The E-Reader Market of the Future


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Article ImageThe buzz about the e-reader market can make it easy to forget that these “new” devices have been in the works for decades. When the guy from Omaha sitting next to you on the plane raves about his Kindle, it’s clear the e-reader movement is upon us. Consumers seem to be embracing e-readers, and publishers are churning out content for them. So what does the future of these devices look like?

The Kindle is probably the best-known device on the market, but it’s not the only game in town. Its competition currently includes, or is soon to include, Sony Reader Digital Books, STAReBOOK, Bookeen Cybook Gen3, Fujitsu FLEPia, Readius, and Onyx Boox, among others. By January 2010, Plastic Logic, Ltd. will be introducing its version of an e-reader to the market. At 8.5''x11'', it is designed to replicate the magazine and newspaper reading experience. Amazon announced the release of the Kindle DX, a larger—and more expensive—version of its e-reader, on May 6. 

“The Sonys and Amazons are showing us that there is a market,” says Daren Benzi, vice president of business development for Plastic Logic. “They are both good devices. But they started with a leisure book reader, and we’re starting from the opposite side and focusing on the business professional first.”

The Plastic Logic device will support a variety of document formats, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as Adobe PDFs. Although the E Ink display will initially
be black-and-white, Benzi says that a color display is planned for the future.

Like the Kindle, Plastic Logic’s device (the name of which has not yet been announced) is roughly the thickness of a typical magazine and weighs less than a pound. It incorporates a flexible display on a plastic back, which allows for a larger screen and durability without added heft.

Hearst Communications, Inc. is reportedly working on its own e-reader, via a startup called FirstPaper. Details remain sketchy, but according to PaidContent.org, it will be a Linux-based device with a larger screen suitable for reading magazines and displaying advertisements. In April, News Corp. announced it would be investing in a large-screen mobile device for reading newspapers. CEO Rupert Murdoch indicated it would help publishers establish ways to profit from the digital delivery of content.

John Horrigan, Ph.D., associate director for research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, describes the potential market for e-readers as the roughly 8% of the general public who are “digital collaborators” and tend to be early adopters. “These are folks who are willing to put the Kindle in their bag along with the iPhone, or iPod and cell phone, and maybe another device. They are passionate enough about it to be willing to add another electronic device to their growing pile of devices.” The typical digital collaborator is highly educated, in his or her 30s, and has a comfortable income, Horrigan says.

He adds that although the market is moving in the direction of an all-in-one digital device, it will take a while for that to be a reality. “It depends on the confluence of a number of things—you need available high speed wireless networks, so you need a lot of coverage in addition to devices that have the ability to store a lot of content and display it in a friendly manner.”

Applications such as Stanza, a free reader app for the iPhone, may be getting close to making the all-in-one device a reality. Certainly the big players were taking notice; it was announced on April 27 that Amazon acquired Lexcycle, Inc., the company behind the app. The founders of Lexcycle thought it was important to make the app available for free and say they are not planning any changes as a result of the acquisition. Neelan Choksi, Lexcycle’s COO, says, “We knew there would be pushback. People saying, ‘Gosh I could never read on something that small’—even though they read email on it every day. … We wanted to remove the barriers to usage and adoption.”

Stanza’s stats are impressive. The app boasts nearly 1.7 million users from more than 60 countries, and its users have downloaded more than 7 million books. Stanza has been translated into 12 languages, and it has a customizable layout. In the latest version, Stanza also has a dimmer as well as day and night themes designed to be easier on a reader’s eyes.

“I think in a better economic time [e-readers] would be viewed less as substitute products and more as complimentary products,” says Choksi. He envisions Stanza being used in situations where convenience is paramount and a dedicated device being used when battery life is most important.

E-readers will not replace books, magazines, or newspapers anytime soon, Lexcycle’s Choksi says, but he notes, “Publishing is in a bad spot right now, so any part of publishing that shows growth is very attractive.”

(www.amazon.com; www.eink.com; www.lexcycle.com; www.plasticlogic.com)