Over the past couple weeks, I've been conducting polls about ebooks as I think about doing some publishing. The overwhelming response to the polls has been that there is not a sufficiently broad selection of books available in e-formats, regardless of what format, whether for Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader or in open formats, such as ePUB, an XML-based format.
With all due respect to the people who have been posting that there aren't enough ebooks available to choose from and that the readers (whether devices or software that runs on a computer or handset) are not worth the expense, the evidence doesn't support that contention. This is a market that is developing along recognizable patterns. The issue is whether there will be more flexibility and useful features in ebooks or whether they will perpetuate the same limited use that we have in, for example, digital movies. Freedom to copy and share are only one aspect of the improvements available to customers in ebooks—the ability to cite, deep-link to specific pages of books one doesn't own but which are referenced in a book one does own, as well as the ability to annotate and expand on the text for our own or shared use, are also on the line.
First, the data from the previous polls suggests that more than enough book buying is going on to propel the market toward viable competition with the paper books market. And the second poll suggests that there are certain types of titles, specifically magazines and newspapers, that could be "bridge" titles that, if they were available in convenient e-formats that let customers rid themselves of piles of paper each month. More magazines and newspapers are turning to online (and there is a further poll question on content formats coming), so the market does appear to be coalescing.
Second, the number of ebooks, though still a moderate fraction of the total books published each year, the total number of titles available in eformats is approaching the number in the best-stocked Barnes & Noble, which has between 60,000 and 200,000 titles in stock. There are 145,000 titles available for Kindle and the Sony Reader catalog has announced support for the ePUB format, which will give its users access to several hundred thousand titles. As CommanderROR wrote at MobileRead.com today:
I have not pirated an ebook for a long time, there is no need anymore, I have not bought a pbook for a long time either (if it's not available as ebook I don't read it...that'll teach the narrow-minded publishers...) and I'm a happy, fully-converted ebook lover.
The question to ask now, is what the optimal price, from the reader's perspective, might be. I completely understand the urge to have ebooks on existing devices, because no one wants to carry more gadgets around. At the same time, the electrophoretic display E Ink echnology in the Kindle and Sony Reader is far easier on the eyes over any long session of reading, so there is a case to be made for a device that eliminates screen flicker entirely from the reading experience.
The benefits of a truly great ebook reader will not be simply the display of words or pictures on a page, as I noted above. Without getting into the ways we might reuse content from a book (for instance, to display a digital picture from a book in our home or to share excerpts with friends online), what is the reader worth to you?
So, let's assume, for argument's sake, that there is a device necessary, even if it is a component of the handset you already own in the form of a reader application. If so, what is the right price for you to buy a reader for the first time? If you bought at or near one of these price points, answer with that—if you are going to hold out for a price, tell us what it is.