iPad, Kindle 2 and Nook – the end of paper books?

Will e-readers mean the end of paper books? Only time will tell. Amazon and Barnes & Noble seem to have positioned themselves to benefit either way- when a company is selling paper books, e-readers and content for e-readers; there is a sale opportunity for everyone, no matter which format they prefer. Apple, on the other hand, is reliant on device and device content sales with the iPad.
The push seems to be on for e-readers with all these marketing giants involved. It is easy to forget all the other e-reader manufacturers out there with the hype surrounding the iPad, Kindle 2 and Nook. Sony has had some success with their PRS series e-readers: with a reported 300,000+ units sold, they can’t be discounted. And there are many other manufacturers, too – some familiar like Samsung, some unfamiliar (at least to me) like Iriver.
There are a few factors that may hinder the growth of e-readers: technophobia and competing formats being the major issues.
Technophobia is especially widespread among certain demographics – older, less educated females especially are noted for their resistance to computer use, although this may be changing due to societal and peer pressure. Technohobes are found in every country, age group, race, and gender. Whether e-readers, due to their ease of use and resemblance to traditional reading materials are able to overcome this bias, will be interesting to see. The iPad in particular would scare many technophobes due to the touchscreen navigation and resemblance to a computer or cell phone.
The competing format issue can’t be discounted, either. Traditional reading materials come as books, magazine or newspapers, but you don’t have to change your brain and eyes to process the information they contain! With e-readers, at the moment, you do. Similar to the situation prevalent in the early age of VCR technology, there are multiple incompatible formats available. Unlike VCRs, which had only 3 main formats, e-reader formats currently number approximately 16. Sixteen different formats to access the same information? Who thinks this is a good idea?
Until there is a major shakeout or agreement between content providers, this is going to continue to be a problem. Most e-readers are able to access the information in more than one format – the Kindle 2 for example can read .azw, .html, .mobi, .tr3, .txt (plain text) and .mp3 files. Barnes & Noble’s Nook can read .epub, .pdb, .pdf and .mp3 files. This Tower of Babel creates unnecessary chaos and confusion among publishers of content, and a burden to the consumer. Who wants to memorize an alphabet soup of supported file formats, and know which ones they can use, and which are unavailable? Even public libraries are adding to the problem, using OverDrive to distribute their content to patrons, as WMA files limits which devices can access this information -for example, OverDrive is not compatible with the Kindle 2, but is with the iPad. OverDrive has to provide a whole page for users to see if their device is usable. To further add to the confusion, many people use their smartphones as e-readers, adding more file formats to the list.
Many avid readers have taken to the Kindle 2 and Nook, as the e-Ink most closely resembles the traditional paper reading process. Neither device is back-lit, which means less eye strain, too. The iPad has caused a stir, and with Apple’s marketing prowess and the huge iTunes store already available as a sales engine for e-books, looks to be a formidable contender to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Whether traditionalists take to an electronic device instead of a book or magazine, remains to be seen. I can’t imagine lugging my Kindle 2 to the beach and exposing it to sand, salt spray and sun. The next few years will be interesting.
Don’t forget – just like a dustcover on a paper book, your e-reader needs protection, too: add a skin today!
iPad, Kindle 2, Nook skins

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