NYT: Holiday guide to e-readers

I’ve been posting about e-readers here on this blog for awhile, but alas, I cannot review them for you myself — not owning one. And neither Amazon, Sony, nor Barnes & Noble have convinced me that I should shell out the bucks for one, either. I’m still tempted — always tempted — but they haven’t hooked me yet.

If you’re closer to taking the plunge than I am, though, there was an excellent review/shopping guide for the available e-readers currently on the market (the Kindle, Sony e-reader, Nook, and a few lesser-known competitors up and coming, the Que, Irex, and the Cool-er) that appeared in the New York Times last weekend:

Something to Read
Published: December 3, 2009, NYT
For anyone considering an e-reader purchase this holiday season, here’s a roundup of current and soon-to-be-available devices.

Black Friday

Like a lot of you, I’ve been focused on finding Black Friday deals today. Although I wasn’t willing to drag myself out at 4 AM, I did head off to Target around 7. The line was LONG, but moved fast. I also found most people to be friendly & in a good mood, so it was a pleasant experience, really, overall. After that, I went over to Bed, Bath & Beyond (20 percent off everything, before 10 AM) where I got some great gifts. That was it, though, for the in-store shopping, for me. The rest I plan to do online.

If you don’t know about this already, Amazon has had Black Friday deals all week, continuing today. New “lightning deals” start every 45 minutes or so; items do sell out. I bought one while I was standing in line at Target, via iPhone. There are some good deals — too many GPS devices, unless of course that’s what you’re looking for, but lots of other movies, housewares, etc. Still going the rest of the day — check it out.

For Barnes & Noble, spend $100 online, get a $10 gift card. Not a bad deal, if you’ve got some planned book purchases already. Other items, including DVDs and books, on sale but — to be frank — I found their offers in general to be very disappointing. Today especially, you’re likely to be able to find a better price on most of the items in B&N’s “holiday gift guide” somewhere else.

Updated to add: Barnes & Noble’s “hottest buy” this year, the Nook, not only hasn’t been released yet — even pre-orders taken now won’t be received until January 4th. The Kindle is currently in stock at Amazon.

Do I really need something else to carry?

Taking your library with you everywhere — it sounds exciting. But it also sounds like yet another thing to try to cram into my purse.

(NYT) Over the last eight months, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a range of smaller companies have released book-reading software for the iPhone and other mobile devices. One out of every five new applications introduced for the iPhone last month was a book, according to Flurry, a research firm that studies mobile trends.

All of that activity raises a question: Does the future of book reading lie in dedicated devices like the Kindle, or in more versatile gadgets like mobile phones?

One of my main reasons for resisting e-readers like the Kindle or the upcoming Nook — though I confess I’m getting increasingly curious and would love to try one out, if not commit to a long-term relationship — is that I’m an iPhone user. As I’m sure my Blackberry sisters will also agree, I’ve gotten turned around to the idea of having everything in one little device. Phone/texting, Internet and email, handheld gaming device, GPS, music player, address book, checkbook, remote control for my home stereo, satellite radio. These are all things that I’ve got in one little unit. I don’t want a whole different unit for just reading books. My mind doesn’t go in that direction anymore. Reading an e-book on my iPhone, with either Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s or standalone software like ZappTek’s Legends, is more appealing. But there’s a price — that small screen. Still, I’m not sure the cons outweigh the pros.

I think it’s possible the forthcoming Apple Tablet, with its far more ample screen size and yet relative portability, may be a gamechanger, especially if you can sync books between your desktop, iPhone/iPod Touch and Tablet, giving you lots of options for where and how you can read your books. I don’t know about you all, but I’m enough of a book geek that the idea of having my top five favorite books (The Mists of Avalon, Anna Karenina, Tigana, Dune and The Color Purple) in hardcover/paperback, and on my iPhone, and on my desktop, and in my portable tablet computer, sounds drool-worthy. I would never be without them! I could read them however I want to, wherever! And that school of thought might influence other manufacturers to think along the same lines. Or, I’m over-the-top crazy when it comes to books. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: book-crazy people are the only people who can make e-readers and e-books work. People who are non-readers just won’t care. So if you can’t win over the book-nuts, you’re sunk.

In the meantime, the iPhone’s screen is somewhat small for extended reading. Having used it myself, I will say it is surprisingly pleasant to use. I didn’t experience any trouble with the text size or my eyes getting tired. Of course I wouldn’t want to read everything that way, but for the time being, it’s been an adequate way to read on the go — when I’ve been stuck in a long line or showed up too early for a meeting. And most importantly, it doesn’t take up any extra purse acreage.

What’s a new book worth to you?

It’s been in the news for the past week or so: major retailers are in a book-price war. It started With Wal-Mart lowering the price on ten bestsellers )some upcoming) to $10. Amazon matched that the next day. Wal-Mart dropped to $9. Amazon matched them again, so Wal-Mart dropped to $8.99.

Then Target entered the bidding war, offering any of six soon-to-be published books on its web site for $8.99 as well. And Wal-Mart dropped to $8.98, like a contestant on The Price is Right but in reverse.

The books include Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue”; “Under the Dome” by Stephen King; “I, Alex Cross” by James Patterson; “Pirate Latitudes” by Michael Crichton; “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver; and “Ford County,” a short-story collection by John Grisham. Amazon had not cut any pennies as of Tuesday afternoon and was sticking with $9.

It’s a contest “that has no end in sight,” said Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, which provides research and advice to publishers. Mr. Norris said the price war could be particularly damaging to booksellers because they could not afford to discount that heavily, while the retailers who were slashing prices “don’t need to sell books in order to stay in business” and therefore can sell the books at a loss.

I don’t care so much about the booksellers themselves. I mean, it’s a cruel, capitalistic world. It’s easier to like booksellers than it is to like Wal-Mart (it’s easier to like just about anything than it is to like Wal-Mart), but they’re in it for the dollars just the same. There’s no real reason to show compassion or favoritism to Barnes & Noble, no matter how much I want to. They want my money, just like the rest.

Oddly enough, though, I care a little bit more about the point made by the American Booksellers Association, which represents independently owned bookstores and who has sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to investigate what it describes as “predatory pricing” by Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target.

The association’s letter, which is signed by the group’s nine board members, accused the retailers of “devaluing the very concept of the book”

Furthermore, this article in the New York Times brought up some very valid points — valid to us readers, I mean. Because if you’re a reader, you care about what gets published.

Still, publishing industry veterans were worried about the potential long-term effect on the consumer mindset.

“If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over,” said David Gernert, Mr. Grisham’s literary agent. “If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.”

The immediate impact of the low prices was likely to be felt by other bookstores, including chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. As of Friday, neither of the Web sites for those companies indicated that it was matching the $9 price. At BN.com and Borders.com, the titles were generally discounted by 40 percent.

A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment. In a statement Borders said the majority of its revenues did not come from best sellers. “Our model does not rely on being the lowest priced,” the company said in the statement. “It relies on offering our customers a true bookstore experience — the opportunity to explore a vast array of titles within a comfortable environment where shoppers can go where their interests take them.”

Independent booksellers have long struggled to compete with discounts offered by Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Wal-Mart. William Petrocelli, an owner of Book Passage, an independent company that has stores in San Francisco and suburban Corte Madera, Calif., said that for now he was relying on the loyalty of customers who valued staff recommendations and author events as much as prices. But, he said, if the low prices siphoned off too many customers and put independent stores out of business, it would ultimately affect what would get published.

“What this does is accentuate the trend towards best sellers dominating the market,” Mr. Petrocelli said. Without independents, decisions about what books to put on store shelves would reside in the hands of a few corporate executives rather than hundreds of idiosyncratic booksellers, he said.

“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers,” Mr. Petrocelli said, “but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”

What do you think? Tempest in a teapot? Would deeply-discounted bestsellers have a negative impact on publishing? Or are we worrying for nothing, because serious readers are always going to want the books they want, no matter what’s on sale? I don’t know, but I will tell you that they can mark down Sarah Palin’s book, or John Grisham’s next, for that matter, to a penny, and I’m still not buying either — so does it really matter?

Everybody’s got an e-book store these days, but who’s reading?

While the Google Books settlement meanders on in one courtroom after another, Google also announced this week that they will be opening an e-book store of their own in 2010. Google Editions will compete with Amazon’s Kindle store and Barnes & Noble’s e-book offerings. That puts the big three all in play — all that’s left now is for Apple to get in the game.

Amazon has ridiculous amounts of selection and they have the PR — every time you buy something at Amazon these days, whether it’s the new bestseller or salad tongs, you are told you could have bought the Kindle version. Barnes & Noble is trying to catch up with this game, including their own e-reader (to be announced possibly as early as next week). Now Google Editions, like the Sony e-reader device, will be embracing universal format for its offerings. From PC World:

Google’s e-books will be accessible through any Web-enabled computer, e-reader, or mobile phone instead of a dedicated device. This will allow content to be unchained from expensive devices such as Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader.

I admit I like that aspect. If I’m going to own an e-book (and more on that in a second), I sure as heck want to be able to read it anywhere, my computer, my laptop, my iPhone. Right now my e-book usage is minimal (I haven’t paid for one yet, just downloaded some free stuff) but primarily I’ve been using Stanza, a free app for my iPhone. You can sync content from your computer to the app, supposedly — I’ve never gotten that to work. Far better, though, is the workaround I found out about — this site, Bookworm EPUB reader. It’s a free online storage site for your e-books (the ones that are in universal EPUB format) so that you can then access them anywhere, from any mobile device or computer. You can even choose to “open in Stanza”, and voila, that’s what I did. The other night I actually “curled up” with the iPhone and read a book that way and, I have to say, it wasn’t bad. Stanza has nice touch controls and ease of use, and I didn’t mind the small screen at all. Nice. I guess e-books are okay, and I can see myself reading more of them in the future. I’m also excited about the idea of being able to rent e-books from the library. Now that I could get on board with. If I borrow a book from the library, I’m not planning on owning it anyhow, so whether digital or paper copy, what difference does it make? But e-books replacing paper books in my life? Still kind of inconceivable.

However, as democratizing as this sounds, it’s still unclear how many people are ready to curl up with a Google Editions title on their laptop or smartphone, instead of the traditional paper format.

Yeah, that’s the rub.

I’ll stick with paper – Sony has another new e-reader, but it’s too rich for my blood

Sony announced today that they’ll be selling a new e-reader with a touch screen and wireless capability (obviously to rival the Kindle) for $299. This new Sony e-reader, coming on the heels of the release of their Reader Pocket and Reader Touch Editions which lacking wireless capability, will be available in December and is being called the Daily Edition. Meh, to the name. Though it does make me think of some kind of cross between The Daily Show, the Daily Planet and  NPR’s Morning Edition, all good things.

Is it just me or are the price tags for all these e-readers — Kindles, Sony, what have you — just still unappealing? $299? I don’t have that just lying around. Oh, I know it’s not ridiculously exorbitant. You can’t feed a third-world nation with that money, or even buy a decent lcd tv. But it’s not peanuts, at least not to me. And yes, I know, I was willing to shell out that much for my iPhone, but, well, it’s an iPhone. It calls people, and plays music, and goes on the Internet, and has games, keeps my calendar, gets me places, and makes the world generally a better place. The Daily Edition will just store books for me to read, and that’s it. Technically my iPhone (and yes, that’s as in “my preciousssss) can do that, too. And, you know, I may not have $299 lying around, but I do have all these books, old-fashioned and all, sure, but lying around already paid for, and waiting to be read. I can just keep reading those, and buying some new ones every now and then (most of them cost much less than $299) and even borrow them for free from the library. A lot of us reader-folk aren’t that annoyed by having to carry a book around, and most of us, when struck with the sudden urge to read a particular book, can wait the very short time it would take us to acquire it, should we so desire. (Amazon and Barnes & Noble both have pretty fast shipping. And again, the library.) My point is, the price tag is just too high. You’ve already got to convince me to change the way I do something, the way I read, something that’s fundamental to my life. Making it pricey just isn’t going to sweeten that deal… especially since, and I’m one of those gadgety people, you actually haven’t yet convinced me it’s worth doing at all.

Free Wi-Fi at Barnes & Noble; e-book thoughts

Barnes and Noble makes wifi free

The article correctly states that this is part & parcel of B&N’s plan to challenge the Kindle with their e-book reader. But it’s still a great development. As an iPhone user, I already had 3G or wifi through AT&T while in the store. But this will benefit everyone. Suggestion? More chairs. My B&N is Standing Room Only, all the time, it’s so crowded.

NPR’s Laura Sydell brought up an interesting point yesterday about e-books and us readers. Many of us still want the print version, too, along with our electronic copy. But we’re not jazzed about the idea of paying full price for both copies. What about the model you see with some DVDs these days? I just bought Watchmen on DVD. It came with a digital download. That’s fantastic. I’ve got the DVD for my home library, and the movie in digital form on my PC (and on my iPhone, even better). That digital version was a freebie, essentially, but I would have paid slightly more for it. If the DVD was $15, and a version with the digital copy was $18, I’d pay $18. Maybe even $20. But what I won’t do is pay $15 in the store, and $10 on iTunes, just so I can buy the same movie in different formats.

I think publishers of both movies and books should think about this kind of model. If while strolling around B&N I saw a book I wanted for $14, but saw that for a few dollars more I could buy the print version and the e-book version? I’d probably do it. And in doing so, I’d be getting on board with e-books for the first time, really, and that’s what they’re after.

Barnes & Noble Opens E-Bookstore With 700,000 Titles

Awfully excellent timing for B&N, after the Kindle problems, imho.

from WSJ.com:

Barnes & Noble Opens E-Bookstore With 700,000 Titles

(Updates with comments from B&N executive and analysts; provides additional details; freshens share price; adds background.)

By Scott Morrison and Kathy Shwiff

SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones)-Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS) on Monday launched an e-bookstore offering titles that can be read on Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) iPhone and iPod Touch, Research in Motion Ltd.’s (RIMM) BlackBerry smartphones, as well as most notebook and desktop computers.

The largest U.S. book retailer said its e-bookstore will offer more than 700,000 titles, including hundreds of new releases and bestsellers for $9.99.

Unlike online retailer Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), whose e-book strategy has largely revolved around its Kindle reading device, Barnes & Noble is taking a much more agnostic approach to the market, said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

“Barnes & Noble is not trying to pick a winner. They are betting on the whole category of e-reading,” said Epps.

Epps noted that Barnes & Noble appears to be trying to capitalize on the affinity that consumers have shown for reading e-books on their mobile phones.

The research group estimates that more people have downloaded apps to read books on their iPhones than have bought dedicated e-book readers such as the Kindle.

“Mobile phones are not optimized for book reading, but for many consumers they are good enough,” she said.

Amazon declined to comment.

Barnes & Noble also said it will be the exclusive e-bookstore provider on the Plastic Logic eReader device aimed at business professionals. The ultra-thin 8.5-by-11-inch wireless eReader is to debut early next year.

E-books sold by Barners & Noble, however, won’t be compatible with the Kindle or Sony Corp.’s (SNE) proprietary Reader device, William J. Lynch, president of BN.com, said in a conference call.

Lynch said the company hoped to increase the number devices with which its e-bookstore content was compatible. The company also expects to offer more than 1 million titles in the next year, including every available e-book from every book publisher and every available e-book original.

Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore titles include more than a half million public-domain books from Google Inc. (GOOG) that can be downloaded for free. These titles include classic works as well as obscure books. Google last year agreed to pay $125 million to settle lawsuits regarding the company’s plan to digitize, search and show snippets of copyrighted books without the express consent of the rights holder.

“Today marks the first phase of our digital strategy, which is rooted in the belief that readers should have access to the books in their digital library from any device, from anywhere, at any time,” said Lynch in a statement.

Barnes & Noble spent $15.7 million in March to acquire Fictionwise, which used to be the largest e-book seller before Amazon introduced Kindle. Barnes & Noble said at the time it would use Fictionwise as part of its overall digital strategy, which included the launch of an e-bookstore.

Other booksellers and publishers have been developing e-books and readers as consumers increasingly want to use mobile devices for entertainment as well as communications. In June, CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster book-publishing arm struck a deal to sell nearly 5,000 digital e-book titles on Scribd Inc., a Web site that allows people to post and read documents online.

Amazon in May launched a new version of its Kindle bookstore optimized for the iPhone, suggesting the Internet retailer could be moving toward a multiplatform electronic book strategy.

Booksellers have been hurt by the slowdown in consumer spending, while online competition has cut into sales from brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Barnes & Noble’s shares were up 0.4% after-hours at $22.11.