I ran down to Best Buy today to pick up a new USB hub. But before I could clear the doorway, I was stopped dead in my tracks. A new display had materialized right in front of the doors, where the security guys give you the once-over on the way into the store.
Several display racks had been pushed together to form a little mini-shop right where you walk in. And what was in this mini shop? Ebook readers. Lots of them. From many manufacturers. And not only that, lots of accessories too, like covers, extra power cords, cases.
I spent the next fifteen minutes talking to a very knowledgeable young woman who knew each reader, it’s plusses and minuses, and how they compared to each other. She told me they had just recently set up the display, and also told me that the Kindle was the best-seller. She, however, was holding out for a Nook, the Barnes & Noble reader with the little color navigation screen at the bottom.
- Sony Reader, in the Touch, Reader and Daily versions
- Color Nook (expected in about a week)
- Pandigital Reader. This is a 7″ color touchscreen linked to Barnes & Noble’s ebookstore and developed from Pandigital’s expertise with photo frames.
- Ectaco jetBook Lite reader. This interesting reader is amazingly universal. It accepts files in 11 formats including ePub, Mobi, PDF, txt and hooks up to the Barnes & Noble ebookstore. The jetBook Lite is the only ereader I know of that runs on 4 AA batteries, and supports out of the box text in over 30 languages. At $149 this reader could make quite a splash.
- Sharper Image Literati eReader. This color, 7″ screen reader is reminiscent of the Kindle, with a keyboard at the bottom and page turning buttons on the side. Ebook sales are provided through the Kobo bookstore, this $149 reader has a corporate look and feel.
- Sungale – Cyberus Digital Wireless Reading Device. This 7″ touchscreen color device is billed as a “Smart Info Engine eBook Reader and Universal Portable Media Device” and costs $179. It features a host of applications and a 4 hour battery life.
The only thing missing from the display at the store was Apple’s iPad. But not to worry, because Apple has an entire installation, a mini Apple Store, in the back of Best Buy and the iPad is prominently on display there.
New Product Categories Sprouting
If you look for moments when products cross over from niche use, limited to devotees and early adopters and enter the mainstream of retail America, this would be one such moment.
Best Buy is getting ready for the holiday season. Ebook readers look to be high on a lot of people’s gift lists. With falling prices and the generally lower cost of ebooks compared to printed books, these devices are looking like this year’s hot item. I see from Ectaco’s website that they are also offering their jetBook Mini. This 5″ LCD screen reader weighs less than 6 ounces, runs for 90 hours on 4 AAA batteries, and retails for $99.
You can see where this is going. Right now Best Buy has the readers in their “Video Games and Gadgets” category. Either they will catch the imagination of millions of people, becoming part of their day to day life, or they will remain a niche product and retreat back to the shelves in the depths of the store, making way for whatever is the next big thing.
But ebooks and the hardware they run on are moving aggressively into the mainstream of American life right now. On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t walk 3 rows through the plane without encountering Nooks and Kindles.
As self-publishers and indie authors, we often tout our ability to move faster and adapt more readily to changing market conditions than larger, corporate publishers. It looks like time to put that to the test, doesn’t it?
Takeaway: As publishers, we need to move into digital versions of our works as soon as we can, to be there when people start browsing the online bookstores. We need to have good metadata, to make our books discoverable in searches. And we need to keep finding ways to drive readers to our pages on ebookstore sites, print bookstore sites, and our own domains where readers have a chance to participate in an interactive community.