eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

I would normally post something like this on my tech blog, but I feel like this is more of a writer issue than a tech issue, though tech is a big part of why I’m writing this post. I’ve been pondering this for a long time — and a few inklings have come out in past posts — but the recent resurgence of AmazonFail and the reactions to it made me think it was a good time to share my thoughts on this.

As many of you know, I work for a technology magazine and part of my job is to keep up on news about gadgets and another part is actually reviewing them. Because I have interest in books and am a fiction writer besides, I ended up as the go-to person for eReaders. Last month I covered eReaders at the Consumer Electronics Show and got to see several devices that will be on the market in the next few weeks and months. I must say, there are a LOT of eReaders out there, folks.

To go along with these eReaders, many companies are also setting up online bookstores, kind of like Sony did back in the day. However, there are some differences in the way things are now. First, almost every device coming to market will have the ability to read EPUB books. EPUB is becoming the standard eBook format (spearheaded by Sony), thus the books you want should be readable on the Nook or the iRiver Story or the Alex eReader regardless of where you buy them. In theory.

The logistics of this are a bit gray right now — for instance, it’s not clear if you can buy a book from Sony then load it on the Nook, or buy a book from Barnes & Noble then load it on the Alex. I chalk this up to the general messiness in the eBook area at the moment. Eventually these issues are going to have to be sorted out. In the meantime, a lot of the smaller eReader vendors/eBook sellers are touting that the titles you buy from them can be read on any device, though they’d be happy to sell you their own.

Contrast this with Amazon, whose eBook format is proprietary and therefore can only be read by Kindles and Kindle apps for smartphones and computers. If a Kindle owner decides they like the Nook better, they can say goodbye to their eBook collection. To be fair to Amazon (I know, I know, but bear with me) this was status quo for a long time in the eBook world. Sony only recently started selling EPUB books — before they had their own format for their own readers. And the EPUB as universal format is a fairly new movement. So naturally newer eReaders are poised to take advantage of it.

Regardless of what Amazon is doing, the rest of the industry, including Apple, is going with EPUB and building their own online eBookstores to sell them. Will all of these individual stores survive? Most likely not, especially if the devices they’re attached to don’t do well. It also depends on what the DRM situation is with books bought from bigger players like B&N. But I’m sure eventually some eBook selling entity will arise from all of this and become the default store multiple devices attach themselves to. iBook might be that store, or something scrappier will come along.

So, why is all of this important to you, the folks reading this who are likely to be writers and/or book industry professionals? It’s important because a big part of the future of eBooks isn’t being shaped by publishers and booksellers wrangling with each other over percentages, it’s going to be driven by the devices consumers choose to consume the books.

While I do not agree that the iPad will CHANGE EVERYTHING ZOMG and that it will destroy all stupid eReaders[1], there are plenty of devices and technologies on the horizon that could change the landscape drastically within the next year or two. I’m talking way cooler than the iPad (and much more useful). Here’s a really brief overview:

Footnotes

  1. The reasons for this are many, but it boils down to this: eInk screens were invented for a reason. And no matter how much some people think it won’t be a big deal to read a book on an LCD screen because they spend all day in front of one, I bet they change their tune the first time they attempt reading full screen black text on a white background and nothing else.[]