[By Duncan McLeod] This week, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader went on sale in SA and around the world. E-books are finally coming of age. Here’s why you’re going to want to buy one and why you may be better off delaying your purchase for a short while.
If anyone has any doubts that the future of book publishing is electronic, consider this: where Amazon stocks both the paper version and the electronic version of a book, on average nearly one in three of the sales is of the electronic edition.
It’s a phenomenal statistic given that Amazon launched its Kindle e-book reader only two years ago.
Electronic books look set to take off in the next few years as the price of the readers plummets and as quality improves.
Amazon’s move into markets outside the US is a strategic one, coming just months ahead of the introduction of a range of competitor devices.
Both LG Electronics and Qisda (formerly BenQ) have announced plans to build e-book readers. LG’s device will be solar-powered.
Even bricks-and-mortar US book retailer Barnes & Nobel has announced it is working on an e-book reader that will run Google’s Android operating system.
Until now, Amazon’s only real competitor in the e-book market has been Sony. However, Sony sells its product in only a limited number of countries. One hopes that Amazon’s aggressive move to the international stage will persuade Sony to follow suit.
As with music, the challenge associated with offering e-books around the world is content licensing. Some publishers are reluctant to sell their books worldwide.
As a result, SA Kindle users will have access to 230 000 e-books, whereas Amazon has a catalogue of 370 000. That means SA users will have access to only 62% of Amazon’s e-book catalogue.
Of course, users will find other ways of downloading material. As the popularity of e-books soars, the volume of pirated books available via online file-sharing networks will also rise.
Book publishers could soon find themselves in the same boat as the record companies. Amazon employs digital rights management techniques on its books in an effort to keep a lid on piracy but, as the music industry has already discovered, there’s no way to eradicate the problem.
I expect e-book readers to sell well in SA. Provided the price is right, South Africans are always keen early adopters. And at US$279 (excluding shipping and taxes), the Kindle is certainly affordable. Given that most bestsellers in Amazon’s catalogue go for about $10 (R75), you’ll quickly recoup your investment if you’re a voracious reader. You don’t even pay for the data you use to download books over the air.
And if you’re a fan of international newspapers, you’ll love the fact that as a South African you can subscribe relatively cheaply to papers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times — all delivered automatically and wirelessly. It’s a pity there are no SA papers available yet.
So, should you rush to your computer to order a Kindle? Unless you’re desperate for an e-book reader, I’d advise you to wait. E-book readers are still in their infancy, and we can expect big technological leaps in the next year or two.
As Asian competitors like LG Electronics muscle their way into the field, expect the pace of innovation to accelerate and for prices to come down.
Also, Apple is strongly rumoured to be developing a general-purpose tablet computer that can be used as an e-book reader. In fact, it would be logical for the company to start selling e-books in its iTunes Store, alongside music, movies and TV shows. Pundits believe the chances are good that CEO Steve Jobs will announce a product in January. And, knowing Apple, it will introduce something game changing.
- McLeod is editor of TechCentral. This column is also published in the Financial Mail