Last month we ran a story about a new iPhone application called Classics that put 16 top classic books in electronic format, literally at your fingertips. While the idea of accessing a classic tale is compelling ("old friends" as my daughter’s middle school teacher used to say), the concept of using the phone display as a serious reading device may send shivers up the spine of all those looking to replace the printed page with new and unique e-paper display devices. And if it doesn’t, perhaps it should.
Senior Analyst and Editor
Most of the eleven or so e-book readers on the market feature 5 to 6-inch electrophoretic displays based upon E Ink technology. From this we may discern that the e-reader industry has concluded that anything smaller than the 6-inch size is not a serious contender for this market, but perhaps the industry is wrong.
In late February, TWICE writer Amy Gilroy did an article on a new digital book store based out of Toronto, Canada called Shortcovers (www.Shortcovers.com). This site charges $0.99 for single chapters of popular books (akin to Apple selling single songs from an album) that can be read on iPhones, Linux-based Android phones, and the popular BlackBerry’s (Storm, Bold and Curve.) Like Apple the Shortcovers site takes an ecosystem approach by simplifying the document conversion process (rather than leaving it to the user to figure out). The site plans to also offer book titles compatible with cell phones based on Symbian, Windows Mobile and Brew devices.
The upshot of all this is best characterized by Michael Serbinis, who is the Chief Internet Officer, EVP at Indigo Books & Music, and the publisher of the Shortcovers web site. Sebinis said, "People are reading differently - they are reading on screens, in more frequent, shorter sessions - and are accustomed to digital sampling services." And this is why the e-book reader industry should be concerned. They built their product based on conventional consumers’ reading habits and looked to replace the status quo. The trouble is, the status quo is itself changing.
The one standout in the e-book reader crowd, and perhaps the company that "gets it," comes from Polymer Vision’s Readius product. This soon-to-be-released new rollable e-reader sports a 5-inch display when fully rolled out. It is an e-ink-based hybrid device that successfully decouples display size from device size, taking advantage of the rollable qualities using an organic TFT backplane with an e-ink Vizplex frontplane. As such, Readius has the unique specification of a 160 mm wide display in a 57 mm wide device. But, perhaps more importantly, the device is also a tri-band (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) cell phone with SMS, Bluetooth and other key phone functions.
This is not to say that e-book readers in the more conventional form will go away. But, it may be just a warning sign that consumers seeking to replace their daily newspaper with a similar form factor device may choose other options instead. That means there is a possibility that new form factors could cannibalize conventional electronic book reader sales. We will have to watch this as new products start to roll out.