Thursday, 27 September 2012

Who's for a little Nookie?

All the ebooks I can eat on my iPad
There is little doubt - e-readers and ebooks are finally taking off. Whether pure e-readers like the original Kindle or tablets like the iPad, more and more people are reading books in this format. While I would scatter a little fairy dust of doubt over statistics that Amazon puts out comparing how many ebooks it sells with paper (bear in mind their ebook sales probably include all free downloads, which is a lot), there is no doubt that the market is finally becoming serious. Using the not-entirely-always-accurate service Novelrank, I can roughly compare sales on Amazon of my latest book that's both on Kindle and in paper format - The Universe Inside You. Roughly speaking it is selling twice as many ebook copies as paper.

So the market is ripe for lots of different ebook readers, hence presumably the launch of US bookstore giant Barnes & Noble's Nook tablets alongside its e-readers in the UK. Only I'm not totally convinced. iPad and Kindle dominate their respective markets. There are some up and coming Android tablets. But a lot of also ran makes like Kobo and even the mighty Sony have struggled to really get out there. And I suspect it may also be true of Barnes & Noble.

The thing is, B&N is a big name in the US, but it's an unknown here. If they had branded it Waterstones, it may just have got a bit more credibility, but as it stands I'm not sure why anyone will buy them, unless they are seriously cheap for what they offer. They will be selling through Sainsbury's, which should get them some sales, and Blackwell's. But I am just not sure they will catch on in a big way.

There are probably interesting parallels to draw with the MP3 player market. Apple was not first with the iPod, but they have dominated the market ever since they first got properly established. Sony could have got there first (remember how dominant the Walkman was on the cassette side), but messed up by making the PC software to go with their MP3s very clumsy and obtrusive (their ebook products have had the same problem). Now on the MP3 front you have Apple, then a couple of also rans like Sandisk, then the tat. I think the same is likely to be the case with ebook readers. The top slots are already filled. Barnes & Noble will fighting to make sure they're an also ran.

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