Dominic JacquesonDominic 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.