USA Today story on Wednesday.

The usual pros and cons of ebooks—the physical experience of enjoying a printed book generally versus the ease of getting books without trips to libraries and book stores—showed up in the coverage of more than a handful of readers who are changing their ways thanks to ebooks.

For the author's point of view, the paper talked with Stephen King for his take on it all. He says a third of his reading is done on his iPad or Kindle, but cautions that consumers “tire of new toys quickly.” That may be a scary story line from the master of horror, but the big-picture numbers in the USA Today piece indicate today's toys may just become another artifact in life, as common as—uh—books.

Ebook sales are currently running at about 9% of total book sales, according to figures from the American Association of Publishers. That digitized hunk of the book market has been growing by triple-digit percentages over the last 12 months. To date, ebook sales are are nearly double what they were a year ago (up 193%).

More telling, perhaps, are anecdotes from many who are buying greater numbers of books overall this year because of ebook readers.

On some bestsellers, the USA Today story quotes HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray as saying ebooks are outselling print versions of the same book.

That's happened before, most notably (at least in the media) with Dan Brown's Lost Symbol.  It logged a number of days, early after its release, when ebook sales outstripped print book sales.

(See Planet iPad's report later today on The Lost Symbol: Special Illustrated Edition.)

In all of the leading indicators quoted by USA Today—from King's forecast that ebooks will account for nearly half of all book sales by 2012 or 2013 to Forrester Research's projection Americans will own 29 million ebook reading devices by 2014—it would seem the ebook surge is on the rise for the near future, at least.

In a companion article in USA Today, reporter Carol Memmot test drove five ereaders—the iPad, a Kindle, the Libre, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, a Nook. A never-did-it-before ebook device user, she read different chapters of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom for the project. 

And as for the Enhanced Book, so much discussed by the publishing industry earlier this month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, it would seem that the iPad currently has the edge with its ability to serve up “printed” words, color images, video and sound.

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