Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sony, Kindle, iLiad...

On 3rd September, Waterstone's is going to release Sony's new e-reader via its highstreet stores and also its website. Ok, so far so intrigued. We know how much the reader will be (£199), but other than that, not a whole lot. The battery lasts for just under "7,000 page turns", and it can store up to 160 books at a time. Fine, that's pretty great, if true. But there is NO information about the costs of the books to read on them, or really much information or indication what sort of range will be on offer (7,000 pages of crap-per single charge won't really do much for anyone). Some sources claim "10,000s" of titles, which I suppose is okay for a first launch (unless they're all books people are likely to own already if they have any interested in them).
As someone seriously considering one of these (there's no more space in my home for books!), I'm not happy about this fact. This, frankly, makes it the worst promotional campaign in Britain's history. I contacted Waterstone's by email to find out a little more, and I was referred to their website, despite my email specifically stating that I wanted more information than was available on the website (Customer Services/Satisfaction: D-...), but they just told me they had no other information. Three weeks before launch...
On purchasing the Sony reader, you get a CD with 100 free classics - step up all English students! They'll likely need all 100, and think of the space and money saved! Ok, it probably wouldn't be that much, as most classics are now pretty cheap anyway, but think of the space!
Now on to the bit that worries me: according to The Times Online, publishers are "pitching the books at just below the price of a hardback". A hardback?! A clerk in my local Waterstone's Academic store said - while admitting that she hadn't really paid much attention at the presentation - that books would be about £1 cheaper than the printed versions.
The Times article also mentions the release of a UK version of Amazon's nifty Kindle device (which will apparently also see 2 new versions in the US over the next year or so, according to other sources: including this week's Newsweek, p.40). Now, these are a hell of a lot more interesting than Sony's limitted ereader, assuming the UK Kindle retains much of the functionality of the US version. Come to think of it, will it be possible to use a UK Kindle in the US, or a US version in the UK? It's something to think about, given the possible, massive price differentials. Speaking of which...
In the US, a lot of the titles available for the Kindle at priced at $9.99 - this includes, at the time of writing, the following (with corresponding print-copy prices):
  • Scott McClellan, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House & Washington's Culture of Deception" ($27.95)
  • James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge, "The Dangerous Days of Daniel X" ($19.99)
  • Fareed Zakaria, "The Post-American World" ($25.95)
  • Brad Thor, "The Last Patriot" ($26.00)
  • David Sedaris, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" ($25.99)
  • Stephanie Meyer, "Breaking Dawn" ($22.99)
"Paperbacks" on the Kindle seem to be going, through a cursory glance, for approximately $6.
How can they justify such a large increase for over here? Even at £15 they would be too expensive (equivalent of about $29). I think iTunes is pushing it, asking for £8 for a digital album when that's only £1 less than you can normally buy them in stores or Amazon/HMV/, so almost full price for a book will be seriously pushing it.
Personally, I'd be willing to pay £8-10 for a new ebook of a new hardback release (particularly political and current affairs books, which I actually need for my PhD, and are usually much more expensive and rarely on special offers), and maybe £4 for an ebook of an equivalent paperback release. "Cheapskate" someone said to me in a conversation about ereaders. Well, no, not really. offers new paperback at £3.99, sometimes £3.49 - this price, one assumes, can cover the cost of printing, storage and (if you order £15 worth, or have an Amazon Prime account, as I now do) postage and packing. An ebook will have no printing costs, no physical storage costs (digital storage must be infintely cheaper), and no postage and packing costs. How would £6~ for a "paperback" and £15~ for a "hardback" be justified?
The Times Online article does say that most/all of Terry Pratchett's novels will be available as ebooks by the end of the year. Ok, so at least they'll be getting some great content, but we need to know more!
eReaders have a great deal of potential - for voracious readers with small homes, for students (if the prices are reasonable), and with regards to older or hard-to-find titles (ebooks should help reduce the problems inherent with books going out of print). We'll just have to keep an eye out, I suppose.
For the moment, though, with Amazon's discounted prices and Waterstone's 3-for-2 on mass-market paperbacks, along with the fact that hands and opposable thumbs came as standard when I was born, I'll be sticking to the printed format.

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