On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

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July 2009
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Google is Giving Away Sony Readers

Google Book Store

Google Book Store

Google is holding a sweepstakes called the 10 Days in Google Books Game.  For every day of the contest, Google will choose 3 winners to receive Sony Readers.  In order to play, you need to first answer 5 simple trivia questions and then write a 50 word essay about eReaders.

The contest seems to be Google’s attempt to advertise their eBook offering.  Right now, Google Books can hardly be considered a hot spot of activity.  Giving out Google Books compatible Sony Readers is one way to get people interested.  Also, the trivia questions involved are too simple to actually create a challenge, but they do showcase the capabilities of Google’s book archive.  Every answer can be found by clicking a link to some online book or using Google’s book search capabilities.

You are allowed to enter once a day.  Winners will be announced in 2-3 months.

Free Software Foundation is Launching a Kindle Petition

fsflogoIn the wake of the controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell books the Free Software Foundation is readying a petition against remote deletion and DRM.  This news is somewhat significant, as the Free Software Foundation is an organization that has some weight in the world of software activism.  Most famous for the GNU Project(and the related GPL license), the foundation can be thought of as the de facto head of the open source and free software movements.

The Free Software Foundation has acknowledged Bezos’ apology, but feel that it isn’t enough.  The petition will ask that Amazon completely relinquish the ability to make changes to users’ Kindle libraries.  One interesting point up is how the technology could provide a tool for censorship, especially as the Kindle enters new markets.  This argument is likely inspired by other companies.  For example, Google has taken criticism in the past for how it has assisted China’s government in censoring the internet.

For good measure, the petition will also ask Amazon to reevaluate the use of DRM.  I have to say that this seems unlikely.  Amazon’s view towards DRM is completely irrelevant: if the Kindle didn’t have DRM, the major publishers would stop supporting it.  While DRM has its downsides, Amazon doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Still, the petition has gotten some notice.  Once signatures have been assembled and the Free Software Foundation presents the petition, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds.  So far, Amazon has been pretty good about responding to their customers, so it is possible that they will try to listen to the petition (except of course the DRM).  Then again, Microsoft has ignored the Free Software Foundation for decades and it hasn’t really been that difficult for them.

Samsung Releases an Entry-Level eReader


Image from Samsung

Samsung has revealed their entry into the eReader market along with the stated goal to “become a bigger player than Amazon or Sony.”  Too bad the device itself, the SNE-50K, seems to be a bit lacking.  Although about the same price as a Kindle 2, Samsung’s reader lacks some of the Kindle’s key features.  Most noticeable are the lack of wireless and the smaller screen size, both which would be fine on a budget device but seem odd when price matching the Kindle.  The other downside is the lack of content available for the device.  Right now, the device is only available in Korea and even though Samsung has a partnership with Kyobo Bookstore, Korea’s biggest bookstore, there are only about 2,500 books available. In order to have success with the device in the US, Samsung will need to find a way to make more titles available.

One upside is that the device features handwriting recognition.  But this isn’t something that I can imagine being a killer feature on an eReader.  Any sort of touchscreen feature usually means a sacrifice in the paper like readability that one expects from an eReader.  Part of the reason for the Kindle’s success is that Amazon created and marketed a device for reading books.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I don’t have access to a Samsung reader in person, however, so I can’t really be sure of how handwriting feature could make up for the other missing features.

Here’s a comparison of the devices:

Kindle 2 Samsung SNE-50K
Price $299 About $275
Screen Size 6 inches 5 inches
Wireless Whispernet None
Books Available Over 300,000 2,500
Handwriting Recognition No Yes

Kindle Economics #2 – Credit Suisse Issues Optimistic Report on eReaders

credit-suisse-logoFinancial services company Credit Suisse has issued a report that predicts eReader ownership by one third of adult book readers within 5 years.  This would be a huge jump from their estimate that only 1% of the target market owned eReaders in 2008.  It should be noted that this report is specific to the US.  Also, the target demographic of literary adults that Credit Suisse is referring to consists of 42% of Americans 15 or older.

Amazon in particular is predicted to do well.  Credit Suisse believes the number of Kindles sold each year will skyrocket, until Amazon is selling 8.5 million a year in 2014 (equaling $1.8 Billion in revenue).  As the report seems to have been completed before the recent news about Barnes and Noble’s upcoming eBook store, there’s no prediction as to how they may make a dent in Amazon’s profits.  Credit Suisse has, however, jumped on the Apple tablet speculation bandwagon and suggested that it would have a major effect on the eReader market.  I’m not sure if I agree with that analysis, as a tablet computer and an eReader aren’t really the same thing. People use eReaders because they simulate a normal paper reading experience, not because they want a full out computer. We’ll have to wait for it come out as Apple has a way of creating surprisingly usable revolutionary devices (iPhone being the most recent example).

Overall, there’s nothing too surprising about Credit Suisse’s report.  At this point, I think everyone expects eReaders to be poised to take over the publishing industry.  What’s incredible is how fast Credit Suisse expects it to happen.  One third of the market in 5 years?  An adoption rate like that is equal to a full out revolution in the way people look at books.

Jeff Bezos Apologizes

Amazon received a lot of flack when they reached into their customers’ Kindles and, without any real warning or prior notification, deleted copies of George Orwell books.  The reasons for the deletion weren’t entirely Amazon’s fault, but it provoked nothing but outrage nonetheless.

Although Amazon issued a sort of PR apology/promise, it was hardly enough to satisfy all of Amazon’s angry customers.  Now, CEO Jeff Bezos is trying to make amends by issuing a full out apology on the Kindle forums. The full text of his apology is as follows:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO

This is actually a really smart move by Amazon and, judging by user comments on Bezos’ thread, is receiving a positive reaction.  I’m glad Bezos is saying that he sees what people don’t like and Amazon won’t do it.  Period.  No PR speak or dancing around the subject.

As a side note, the post made me notice Bezos’ Amazon profile, and it was kind of fun seeing his reviews and what books he wanted to buy.  He gives good reviews to milk and cookies products, but only 1 star to The 13th Warrior.  I guess even Bezos doesn’t endorse everything Amazon sells.

USA Today Adds Kindle Sales to Best Seller List

USA Today LogoIt seems like the USA Today has decided to include Kindle book sales in their best seller lists.  This move demonstrates just how significant the Kindle is becoming in the publishing world.  Sales on the Kindle store have grown to such a large number that they’ve come to be considered just as signifcant as traditional sales.

This move is also a great way for the USA Today to increase the influence of its best seller list.  For most people, best selling books is synonymous with with the New York Times Best Seller List.  The New York Times list the one recognized by Amazon (where Best Sellers are discounted) and most other retailers.  Not to mention the fact that you usually don’t see advertisers quoting a book’s position on the USA Today Best Seller List.  But by adding Kindle sales, the USA Today is trying to anticipate current trends and make headway against the Times list.  So far, the USA Today is the only publication to have done this, which might mean that their list will be more accurate.

Unless of course The New York Times already counts Kindle sales.  The data used to compile their list is a trade secret, so its possible they already include electronic sales and just haven’t told anybody.

More Plastic Logic News

logo_plastic_logicPlastic Logic has revealed that their device will use AT&T’s 3G network to download  content.  This move places the Plastic Logic Reader in even more direct competition with the Kindle, which uses Sprint’s 3G network instead.

If the battle between Barnes & Noble’s store and Amazon’s comes down to the eReaders themselves, this is a significant step in Plastic Logic catching up.  They’ve even one up’ed Amazon by adding WiFi to the device (although WiFi might not be too far off for the Kindle).

The catch is that no details have been revealed as to what kind of pricing plan will be in place to use the network.  Unlike Whispernet, which is free excluding the upfront device costs, Plastic Logic could decide to go in a different direction.  Whispernet doesn’t cost anything because Amazon pays every time you download something.  If Plastic Logic didn’t want to make that kind of commitment, they could defer payments to the customer.

Either way, the plot has thickened with Barnes and Noble and Plastic Logic.  It seems like the best way to compete with Amazon is to find a way to copy their model.

Barnes and Noble Setting Up to Compete With Kindle

bandnBarnes & Noble has announced that they are planning to open their own ebook store.  That the brick and mortar chain would make moves to compete with the Kindle isn’t much of a surprise since, like Amazon, they already are a major retailer with deep-seated ties in the publishing industry.  In order for Barnes & Noble to ensure that they retain their massive share of book sales, it only makes sense that they would move in on digital media.

What is interesting is how Barnes & Noble is setting themselves up to be competitive with the Kindle platform.  As of now, they are planning to price match Amazon’s standard $9.99 pricing and supply a library of 700,000 books.  These books, however, can’t be read on either the Kindle or Sony’s eReaders.  Instead, a partnership is being made to use Plastic Logic’s upcoming reader.

It seems like in the future Barnes and Noble and Amazon will offer very similar eBook platforms, with with similar stores and exclusive formats/DRM.  The only real difference could end up being the Plastic Logic versus the Kindle.  Amazon shouldn’t be too worried yet, however, since the Plastic Logic Reader doesn’t come out till next year.  The Kindle is already at the forefront of eReader competition, and its household name status won’t be any different a year from now.  Also, Plastic Logic designed their reader with business uses in mind, unlike the Kindle which was planned for the everyday consumer all along.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Update On Amazon Book Deletion

There are two major updates to the story about Amazon deleting George Orwell books from customers’ Kindles.

First off, the reasons for the deletion have become more clear.  The books were added to the Kindle store by MobileReference, a company which focuses on the publication of works already existing in the public domain.  While Orwell’s works are public domain in most countries that MobileReference sells in, they still fall under copyright in the US.  Which just so happens to be the only country where Amazon sells the Kindle.

A complaint was made to Amazon by the copyright owners.  Amazon caved to the publisher’s pressure and, since their sales of the books were never legal to begin with, retroactively un-purchased every copy.  There actually seems to be some debate as to whether this violates the Kindle’s license agreement.  For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the agreement doesn’t leave room for Amazon to take away already purchased books.  Such speculation is most likely pointless, however, since the illegality of the Orwell books distributed probably skirts around the terms of use and Amazon wouldn’t have done the deletions if their lawyers hadn’t cleared it in the first place.

The second piece of news is that Amazon is claiming this will not happen again.  The company issued a statement, sent as an Email to various tech publications.

We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.

It’s good to see that Amazon is reacting to the negative reaction they have received.

Idea From Democrat Think Tank: Give Every Student a Kindle

Photo by Bill Ward

Photo by Bill Ward

Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a think tank made up of Democratic Party members, thinks that education’s future lies in the Kindle.  Their proposal, entitled A Kindle In Every Backpack, makes the argument for moving towards an eTextbook environment for K-12 education.

Their argument is a compelling one.  Hardly anyone would disagree that the dominance of eReaders is inevitable, and the DLC is simply arguing that there is no point to wait.  Although overhead costs at the start of the project would be high, eReaders would save the government a lot more money in the long run.  Also, giving every student an eReader would help address the discrepancy between well-funded schools and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods by making textbook access universal.

Here’s exceprt from the paper by Thomas Z. Freedman explaining long term cost benefits of textbooks going digital:

Over time, this could provide enormous savings. Over the first four or so years of an eTextbook system, we would spend about $9 billion more—in total—than the traditional textbook scheme. Yet by the last year of that initial period, we could have already supplied Kindles, or the digital equivalent, to 100 percent of our students. At that point, the savings would kick in, beginning at over $700 million in the fifth year before holding steady at around $500 million annually in the years immediately following.

I don’t think the plan will be launched within the next couple of days, however.  With the current recession, any multi-billion initiative is going to have trouble getting off the ground.  Also, the price estimates offered by the DLC are based on assumed drops in manufacturing costs and not really indicative of the cost to roll out the plan today.  The accessibility issue would also need to be taken care of before any national plan could be enacted.

But once these issues are resolved, it won’t be long before every child does have some sort of eReader.  Hopefully, one that’s is somewhat child-resistant too.