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The Book Is Dead! Long Live The Book!

July 6, 2010

Kobo

And sort of inline with the previous post, here is a really good and thoughtful piece on eBooks, and ebook readers.

E is for book By Karyn Scherer [From The New Zealadn Herald]

Remember the paperless office? Oh, how wrong we were.

So what about the paperless book, then? And paperless newspapers and magazines?

Previous experience might teach us not to hold our breath, but if the world’s biggest booksellers, technology companies and publishers are right, the days of giant forests being felled to feed our insatiable appetite for the written word may finally be ending.

Ebooks – electronic books that you read on a screen, not on paper – have actually been around for more than a decade, but after a false start in the early 90s, sales are suddenly taking off.

In just a couple of years, Amazon has snared up to 90 per cent of the market by cleverly locking customers into its own proprietary format. Until recently that was still a pretty small market, but with a raft of rivals now competing for the digital dollar, trade sales in the US have rocketed from US$56 million in the final quarter of last year to US$91 million in the first quarter of 2010.

The forecast most frequently mentioned is that digital books could account for up to 20 per cent of all book sales in the US by 2012. If the same trend hits New Zealand, digital book sales could eventually be worth more than $60 million here.

At the end of May, Whitcoulls and Borders, both currently owned by Australian private equity firm PEP, got things moving in New Zealand by launching the Kobo, a basic electronic reader about the size of a notepad that can store thousands of books.

Rival online retailer Fishpond believes Whitcoulls was too hasty, given that many digital publishing issues have yet to be resolved, such as which format will eventually emerge as the common standard.

Fishpond launched seven years ago and hopes to become the Amazon.com of the South Pacific. It sells several brands of ereaders but is not yet doing much to promote them.

“We’ve actually had ebooks for most of this year, but we haven’t publicised it for the main reason that we’re not all that happy with the user experience at the moment,” says general manager Ben Powles. “There are still relatively few ebooks available in this part of the world, and the hardware is pretty expensive still. And consumers are pretty confused about what to buy. There are 50 to 60 ereaders being shown at the big electronic shows.”

In a note to users last month, Kobo admitted many customers had experienced glitches, which it has addressed with a firmware update. A spokesman for Whitcoulls and Borders, Malcolm Neil, says the company is nevertheless delighted with sales. Unlike Borders in the US, it has no plans to sell other ereaders, but there will be Kobo applications for other devices such as the iPad.

Continue reading here.

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