The Future of Electronic Reading

Part of O’Reilly’s Tools for Change mini-con, Oct 2009.

Speaker: Matthew Bernius (Rochester Institute of Technology’s Open Publishing Lab)

2009 has been a watershed year for ebooks. According to the Association of American Publishers, not only did are year to date ebooks sales up 149.3%, June 2009 saw the highest amount of ebook trade sales so far, $14,000,000 in total. Internationally more than a dozen new ebook readers have been either released or announced, and more are on the way. As Tech consultant and author Geoffrey Moore would put it, the ebook industry is now in the midst of “crossing the chasm,” moving from an audience of early adopters towards mainstream markets.

This presentation will cover the current state of the art in ebooks and ereaders – discussing the technologies currently at play and those coming in the near future. Drawing up lessons from the adoption of other products, the presentation will also discuss trends that may influence the long term development of these technologies.

OPL is cross-disciplinary center: extend extant publ platforms, enable new products / business models, empower [oops, there goes the slide –ed.]

This talk: discussion of formats, hardware/software readers, useful metaphors, thinking beyond immediate future.

Currently amidst format war—proprietary = Amazon and Barnes & Noble; ePub (open) = Adobe, Microsoft, Assoc Press, academic institutions, Int’l Digital Publishing Forum. [Where is Mobipocket, then? I’m not a fan, but it’s not dead yet. –ed.]

Slide of timeline: 1971 Michael S. Hart launches Project Gutenberg and 1985-92 Bob Stein starts Voyager Co. CD-ROMs; 1993 Adobe PDF introduced. . . . 1998 Cybook device, 1999 Franklin device. Current ebook market got a boost from the introduction of eInk in 1997, but costs didn’t drop till later; from 2005 dedicated devices entered marketplace (Sony Libre), followed by 2006 iRex iLiad, Jinke Hanlin V2, Sony PRS-500; 2007 Kindle, Cybook Gen 3, Jinke Hanlin V3; 2008 Jinke Hanlin V5, iRex Digital Reader 5000, Sony PRS-505 & PRS-700. This is West-oriented [Bernius acknowledges]; there’s plenty of activity in Russia, East Asia, and so on, and it looks somewhat different.

As of 2009 15 ereader devices have been released, and eight more have been announced. Range of sizes.

[Sadly, it is difficult to take notes on an overview with which one is intimately familiar. Pausing notes till we reach the part meant to discuss the future!]

Graph of a gentle bell curve for tech adoption life cycle: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards—the early-adopter segment has a chasm where some users drop off because things are too difficult, confusing, etc.

Take digital cameras by analogy / comparison: content wars followed by form wars, then price wars.

The future—Apple is rumored to be planning a tablet that’d function as ereader and as portable computer (plug in a keyboard). Gizmodo has a rumor of a Microsoft Courier device. (Both are said to have 10.6″ diagonal displays; the Courier is said to have two displays and to open like a book.) Toshiba is rumored to have two smartphone/reader hybrids, one slider-style with keyboard and one clamshell dual-screen.

Unless we see a major tech jump, it’s not clear what besides the ability to read a book will be built into a dedicated reader device.

6 responses to “The Future of Electronic Reading”

  1. matt bernius

    Thanks for doing this summary! It was exciting to participate in the chat. I just wish we could have gotten to more questions. I’m going to go over the transcript (once I get my hands on it) and see what else we can answer.

  2. Sharon

    Thanks very much for your talk! It was useful to think of digital cameras paralleling ebook dedicated-device development—thanks for that in particular.

  3. matt bernius

    It’s something that I’ve been meaning to write on for a while. I’m hoping that I’ll have enough breathing room this weekend to actually write it up.

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