For publishing industry watchers, it came as no surprise that electronic readers and e-books were hot topics of discussion in the book trade section of the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which concluded earlier this week in Las Vegas.
The CES is a non-public trade show held each January in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the preeminent trade association promoting growth in the consumer technology industry. The CEA represents more than 2,000 corporate members involved in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and integration of consumer electronics products.
This year some two dozen companies reportedly had e-readers on display at the event. To accommodate the influx, the organizers, for the first time, provided the innovators with a dedicated e-book tech-zone on the CES show floor to display their wares. This is yet another indication of the growing popularity of e-reading technology.
Notwithstanding audience fascination with the range and diversity of e-readers on display, much of the buzz revolved around rumors that Apple, the creator of the mega-selling iPhone and iPod, was preparing to launch a new multimedia tablet device that can be used to read books and newspapers, watch movies and TV shows, play games and surf the Internet.
Industry experts are speculating that the device will come with a 10 to 11-inch touch screen with full-colour display, and is likely to cost between US$600 and $1,000. Apple reportedly plans to unveil the new tablet at an event scheduled for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on January 27.
Talk of the Apple tablet has been picking up traction from a widely-circulated report by analyst Yair Reiner from investment firm Oppenheimer, which suggests that the tablet will have a major impact on the way the publishing industry sells its products.
According to the Reiner report, contacts in the US have been telling Oppenheimer that Apple has been approaching book publishers with a very attractive proposal for distributing their content.
“Apple will split revenue 30/70 (Apple/publisher); give the same deal to all comers and not request exclusivity. We believe the typical Kindle/publisher split is 50/50, rising to 30/70 if Kindle is given e-book exclusivity … As innovative as it is, we believe the Kindle has disgruntled the publishing industry (book, newspaper, and magazine) by demanding exclusivity, disallowing advertising, and demanding a wolfish cut of revenue. The tablet is set to change that. It should also make e-books more relevant for education by simplifying functions such as scribbling marginalia,” says the report. http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/01/05/apple_tablet_publishing_industry/
Numerous industry experts share Reiner’s views, including some who believe Amazon’s competitors are ganging up on the online giant to try and dethrone the Kindle by offering e-readers geared more to magazines and newspapers than books, and targeted at business professionals.
Glen Burchers, a marketing executive at Freescale Semiconductor, a leading manufacturer of microcontrollers, microprocessors and semiconductors. told the online computer technology forum, Macworld that his company is working with at least 20 different companies to bring e-readers to market this year. Freescale makes the chips used in most e-readers, including the Kindle, http://www.macworld.co.uk/digitallifestyle/news/index.cfm?newsid=28212&sms_ss=email Burchers also disclosed that Freescale plans to launch new e-reader chips this year that will reduce the cost of the materials in an e-reader by about 25 percent.
Not only are more and more companies scrambling to get a slice of the growing e-reader market, increasingly the trend is towards the creation of large-screen, multi-media devices offering a wide variety of functionalities. Consider some of those that were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show.
One, in particular, that caught the eye of tech enthusiasts is the Skiff e-reader developed by a New York-based, electronic-books startup backed by the venerable Heart Corp. The Skiff team is credited with building an integrated digital content and commerce platform to deliver a wide selection of newspapers, magazines, books and blogs wirelessly to dedicated e-readers and other devices, including smartphones and netbooks.
The Skiff e-reader is being touted for its sleekness and durability. It has an 11.5 inch touchscreen will full-colour display and a resolution of 1200 x 1600 pixels. You can use it to easily access and wirelessly download newspapers, magazines, books and other digital content purchased through the Skiff Store and from multiple publishers. You can also use it to access personal and work documents. It weighs just over one pound and is hailed as the thinnest e-reader on the market, with the largest and highest-resolution electronic-paper display created from a flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil. The non-glass screen makes it less vulnerable to breakage.
Skiff Chief Marketing Officer, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer told patrons at the CES that the company plans to enhance its e-reader by adding video services that could be used in textbooks, and features to help corporate users manage documents. They’re also collaborating with newspapers and magazines to introduce ads within the text of stories, a feature that is not available on the Kindle and Sony e-reader.
It was further announced that Skiff along with Marvel, a leader in communications and consumer silicon solutions, had developed the Skiff™ Reader Development Kit (RDK), a cutting-edge reference design that manufacturers can rapidly prototype and use to create innovative reading devices with various display sizes, fast performance, and reduced overall component costs.
Meanwhile, Hearst Corp., the 122-year-oldpublisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen – and a major backer of the Skiff – has placed its bets on the device with the hope of using it to sell digital versions of its publications.
E-book fans at the CES were also wowed by the Alex dual-screen e-reader powered by Google’s Android Platform and created by Spring Design. It comes equipped with a primary 6-inch E-Ink display and a secondary 3.5 inch, colour display, LCD touchscreen. It’s the only dual-screen Google Android-based e-reader to fully integrate web browsing and reading. It has full browser capabilities and dual-screen interaction technology that enables users to search the Internet on the 3.5-inch screen while displaying books, magazines and even personal, educational and corporate documents on a paper-like 6-inch screen. You can also use it to access music, videos, images and annotate text with comments and hyperlinks to other web sites and online resources. Priced at $399, it is scheduled to go on sale in the US from February 2010. http://www.springdesign.com
The Virginia-based Entourage Systems, meanwhile, is set to launch its Edge “dualbook” – a part e-reader, part tablet netbook. One side has a 10.1-inch LCD screen with full-colour display and you can use it for email, to surf the Web and watch videos. The other side is a 9.7-inch grayscale E Ink display designed to replicate paper. The two sides can be flipped to look like a two-leaved tablet. It also has a camera and microphone, 4GB of expandable internal memory and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. The device is capable of doubling up as a mini-netbook and an audio-video recorder and runs on Google’s mobile Android operating system. It costs US$490.
Based on recent research findings, the Consumer Electronics Association has predicted that the e-reader market will double in 2010 and continue to grow, resulting in a doubling of the market by the end of 2012, and a further increase to 16 million e-readers by 2014,
To date, Amazon has refused to disclose sales figures for the Kindle. This has prompted some industry insiders to speculate that its claims of bumper sales of the device, particularly during the Holiday Season, may be nothing but hot air and hype intended to keep its competitors guessing and on the defensive. No doubt, reports of high Kindle sales are good for Amazon’s share price. Nevertheless, the general consensus is that there is growing demand for e-readers, especially as the prices of e-books are relatively low and more books are becoming available. Further, as the makers of the devices expand their capabilities, they are likely to have greater appeal, all the more if the prices drop over time.
A further omen of where e-books are heading is the announcement by Random House last week that it has created a new role of Digital Sales Director, UK & International within the company to be headed by Ben Wright. In it’s press release announcing the appointment, Random House conceded that “the move recognises the growing importance of online and digital as an integral part of the Group’s sales operations,” and would “ensure the seamless provision of digital sales opportunities.”
Random House Group UK Sales Director, Garry Prior said: “As our industry undergoes a rapid pace of change, it is important to keep ahead of the pack to ensure that authors and customers benefit as much as possible from the exciting sales, marketing and distribution platforms which emerge.”
Judging from the e-reader sales projections by the US Consumer Electronics Association and various market-research groups, the e-book phenomenon is an inescapable reality of the global book trade that authors, including those from the Caribbean and other developing countries, need to watch closely and ensure it is factored in during their contract negotiations with publishers.
As of December, the Amazon Kindle DX with its 9.7 inch screen and Global Wireless features became available in more than 100 countries around the world. Expect even greater penetration from the online giant if, as has been predicted, e-reader prices decline, making them more affordable. It’s not yet clear whether other e-readers like the Nook and the Skiff will follow the same mass-market route as Amazon. All the same, the Caribbean’s book-trade sector would do well to brace itself and stay informed.
Check out some reviews and great photos of the CES E-book Tech Zone: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/01/ces-201-ereaders-go-bonkers-at-ces-sales-expected-to-double.php