This week’s buzz is all about Google’s new ebook venture. There are a lot of reasons for this, like Google muscling in on Amazon or whatever but the thing that interests me is that Google’s method of delivery poises the market for perhaps an increase in e-reader competition.
Currently, most large e-reader offerings are locked in to only one system. The Kindle can really only work with Amazon, the Nook pretty much is stuck with Barnes & Noble’s plan and the iPad with Apple’s iTunes. To heap it on, these readers are pretty much the only devices you can buy for each of them (Sure you can read a book on your phone, too. but really? who does that?). If you’re an independent e-reader manufacturer, you’re pretty much out of luck getting into these things.
Why does this matter? It makes a sort of oligopolistic silo system where innovation doesn’t really have to flourish and prices don’t have to really come down. Everything can stay the same. There will only be one price point for entrance into the wonderful world of ebooks for the consumer and those same prices for the readers will remain at a level that will basically hasten the obsolecence of the e-reader at the the hands of lower-end tablets. This would really be a shame if that were to happen.
The e-reader concept is a great one: a simple device where you just read things on. The root cause of it’s death, up to this point is their price. Let’s face it: an e-reader (and especially not a color one) should be below $100. Ideally, it should be a shade over $50. What would you get with that? a basic book-reading device that has adequate storage, WI-FI and maybe a media player. The end. Prices of $250 or even $140 are just too high and begin to compete with cheap tablets, and while cheap tablets are not completely here right now, oh, boy! They will be! Just have a look at some Chinese companies’s sites, you can get an Android tablet right now and cheaper than a Kindle!
This is where Google comes in.
Now that nearly any device with a browser can access their collection, they’ve essentially democratized the ebook market, allowing for e-reader manufacturers to compete with each other to not only strengthen and streamline their offerings but also serve to drive down product costs.
I imagine that this incumbent battle will yield some pretty nifty desgin, like hopefully e-readers with larger displays, perhaps text-book sized or even coffee-book sized ones. There could also be markets opening for specialized versions, perhaps designed for specific tasks like an element-proof kitchen book or a ruggedized version for working in the shop or under your car. While these seem like things that would be excellently serviced by a tablet, the savings of the more simple reader could be rolled into the specializations for specific environments and uses.
In short, Google’s platform agnosticism may actually bring about a cheap accessible world of e-readers that may finally drive the coffin nail for paper – or at least get a cheap-ass like me to buy one!