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Is publishing about to have an iPod moment?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:16 UK time, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Think back a decade to the year 2000 - and the state of the music industry then. The first MP3 players were already on sale, but were only in the hands of early-adopting gadget fans. The music industry was selling its products exclusively through shops or mail-order, and while Napster was making waves, the file-sharing revolution which was to transform the industry - for better or worse according to your tastes - was no more than a distant rumble. Then the following year iTunes was launched, soon to be followed by the iPod - and Apple was well on its way to becoming the biggest noise in digital music.

Cool-er  e-readerA decade on, and 2010 is supposed to be the year that publishing's digital revolution really gathers pace. There is now a wide range of e-readers on the market - in the UK devices like the Sony Reader, the Cool-er, and Amazon's Kindle are all making it relatively easy to download and read e-books.

On Monday I was involved in a discussion about the prospects for e-readers on Radio 5 Live's Richard Bacon programme. We agreed that they were becoming very attractive options for keen bookworms, especially those that travel a lot, though there were a few barriers to be cleared before they really took off. We've yet to see a really compelling device that will excite people who aren't early adopters, there's no colour yet on e-reader screens, e-books are still too expensive - and there are still too many different formats which mean for instance that if I buy a book for an Amazon Kindle I can't then read it on a Sony Reader.

Just minutes after we ended our discussion, I received an e-mail from Apple, inviting me to an event in San Francisco next week. As ever it was short on detail, but the message "Come see our latest creation", with an Apple logo imprinted on Jackson Pollockesque splodges of colour suggests one thing - a colour screen device which will give users instant access to books, magazines, and possibly video content.

So the publishing world is agog and asking itself whether the arrival of the iSlate - if that's what it is - will do to the printed word what the iPod did to recorded music. There's already talk of major newspaper groups turning up at the presentation in San Francisco next week, and no doubt big publishers will be trying to get a seat too.

But I'm not sure they should really be quite as excited - or fearful - as they appear to be. Certainly, Apple has a great track record in producing compelling devices that take existing technology - MP3 players, smartphones - and bring them to a wider public. But music was always meant to be digital and portable - we may all have enjoyed the sleeve notes on an LP but they weren't essential to what arrived in our ears.

Books, however, are in techspeak a better "form factor" than CDs or records ever were. They are portable, they need no batteries, and they can be lent to a friend far more easily than you can pass on a Kindle edition of that latest thriller. So no, I don't think publishing is going to experience an iPod moment - e-readers will gain a wider audience but our bookshelves aren't going the way of our CD racks. Still, if I were an executive at Amazon, Sony or any of the other existing e-reader players, I would be blocking out next Wednesday in my diary and arranging a company meeting for the following morning.

Update 13:00: As someone has swiftly pointed out, iTunes was launched in 2001, some months before the iPod was unveiled. It was the iTunes store that made Apple the biggest player in legal downloads, and that was launched in 2003. Thanks for the instant fact-checking!

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Not yet!!!

    I'm a Kindle early-adopter - I've had two in 2 years. They work wonderfully for fiction - I travel a lot, so it's great to carry 20-30 paperback books in the form factor of one. Aircraft, trains, coffee, the beach - any time there's a few moments of downtime, out comes the Kindle.

    But...

    I also read a lot of pop science - Freakonomics, Behavioural Economics, Steven Pinker - and Kindle just doesn't cut it for me there. I don't know why - none of these books rely on complex diagrams (which aren't very good on the ebook screen), or on lots of to-and-fro paging (ditto), but I still can't make progress for some reason.

    My only theory is that I need to think a lot more when I'm reading pop science - and I rely on the physical book layout a lot more to maintain my train of thought interleaved with the author's train of argument.

    I'm also a computer geek, and the Kindle is useless for manuals, how-to's and other reference texts. One try convinced me of that on the first day.

    So, for me, paper books still have a bit more life in them yet.

    And for comparison's sake, *all* my audio these days is digital - DAB/podcasts/iPod/Spotify. The only exception is live concerts.

  • Comment number 2.

    Absolutely agree with you on the 'form factor' part - it is hard to see how some novels would sit on just a screen, particularly some of the weird stuff I read...

    Regardless, a music track rarely lasts more than a few minutes (classical aside); digital works well because it fits lots of them into a small package, ideal for consuming lots of songs one after another on a train journey, for instance.

    Books? Fair enough, I have a big pile of books next to my bed that I'm reading all at the same time - but how likely is it, really, for a book reader to need to take several books with them at once?

    That said, a book and a newspaper and multimedia all at once, well that's another thing entirely. But Apple was never going to make just an e-book reader, was it? Sales of the dedicated iPod have been declining as the multi-tasking iPod Touch and iPhone have increased.

  • Comment number 3.

    The only part of the publishing world that's about to have an 'iPod moment' is news publishing, and this blog in particular :-(

    Seriously - when have you ever reported on an invitation to a marketing event you're not even going to from anyone that wasn't Apple?

  • Comment number 4.

    I have to say I agree in that I just don’t see e-books as a large market place. It seems to me it’s more a desperate attempt to try and hype up a segment in the hope it will take off and become the next ‘big thing’. Most other tech segments have reached saturation and growth is slowing – mp3 players, phones, DVD players etc. It would be interesting to see what the current market size is.

    Even dedicated book worms that travel a lot would think twice about spending £200+ (or £600 odd for the much rumoured apple thing). That’s a lot of books they could have bought instead ...

    I’m not sure colour is a much needed feature either – most books people take with them are mainly text although I realise that colour may then open up the range of books people could then carry around. There seems to be a rush to cram as many features in as possible but what about the most important ones – battery life (needs to be weeks for the travellers), screen refresh (no long delays between page turns) and screen contrast (LED/LCD just doesn’t work for long term reading so be interesting to see what apple come up with).

    Then you have the issues of format wars, ability to transfer books between devices, backing them up so you don’t lose everything etc and how will publishers cope with the inevitable piracy?

    One thing I’ve not noticed in the marketing though is a potential benefit – helping to save the planet. Just think how many trees could be saved by moving to e-readers rather than the disgraceful waste of paper left lying around on the trains/tubes each day!

  • Comment number 5.

    Books no Rory, but Magazines, newspapers, periodicals. These are all consumed in much the same way music used to be pre iTunes. Magazine owners surely can see the attraction in publishing a magazine they don't have to print. Users can be excited by the possibilities of combining magazine content with the kind of media you can't include in printed form. Linked music, video, games for example. If this is the route we end up going down then writers should be excited too, as this could mean the internet enabling long form journalism (which of course it does in no shape or form at the moment).

    That's what I'd consume. I'd subscribe to the sports section of the Sunday Times, the techology section of the Guardian, a games review section of one of the games magazines. I'd be happy to pay for quality content, not a huge fee but I'd gladly drop buying the printed sunday papers if I can pay roughly the same for the electronic version with the bits I don't read filtered out. As long as it's attractive content (which ebooks aren't) and I can keep what I buy (and ideally view it on my laptop/itablet/iphone).

    We'll see I guess.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have bookcases full of books I have read and feel that they are a part of my self-expression at home. However, the last four books I have read have been on Sony's prs-600 touchscreen e-reader and I have loved using it. I am almost annoyed at the number of traditional books I got for Xmas and which I shall have to plough through without my e-reader. For me at least, whilst the technology is relatively new and could be greatly improved upon, the e-reader is here to stay.
    Do stop hyping Apple though, the BBC's love-in with the company is quite bizarre. They are expensive and addicted to closed formats, they are not the consumer's friend. They make nice boxes which contain bog-standard hardware and only the hype allows them to punch above their weight. That they are innovators is a good thing, but their import is vastly exaggerated.

  • Comment number 7.

    eReaders have never appealed to me for a number of reasons:
    1. I read a lot on planes. Being unable to read while taking-off and landing is a huge negative against the eBook for me. Any sort of portable music is impossible
    2. Similarly, when travelling, a paperback book is much more robust than an eReader - it survives being dropped, kicked, stood on and having coffee spilt on it. And, should it be completely destroyed, it can be replaced for a few pounds. An MP3 Player is different - it can be left in your pocket, making it that much less exposed.
    3. Compared to a CD, a book lasts much longer. To entertain me for a long journey, I might need 20-30 CDs. I only need two or three books.
    4. For many purposes, the tactile experience of the book is important. This is particularly true if it's a book that you flick through, rather than reading from start to finish. Perhaps this is similar to the vinyl vs digital arguments; but these were mostly gone by the time the MP3 player hit the market.

    Most of the problems can be fixed - but the technology just isn't there yet. I might consider a multi-function device. In particular, this would let me get on the internet, save/view photos from my camera and, perhaps, play music. The main issue there is the screen: reading off the best LCD screen is hard on the eyes. eInk is expensive and less flexible than a LCD. I've heard rumours that Apple will use an LED screen. That may solve the problem, but I've yet to be convinced.

  • Comment number 8.

    To save other's searching the whole programme, the start time for the piece in the Richard Bacon programme is about 1hour 37mins in.

    I bought my partner a Sony eReader for Christmas - and despite having serious trouble downloading the software for a couple of days (presumably due to the many others who got them for Christmas), it works very well. The caveat is that I am a technofile and can get to grips with the downloading, varying formats, and DRM considerations. I fear that the average PC user would have problems with a lot of this. Perhaps those devices which are wireless (3g) enabled and don't need an laptop to make it work are easier for the average user. 2010 is not the year of the eReader - there are still format wars, shops with proprietary DRM solutions, and no consistency in the downloading approach. I reckon 2012 is a more likely date for critical mass to be achieved.

  • Comment number 9.

    I believe we are at the tipping point now. Well that is certainly true for me, I have tipped.
    I pride myself in never jumping on a technology fad until it is mature and never ever after the event; I am normally ready for the next new thing when anyone else notices.
    When the second generation iPod came out I was off away from Apple into the world of Korean mp3 hardware, never to return. I cannot stand following the crowd, even if they are going in generally the right direction.
    So I am, as of long ago, an aficionado of the digital music revolution. The two great pillars of my life are music and books so it is not really surprising that eventually I would go digital with books. I have a huge physical library of the things after all.
    It is time, as Doctor Who would say in hushed terms. The technology is now mature enough and the availability of books is big enough to support my consumption. So I have taken the plunge, I now own my own eReader; an iRiver Story.
    They are expensive, I could not agree more but for the last six months or so I have been reading ebooks on my Blackberry Storm, and I am hooked. They are so convenient and take up so little room in the bedroom or my suitcase.
    Some time ago while looking for details on an old favourite writer I found the books I was looking for were on line LEGALLY and for free.[http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki%5D
    So I downloaded them, and that was it I was caught.
    So it was a little bit of a faff working with Blackberry; reformatting files so they fit, then mess with the file types converting everything to pdf’s and finally paying for the software on my Blackberry to read them properly.
    In comparision the iRiver Story is much better, it just displays all the formats I have and you can read them without work.
    Would I recommend it? May be not yet, wait a year for the prices to come below £100 a unit.
    It is not easy to rip things into your computer from your collection of books like it is with music, but I believe we are really close to the next revolution.
    It will be smaller than that of music, but let us hope for the writer’s sake the industry controls it better than it did music. Digital information is easy to distribute, and sure as eggs are eggs information will end up getting out into the wild of cyber space.

  • Comment number 10.

    Dear god another thing on the BBC "tech" blogs about Apple. And about a product that for all we know doesn't exist. Report the hard facts please. Not just that you've been invited to some cosy "launch". Surrounded, no doubt, by others who've also been carefully screened for their willingness to suspend their critical facilities every time this multi-national plugs / speculates / teases / launches it's latest piece of ephemeral tat.

  • Comment number 11.

    Everyone is comparing e-book readers to MP3 players and there is an expectation that the industry will go the same way. It won't for a simple reason. While you can convert your CD to an MP3, you can't convert your book to an e-book. While I could see the value of converting my CD collection so I already had a starting point to work from (which made the investment in the player worthwhile) I can't see the point in shelling out £200 to save £2 on a book. Unless you travel a LOT it's just not viable.

    So adoption will happen eventually (I think newspapers and magazines will come first) it is going to take a lot longer.

  • Comment number 12.

    In response to Phil90125 and Apple's next piece of "ephemeral tat. "

    Apple launched iTunes and became the market leader, Apple launched the iPod and became the market leader/innovator, Apple launched the iPhone/iPod Touch and completely changed the face of mobile phones/mp3 players going forward.

    Apple may/will launch a new product very soon, and it looks like it very well may change the shape of its chosen field.

    Their products, through ease of use, design and functionality, change the experience that a user has with said product. For this, if nothing else, they deserve all the hype they rightly receive.

  • Comment number 13.

    Newspapers too are "portable, they need no batteries, and they can be lent to a friend" but look what's happening to them! Of course, that's as much the death of the business model as it is about shifting formats.

    But e-readers are much more about e-books. In fact e-readers will be a v small footnote in the history of multimedia portable devices. This isn't about the Kindle or the Nook; this revolution is about networked devices changing the way we consume all content; books, magazines, websites, news, audio, video.

  • Comment number 14.

    “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

    Steve Jobs, January 2009 talking about the Kindle

  • Comment number 15.

    Publishing isn't about to have an 'i-pod moment' for one significan yet overlooked reason. The revolution of digital music on the go was consumer led - demanded by the users who were finding more innovative ways to get what they wanted and were snapping up new offerings as they arrived on the market.

    The opposite is true for eReaders, The eReader evolution is industry led, trying hard to convince us (the consumer) that these products are a good thing.

    MP3 players sold themselves. If we have to be told why eReaders are good then the battle is already lost.

  • Comment number 16.

    I’ve read a lot comments and opinions on the E-reader revolution but they nearly all have over looked a couple of obvious points/

    The inevitable penetration of electronic technologies into educational institutions. If you can digitize your archive there’s no need for the expense of library departments. Does anyone seriously think that university’s are not going to leap at the chance to massively curtail their spending on libraries and more importantly library staff. Eventually the adoption of digital databases of books will disseminate down into high school education as well. So future students are not necessarily going to share the nostalgia for the printed book that most people today seem to have.

    Also many comments have focused on the virtues of the physical book, the material sensation of pulped wood, overlooking entirely the sheer enjoyment gained from touch screen technology. Anyone who as an Iphone or regularly uses touch screen devises will know what I am talking about. It’s a lovely tactile experience, and as many of the next generation of e-books will be full touch screen, even double touch screen, present devices such as the kindle are hardly representative of the change that’s coming.

    That said ultimately the life of e-readers will be short, Apples anticipated tablet pc signifies the true direction of personal digital devices. If you have a tablet pc why would you want an E-reader? a similarly sized object with very specialized and limited functionality. Those that say E-readers do not represent a shift similar to the I-pod are partly correct, the change will be slower but it is a change that will not be limited to just the printed word but also how we make phone calls and use the internet. All these facets of modern living will condense into a single device.

  • Comment number 17.

    In response to "Johnathon Brock"

    I think there is a moment when you have to step way from things. Criticism of the BBC covering one producer of consumer electronics (which are the very definition of "ephemeral") to the exclusion of all others is hardly something to be getting worked up about. Frankly it matters not one jot what this organisation has sold, will sell,might sell or how innovative you might think they are.
    The simple truth is that it is not the BBC's job to be Apple or anyone else's glee club.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree with the comments about newspapers and magazines likley to be ahead of the game when it comes to ereaders etc. Q: Do any of the current offerings have a wireless connection? I do travel from time to time and would like the idea of being able to switch on a device and have it download the content from the Times or the The Sun (don't knock it) and read at my pleasure. I hate it when I am stuck in an airport having spent 2 quid on a newspaper and then read it to death as there is nothing else to do. And yes I do read books, but I want something live, otherwise I would just buy a book as I cannot see the benefit to be honest.

  • Comment number 19.

    #7 The main issue there is the screen: reading off the best LCD screen is hard on the eyes. eInk is expensive and less flexible than a LCD. I've heard rumours that Apple will use an LED screen. That may solve the problem, but I've yet to be convinced.

    This was the sort of point I was going to make, so I agree completely. I also find you don't take information in so well if you read it off a screen - when studying for exams I tried just reading the lecture notes on the PC, but ended up having to print them off to absorb them properly.

    Until I can be sure I'm not going to get sore/tired eyes from them, e-Readers will not be going on my Christmas list any time soon.

  • Comment number 20.

    Sadly you seem to forget that Apple ensured that the music you bought from Itunes could only be played on an Ipod. As I understand it this is not the case anymore as you can now purchase DRM free mp3's. Have you recently tried to buy a "dock" for any other music player other than an Ipod, you can't. Have you tried to sync an Ipod with any other software except Itunes, you can't.
    Based on previous history I can't quite see where you think compatibility issues will be solved. You never know though I could be wrong, will have to wait and see.

  • Comment number 21.

    Who would buy a locked in device like a Kindle, when there are readers like the Sony reader that do all the popular formats?

    I used to think there were smart consumers, but since the iSheep generation, I am not so sure anymore...

  • Comment number 22.

    Despite the predictions of doom from the nay-sayers, e-books are going to have far more impact for publishing than mp3's did for the music industry.

    The consequences of internet book piracy, which is already gaining significant momentum, will be disastrous for the earnings of authors and, therefore, the stability of the publishing industry as a whole. The music industry and musicians have always had very lucrative sources of revenue aboce and beyond the actual sales of discs (or downloads). There is money from corporate sponsorship, merchandising, paymenst for the use of songs in ads, movies and for radio play. All of this is a not insignificant part of a musicians earnings will still be a soure of revenue even if illegal downloads were to make a huge dent in over sales numbers.

    For authors and writers there is no equivalent source of alternative income and therefore each book sale lost to piracy has a much more damaging effect than the loss of a mp3 sale will have in the music industry.

    Publishing is still in awe of the glamour of the latest technological developements and has barely considered how piracy is going to impact in the future. Unless the industry very quickly adapts and creates safeguards against the theft and illegal distribution of published works and, also, rapidly creates a new business model to adapt to the changing technology, I suspect publishing will find itself struggling to maintain an adequate level of profitability over the next ten years or so.

  • Comment number 23.

    Lets hope the publishing industry doesn't have your attitude to would-be customers, because if they do, it will kill them. The music industry tried to create "safeguards against the theft and illegal distribution of published works" and it didn't work. It drove customers away because no-one like being treated like a thief or handed a deliberately crippled product in place of a perfectly decent one.

    The book industry is, as you say, more reliant on sales to end users than the music industry, so the effects would only be stronger in their case. Furthermore the music industry benefits from things like ads, movies and radio play not just because they get paid directly, but because those things also promote the retail product. Lacking such promotions, the risk to authors isn't 'piracy', it's obscurity. The number one thing that stops me buying a good book isn't the opportunity to get a copyright infringing version for free, it's that I've probably never heard of it.

    If a friend can give or lend me a copy of a book they've bought and I like it, I might buy the next one, or the author's previous work. If the only way to get a book is in an expensive, DRM laden, un-lendable, un-resaleable, deliberately crippled format, I'll never see the first one, and I'll certainly never pay for any of them.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi,
    I think one of the crucial attributes of the i(xxxxx) (substitute Touch, Pod, Phone) is that Apple have striven to provide a superlative design with the user in center-stage. This is, I feel, a commitment to user-centric design which other competitors and techni9cal folk in the domain would decry as having pretty muchy no value, from a business perspective.
    I think the i(xxxxx) era has changed the rules.....
    Regards

  • Comment number 25.

    Just not going to happen.

  • Comment number 26.

    There is a fundamental difference between MP3s and books.

    Whilst MP3s may have affected the way we PURCHASE music, it hasn't really affected the way we listen to it. Loudspeakers and headphones have remained a fairly constant part of the listening process for decades. Perhaps fewer people have a large hi-fi set-up and instead opt for the often inferior docking stations, but fundamentally nothing has changed.

    Books on the other hand are easy on the eye in comparison to ANY form of screen and have a pass-me-on ability (in the case of cheaper paperbacks) or a distinct quality in the case of those nice hard backs that take pride and place on everyone's bookshelf. Textbooks are another area where a digital format could easily be inferior to the printed format. Yes it may be possible to fit more in a bag, but the difficulty in flicking through, such as looking up the answers to questions makes the printed format far more appealing.

  • Comment number 27.

    For me, the biggest difference between the book and the e-reader is when I've read all I need or want to of a book, I can give it to charity for resale.
    Can't do that with an e-book.

  • Comment number 28.

    No. mp3 players were just an evolution of an existing market - walkmen, minidiscs, etc - the tablet format has been tried and remains niche.

  • Comment number 29.

    As many have said above, yet another apple-biased blog entry from another BBC journalist. Just grabbing the "topical" posts and glancing at them you get:

    Apple - 5 entries:
    - The 3G traffic jam - where next?
    - How bad is your 3G phone signal?
    - Is publishing about to have an iPod moment?
    - CES 2010: Last Gadget Standing
    - A French Orange and an Apple tablet?

    Other - 3 entries:
    - Playing games in class
    - Socialising with Scoble
    - Spinvox investors got £600 from Nuance deal

    Google - 2 entries:
    - Has China helped Google in the browser wars?
    - Google v China: Battle of the blogs

    I that doesn't show an apple bias, I don't know what does. I won't be reading this blog again.

  • Comment number 30.

    I just wanted to add that the Barnes & Nobel "Nook" already has a colour screen and runs Googles Android - so it can prob do more than display text.

    Completely agree that e-books are expensive for a product that has no physical storage or transportation costs.

    Don't expect this to change with books sold through iTunes, as they already charge the exorbitant £10.99 for new movies!! Much more than the DVD often is through Amazon. Shame.

  • Comment number 31.

    ian hawkins wrote: "Do stop hyping Apple though, the BBC's love-in with the company is quite bizarre. They are expensive and addicted to closed formats, they are not the consumer's friend. They make nice boxes which contain bog-standard hardware and only the hype allows them to punch above their weight. That they are innovators is a good thing, but their import is vastly exaggerated."

    You get what you pay for. For the past year I have been using a 24"iMac and it has been the best computing experience of my life and I have owned and built many computers. It is a wonderful pleasure to use. The build quality, screen quality, ease of use and support is unmatched in the Windows world. That same Mac has also been by far the most reliable and stable Windows computer I have ever used. Imagaine that. :)

    Look at the current iMacs and there is nothing out there that matches them. The vastly superior screen quality and resolution alone is worth the extra cost. What similar type Windows computer exists that can compete against that? None, because they don't exist.


    What "closed formats" are you talking about because I don't see any Apple ones.

    I'm not an Apple evangelist either, as I also own two Windows computers, but anyone that is fair and impartial has to acknowledge that Apple makes fantastic computers and other devices that have a lot of value and superior things about them that the extra price paid is more than made up for and is certainly worth it.

    Give credit where it is due. If any company can truly make e-readers or tablets mainstream and a real joy to use then I'd bet on Apple all the time.

  • Comment number 32.

    Putting the supplier issue to one side for the moment... What has changed the face of the way we access/buy and use music over recent years? Ease of use (at every step from preview to listening) and relatively low cost.

    Making books easier to access, buy, use and read is the next step. To do this someone needs to address the whole value and supply chain - from author to reader. whether you agree with the companies and individuals (and associated perceived values) Apple have done this for music - and hopefully are going to do this for the written word.

    If the 'iSlate' is easy to use, get books and other associated media on to and is multi-functional - it will be a success. The potential limiters are issues such as DRM, poor battery life and lack of ease of use/loading of content.

    As a prolific reader and author I hope that someone breaks the far too extended 'lack of value' chain that currently exists in the publishing world - where everyone except the author and reader gets value from it - and makes a sea change.

    The current slow drift move from written word to multi-media publication will get a shot in the arm IF the iSlate delivers.

  • Comment number 33.

    Re Post #31

    To be fair Apple make the iPod, the iPhone and the iMac. They not only handle the OS and software etc they are also, albeit with tight control, the hardware. Microsoft do not have much control of the manufacture of a PC and any old company can produce an MP3 player.

  • Comment number 34.

    All the price rumours seem to have settled on around £700 - £1000 at launch for the "iSlate" - not going to cause any sort of disruption to the publishing world at that level IMHO.

    Apple are due a "fail" - this could be it...

  • Comment number 35.

    One thing that changes the book experience, is having them read to you. And I don't just mean audioboks.

    I download classics and then use Apple's speech technology to get the PC to read the book to me. The voice is pretty good: not perfect but good enough for when I am in the car and want to listen to something other than the radio or digital music.

    Maybe people will stop reading books and start listening to them more often?

  • Comment number 36.

    I am rather surprised at all the fuss about E-readers. I have been using handheld computers and now my netbook for this for years. The software is free:- check out mobipocket and microsoft reader. You can even use adobe reader.There are also many sources of free literature.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    'The vastly superior screen quality and resolution alone is worth the extra cost.'

    Vastly superior? really.
    Which resolution has Apple invented now?
    ...and people wonder why apple fans get no respect.

  • Comment number 39.

    @Elm1o
    "...and people wonder why apple fans get no respect."

    Awww... has somebody got a better pc then you... poor thing!

  • Comment number 40.

    No... can we move on now please.

  • Comment number 41.

    @ Tracey

    "Awww... has somebody got a better pc then you... poor thing!"

    Of course it isn't better, its a Mac.

    (you walked straight into that one, poor thing)

  • Comment number 42.

    "Look at the current iMacs and there is nothing out there that matches them. The vastly superior screen quality and resolution alone is worth the extra cost. What similar type Windows computer exists that can compete against that? None, because they don't exist."

    Erm, any half decent Windows can compete and, for a similar price, easily be more powerful than a Mac. In terms of hardware, iMacs only have mobile graphics chipsets: the same as in a laptop. For £969 I would expect more than an NVidia GeForce 9400M in my computer. As for the superior screen resolution... For less than £300 I can buy a decent 28" monitor capable of 1920x1200 resolution. The starting iMac has a 1920x1080 21.5" screen, which is smaller and basically the same resolution (just a different ratio). In other words, other than a pretty box, and a different OS that makes it harder to play games, an Apple is the exact same as a regular PC. Processor: Intel (same make as mine), GPU: NVidia or ATi (My ATi is actually more powerful than the one packaged with the most expensive iMac). Mac Pros may be very powerful, but compared to the cost of a high end gaming PC, they still have no chance.

  • Comment number 43.

    Ok folks - lets do a conceptual flip here.

    We have these electronic reader devices. They are constructed in quantity and sold for the current cost of the hardware plus a reasonable(?) markup to pretty much anyone who wants to buy them. They are perfectly good to read text and they vary in capability such that whatever functionality you need is available if you pick the correct device. Each of these devices is the equivalent of hundreds, if not thousands of publications - news, novels, manuals, blogs - whatever you choose. Content is downloaded to the device in a cost effective and timely manner.

    Now you're introducing this other reading concept. Let me get this straight... you want to produce a new physical device EVERY TIME you want to publish some new information (giggles). You want to go out into the forest, cut down a tree, smash it up with a bunch of chemicals and then using huge machines, roll it out into huge heavy rolls of 'paper' and then send it off to various places so that strange and magical systems can spew a black substance onto it (laughing). You then cut it into a bunch of slices and segments so that it can be bound into variously sized 'books'. You then have to ship these 'books' all over the planet so that people can drive to a store to buy them, take them home and for the most part, when they are done, try to figure out why they shouldn't throw them in the trash (hearty guffaws). Oh, and the reading experience after doing all this work should be labour intensive where you have to hold this amalgam of crushed tree pulp and ink in your hand while it's main goal in life seems to be to disorganize itself - losing your current page in a heartbeat and requiring finger cramping gyrations to turn the pages and constantly fight the tension in the binding that doesn't really want you to read the innermost words. (deep breath)

    Outright, unmitigated chortle.

    Yeah, I know producing e-readers is a complex manufacturing process and a guffaw outweighs a chortle every time.

    Cheers

  • Comment number 44.

    If it helps to get more people reading then it'll be a good thing!

  • Comment number 45.


    Phil90125 wrote: "Dear god another thing on the BBC "tech" blogs about Apple"

    ian hawkins wrote: "Do stop hyping Apple though, the BBC's love-in with the company is quite bizarre."

    I know it's ridiculous. Just look at this - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8461591.stm

  • Comment number 46.

    MP3 players were a success because they changed the way people listen to music. They allow users to have a wider range of music available at their fingertips than CDs ever allowed. You can carry your entire music collection around and listen to any track/album/playlist that takes your fancy at any time, whether you're at home, at work, driving, etc...

    e-readers do not offer the same level of added value to the reading experience. Whether you buy an e-book or the physical version, you still have to sit down and read the whole thing from beginning to end. It still takes the same amount of time - days, weeks or even months. Having a wide selection of books available at your fingertips is only of value if you're planning on spending months away from home at one time or if you like to "shuffle" your reading experience by reading random chapters from different books. Newspapers have an opportunity to push content out on a subscription basis but will this ever catch on on a mass market basis?

    As a third option, audiobooks offer an opportunity for people to "read" books while they are driving, on the treadmill, etc... People only have a finite amount of spare time in their lives to sit down and read books and e-readers don't offer their users any productivity saving by allowing them to consume more literature than they normally would. Audiobooks do this by allowing people to "read" books at times where it wouldn't be appropriate (or safe) to have a book in front of their faces. I can see more of a mass-market future in the audiobook format than in e-books, at least for long-form literature.

  • Comment number 47.

    One or two things I'd like to note:

    1) apple was not the one to insist on locking content to a particular device. That was the condition imposed on apple by the music industry to allow digital downloads from the iTunes store. It is also interesting to note that for years the music industry signed deal after deal with other sources without insisting on DRM in an attempt to breech the popularity of the iTunes store. Since early this year the music industry has relented, allowing apple to supply DRM free MP3s through iTunes.

    2) iPods/Phones are closed systems for one very good reason. Open systems are vulnerable to security breeches, worms, viruses etc. However they are not as closed as you would anticipate. They sync with MY computer and MY content. I don't here people howling "closed system" because their canon printer only functions with drivers supplied by canon. Apple devices work best with software supplied by Apple, WOW. If you want to jailbreak your ipod or phone you can caveat emptor. If you want something that works the way it was designed to ... just leave it the way it does. I don't hear anyone squeeling about the fact that their dishwasher doesn't wash clothes ... I must mod it or hack it so that it does ... ooops it doesn't perform as expected :( ...i just blame the manufacturer.

    3) Apple / BBC love in. Yeah right! The BBC do not treat Apple specially, indeed apple operating systems have been notoriously UNsupported by the BBC viz a viz iPlayer (ah the wonderful irony ...an iApp ...from a company that only works on windows). In this particular case however the BBC is reporting through it's news channels a noteworth and newsworthy item, as history has shown us, when apple decide to enter a market more often than not they have revolutionised it! ... if this fails to fit the bill of newsworthy I fail to see how anything can be considered newsworthy. The impending possibility of the launch of a paradigm shifting device is newsworthy. If it fails to be so ...then that too will be newsworthy. (what is not newsworth, if not for comic value, is Steve Balmer of Mircosoft panicking at CES by rebranding an ancient failed form factor, The Tablet PC, as a new and relevant device and calling it a Slate PC, just in case apple introduce something similar. Apple will introduce something that will do what it claims, stylishly and well and will be available now ....rather than "sometime this year".

    4) Yes I use apple products. The perform as advertised, with the advertised software, under advertised conditions. And they do what I want, when I want, with the minimum of fuss and no wrestling with the operating system etc etc. Productivity enhanced.

    5) Apple's New Creation - forget it, no one is going to second guess it before 27th January, just like no one second guessed the original Mac in 1984, The iMac a generation later, the iTunes store, the iPod or even the iPhone. Get real ! Calm down ! Develop patience ... and wait for the world to change once more on 27th January, 10,00 PST :)

  • Comment number 48.

    Whether e-readers ultimately prove a success is not the real point. As a dedicated Apple convert (thought I would get that in and note how long the BBC took to provide Apple access for online news) it is sad to see people unable to step 'outside the box' and accommodate the real point - CHOICE!
    If you want to purchase/borrow a 'real' book to read you can but if you want to explore alternatives in a rapidly evolving world you can, also. As someone who has worked in education for many years I can remember similar debates about overhead projectors replacing boards and even teachers. Many years on we still have boards(now including electronic) and teachers!
    Rather than complain why not embrace change and choice and maybe the world will become a better place!!!

  • Comment number 49.

    Why is everyone getting worked up about e-books? It's a red herring. Wishful thinking from media dinosaurs.

    The tablet will be a cloud console with the world's most addictive user interface. As a designer I can't wait to create with it, and develop for it. Adobe is about to get an overdue kick in the pants.

    http://www.concentrichron.com

  • Comment number 50.

    Just seems like technology for the sake of it, to me.

  • Comment number 51.

    I love the idea of an e-reader if they get the technology right. I would say that if anyone is going to get it right, it is probably Apple. Love them or loathe them they are experts at creating a user centric experience. Their products are easy to use and work right out of the box.

    I would love to be rid of fiction books as much as I am now rid of technical manuals (Google and the excellent Safari Books service now replace them). If I go away for a couple of weeks I read a lot of fiction and have to drag everything I want to read with me - worse still they then sit on a shelf for years (yes I could take them to a charity shop, but frankly can never be bothered). So, in this respect I would love a proper 'easy on the eye', convenient and robust e-reader.

    My only issue, and it has already been pointed out, is that most of my book purchases are for authors I have read after being lent a copy of a book by them. Quite often a friend will come round with a book and say 'read this you will love it' - I do, and if I do 'love it' I then generally buy a few more books by that author. The only way this is going to happen with e-readers is if they get rid of any form of DRM and also make the formats interchangeble. That way my friend can come round and say 'read this, you will love it' and wirelessly transfer the book from his Sony e-reader to my Apple i-reader. Hmmm, not going to happen is it?

  • Comment number 52.

    There's a detail that everyone seems to be missing, and it's the piece that will be the ebook game-changer. Think back. When did mp3 players really take off, and who pushed it? The prices came down, they got easier to use and more reliable, and all the KIDS/TEENS wanted one. And the parents bought them.

    And that was just for music - mere entertainment.

    Readers need to get sturdier, drop in price, and be kid-friendly, and those ebooks need to be sharable among family members - and every kid on the planet will get one from an optimistic parent.

    Parents will absolutely jump at the chance to get their kids to read more.

    The company that does that successfully - they will win. No question about it.

  • Comment number 53.

    Can I lend an e-book to a friend? To multiple friends in sequence, as often as I like? Can I sell it on ebay second hand? If I get a new reader device, does my library transfer to it for free? What if the original was broken or lost? What about if the new reader is made by a different manufacturer? If the publisher or maker goes bankrupt, do I retain the ability to read my books? Or to transfer them?

    These are the sorts of questions that publishers need to be answering. If the answer to any of these is no, then clearly an e-book is not as valuable as a real book. If the answer to all of them is no, then I'd personally place the value of an e-book to me at only 1/10th that of a real book. I'm not going to pay full price for a rights-restricted, unlendable, unsellable, locked-down-to-one-device, temporary and possibly unreliable product, especially one that I know has zero marginal cost to the publisher.

    It's this that will prevent mass adoption - not the maturity of the technology involved.

  • Comment number 54.

    There are many writers out there that already make a living in the ebook space. The romance genre, for example, has been amongst the early adopters of the technology... oh, like ten years ago. Publishers like Ellora's Cave did it first, and now Harlequin, the Grand Dame of romance fiction, has launched "Carina Press", their e-book only subsidiary.

    Now, Romance has a market share of some 50% - it's by far the biggest genre out there, and if the biggest US romance publishers all are in that space already, it's clarly because the technology has no future.

    e-books are being read on netbooks, smart phones, e-readers, or on the screen - with the low cost of production, you open up the whole long-tail game in publishing. Niche writers can make a living, because it costs almost nothing to produce an e-book (you have to set up the infrastructure, hire a cover artist, pay the writer, and then run the accounts for royalties and stuff).

    e-book authors typically get 30-50% of the cover price - compared to 3-10% in traditional publishing. That means that e-authors only have to sell in the area of 1/10 of their print colleagues, and make the same amount, net. Which makes it viable - you can sell only 500 or 1,000 books and still make a little money. Little risk, your books stay in print forever, and can be delivered globally at the click of a button within seconds. E-books are by far the superior product, and open up completely new markets and way for authors to make a living and support themselves, thanks to very high royalties, ease of getting published, and the ease by which authors can market themselves (because we know that only the top few authors at any publishing house are marketed at all).

    Another factor - since I made the switch from print publishing to writing for e-publishers, I received a lot of feedback from the visually impaired, thanking me, from the bottoms of their hearts, for making my texts available in e-formats. They can't read traditional print with its tiny fonts and often shoddy, cheap printing, and have in effect been excluded from reading... but for e-publishers who need very few readers to be profitable, they are a market, so everybody is happy. But that side of the story is never reported. Sad. People are missing the real story that's going on.

    As one of those niche writers, I totally support ebooks - it does enable me to publish consistently, quickly, and at much higher royalty rates than I had ever before.

  • Comment number 55.

    @Jon:

    The Barnes & Noble Nook has a sharing feature.

    Several online e-book shops keep your purchases and you can download them again.

    There are e-readers out there that support non-DRM formats (like PDFs - main reason why I have a Sony and loathe the Kindle). E-publishers are catching on to the fact that DRM is only a way to anger your paying customers, so that's likely the future of that format.

    While e-books have disadvantages, e-publishers offer you global 24/7 distribution - you can read whatever you want, immediately. Surely, that's an advantage. How often have I wanted to have a book *right now*! I'm one of those people who never read bestsellers (they bore me), and I sometimes need books that are really arcane, so no physical booktore would stock it - and Amazon often needs a week or two to deliver me what I want. e-books feed the "I want it right now" urge - instant gratification, which is great.

    And let's face it, many books are temporary. There's plenty of books you read exactly once - it's no wonder that romance is at the forefront of the development.

    AVoinov
    www.aleksandrvoinov.com

  • Comment number 56.

    Greetings from Kiev, Ukraine.

    I own e-book for more than year, I bought one in September 2009. It's neither Kindle, nor Sony, no Ectaco one - it's Lbook V3 (I suppose you never heard about this brand), Chinese parts, Ukrainian software. 6" 800x600 e-ink screen. Supported formats: txt, pdf, doc, rtf, chm, djvu, fb2, jpg... Google it and find out more.

    I paid $300 to buy it. Why?

    1) See the format list above. I can read on it almost anything I need.
    2) It doesn't care about copyrights.
    3) It's connects to PC like any other flash-memory device via mini-USB cable.
    4) It accepts SD/MMC cards.
    5) It uses standard Nokia-like BLC battery.

    The problems is not the e-books technology. The problem is Amazon, Apple, copyrights, publishers and the rest hungry for profits.

    We don't care about them - and we _can_ have e-books like mp3 players (oh, also it can play mp3s). You obey to big players - and your choice is locked, you pay more and get less.

    There are Russian digital books free online libraries and its collections are accessible via torrents. 133k of books in the largest, and there are more in the wild.

    If you want to add more - you can save it in txt and read (I read articles from BBC in the subway this way), scan it and read in djvu or pdf even without OCR or print on software "pdf-printer".

    Some time ago big online bookstore opened. Men, they are selling books in 15 formats, without DRM and for about $1.1 for one sci-fi title. Imagine that. They know that if they try to put some handcuffs on readers or try to charge much more, their business will lose.

    My e-book is not the unique - there are more vendors and models (I saw in subway and e-shops ads of 2 more product lines).

    So, Amazon and Apple have nothing to do here. Even Sony is struggling. It can't give our readers all what they want.

  • Comment number 57.

    @DOBrien

    1)
    Yes Apple were forced to use DRM but surely they could have licensed it's DRM in the same way that MS licenses Plays for Sure. Did someone force them not to?

    Apple sell AAC files on iTunes, not MP3.

    2)
    An iPhone syncs with YOUR iTunes content, not with all YOUR computer content. It syncs with the file types that Apple approves of, mostly the formats that you can buy from iTunes. It doesn't sync a lot of audio or video formats. Also YOUR iPhone/iPod will only sync back one way to YOUR iTunes collection. Want to take YOUR content off of YOUR iPhone to YOUR other computer. Tough luck.

    Perhaps if your Canon printer would only print from Canon software you'd have a point. However the Canon drivers allow any software to take advantage of your Canon printer, not just Canon's. The opposite to how Apple will not let you sync your iPhone with other software or how iTunes will only sync with an iPod or iPhone.

    As for dishwashers. A dishwasher is not designed to wash clothes. An iPhone on the other hand is specifically locked down to restrict it's functionality below it's limits. Apple is effectively deciding what you can do with YOUR property. It would be like a manufacturer only allowing you to to wash cutlery in your dishwasher and not dishes.

    3)
    Yes the BBC should have stalled the launch of iPlayer as it was not initially compatible with less than 5% of PCs. Perhaps the should also have delayed Freeview as not all homes are able to receive it. How anti Apple.

    5)
    What was so amazing about the iMac? The pretty colour?

  • Comment number 58.

    This Apple tablet will kill the other ebook readers. Well, the other's will still be there, but like the iPod with other MP3 players, most people won't bother with anything else. The product with the shiny Apple logo always wins, because Apple truly do innovate... Look at the iPhone, came out 3 years ago and phone manufacuters are only just starting to catch up with the HTC Hero, etc.

    This tablet, when jailbroken especially, will be a very nice piece of kit. Let's just hope I'll be able to afford it!

    *gets ready to remortgage house*

  • Comment number 59.

    I'm a luddite. I hate e-readers with a passion, because Sony, Amazon, Google and now Apple as of their iPad launch, are trying to turn the book into software, and screw authors just like the music business did. To be fair to Apple, it's had to fight the music business itself to hold iTunes pricing for as long as it has, and that wasn't just greed for its own profits, but the knowledge that once you go over 99p/one dollar for anything, it's a psychological barrier that might have cost sales. The problem is it's too early to tell whether they will be as magnanimous with book publishers.

    Writers in France and China haven't been suing Google out of greed, that company just got out its scanners and decided to not waste time checking copyrights when scanning in all the pre-1912 books (or 1935 depending on where your country's 75 years starts to apply).

    Someone remarked that newspapers and magazines are much more the type of content that would be consumed on a tablet. I'll give them that, but I still buy The Guardian one day per week for one particular sector of jobs which might not necessarily be hosted on their non-secure jobs site, and I'll still read one or two magazines just because I don't want to push up my electric bill and give myself eyestrain to read stuff.

    Best example, I've read nearly 15 years of What Hi Fi and only buy the Awards issue each year. Seeing the same dry list of stuff printed at the website, just doesn't have the same appeal and from an environment point of view, it can be recycled if I ever decide I don't need the reference. As I've admitted, I'm a luddite - I just don't want a world one day where I'm forced to have an e-reader otherwise I can't read a book, it's about preserving choices.

 

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