Dominic Jacquesson has been running offline and online publishing and marketing businesses for the last 12 years, and now runs digital publishing consultancy Ink on Dead Trees.
I've been talking to Dominic about the eReader market, the Kindle, and how he expects the technology to impact media and marketing over the next few years...
What is happening in the eReader market at the moment?
The big thing this year has been the new Kindle from Amazon, and this has been grabbing most of the headlines. It uses an 'eink' display, and so is very different from reading on a computer or a mobile screen, making it a closer experience to reading on paper.
There are no problems when viewed from different angles, and no need for sore eyes. It is more pleasant an experience than reading a book on screen, and this is what sets it apart from other technologies. Also, eInk displays only consume power on ‘page turns’, so battery life is effectively weeks rather than hours.
Sony launched the first eReader back in 2004, but the Kindle, thanks to Amazon's reach and its eBook store, linked to its 3G wireless connectivity, is starting to gain traction.
It hasn't released official numbers but estimates obtained by examining its financial releases are that Amazon has sold 2m Kindles so far, and the annualised run-rate for eBook sales is $1bn, so the eReader market is starting to hit some big numbers.
The Kindle has proven that the market is there, and others are now getting involved. Sony, which is still number two in the market is launching its next generation of eReaders. Like Amazon, it has its own eBook store, though it is partnering with Waterstones in this country. Meanwhile the Kindle is still unavailable outside the US, so its dominance is by no means assured.
Plastic Logic is the third big player; it has hooked up with Barnes & Noble and is due to launch a touch-screen magazine-sized device in early 2010.
What are the drawbacks with some of the devices that are currently on the market?
I think the eReaders that are available today are transitional, I would call them second generation. Their single biggest drawback is the lack of colour, which limits what they can do, although 2010 will see this problem overcome.
Most are too expensive at the moment to become mainstream, and there is also the issue of proprietary formats, particularly for the Kindle, where Amazon tethers users to its own eBook store, much as Apple does with iTunes and iPods.
Other eReaders, such as those released by Sony, don't do this, and use the open standard ePub format instead. It looks like Plastic Logic will try and lock users into Barnes and Nobles eBooks, but I think they will fail with this.
Amazon aside, most eBook store sales are now gravitating to the ePub format. There is still some DRM on it, but you can share books and arrange library-loans.
Amazon has such a stranglehold on the book market that it's no surprise they have opted for a proprietary system, but I think they will eventually be forced to open up.
Who is buying
eReaders at the moment?
The market at the moment is mainly avid book lovers, and it is still a niche market. It is mainly adults in the 25 – 49 age group. I think this will change as eReaders are beginning to offer more than books, and are being used for newspapers and magazines.
Kindle users can get digital subscriptions to titles such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, which are delivered wirelessly overnight. There is a lot of traction there, and it promises to broaden the market, something which interests the rest of the publishing industry.
Plastic Logic is specifically targeting B2B professionals with a device compatible with pdf, Word, Excel etc., and offering the ability to annotate documents.
Do eReaders offer an opportunity for newspapers ad other publishers?
It gives them a chance to reset the rules to some extent. A new format provides an opportunity to charge, as consumers are often willing to rethink pricing structures when new formats arrive.
Having had years of freebies online, it is possible that eReaders can change customers’ willingness to pay for content.
This is not the answer to all of publishers' problems by any means, but for certain sections of the market it could be a valuable opportunity. People will appreciate the benefits of portability. More than a laptop, it can be as light and readable as a newspaper and can provide extra benefits, such as being able to change font sizes, offer video content and more.
It also offers a chance to make more from advertising as marketers have the potential to merge the best of the internet and print in terms of interaction.
How do you see eReaders affecting digital marketing and e-commerce?
The internet has revolutionised advertising, but there are still drawbacks. For instance, a lot of brands, especially luxury brands, are still reluctant to move budgets online.
Since the web cannot offer the same quality of images as ads in Vogue for instance, then the web is not as effective for brand advertisers, so many are sticking with print ads.
An eReader with more paper-like qualities and the ability to recreate images in greater resolution then the web, will draw in brand advertisers.
For retailers, eReaders can merge the best features of both catalogues and websites. The kind of glossy lifestyle displays which work well in catalogues don't translate to the internet well and can result in dull product listings, which are less aesthetically pleasing.
An eReader can draw out the best from catalogues and combine this with the interactivity of the web, such as one-click purchasing, expanded images and product videos.
Also, there is a cost saving for retailers like Argos and Tesco that will have an alternative to pumping out millions of paper catalogues at huge cost.
As eReaders become more widespread, then this will become a possibility, and we will see this over the next five years as these devices gain traction.
How do you see eReaders evolving over the next few years?
Apple is a big absence in the market, and Steve Jobs even trashed the Kindle during his recent appearance, saying that people won’t go for dedicated devices, and that general purpose devices will win the day.
I think we will see a convergence of devices; combining the ePaper and touch-screen capabilities of eReaders with the operating system and power of a laptop.
I see here the potential that eReaders could replace laptop usage, as they become more sophisticated, and e-writing as well as reading becomes possible. People could throw away paper writing pads, taking notes and transferring them into electronic formats, as well as browsing the web.
When do you see them becoming more mainstream? How will customer reluctance be overcome?
The timeline I'm expecting is that, by the second half on 2011, within two years, we will see wireless, touch-screen, colour, web-enabled eReaders available globally with open standards.
Prices will be coming down too, so in 18-20 months we will see these devices begin to gain real traction. From this point consumer demand will decide the distribution of content, as customers start to expect content to be available on their eReaders.
This will create a spiral, as the impact of reduced print runs forces up the cost of publishers’ residual paper business. Advertiser pressure will also have an impact, as they will demand the kind of hybrid ads that eReaders allow them to create.
By 2012 we will have between one and two million eReaders in this country, which will have a significant impact on the volume of print newspapers and magazines that people are buying.
Dominic can be found on Twitter as @domjacquesson.