Digital Publishing News: Google+, Amazon’s Tablet, and More!
Digital Book World presents a roundup of some of the most interesting news, commentary, and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.
Should Facebook Worry About Google+?
There’s just no avoiding Google in the news this week, what with Google+ vying for top position in the social networking world. Founder of Ancestry.com Paul Allen, using a compelling surname-based statistical analysis of Google+, expects that Google+ will hit the 10 million users mark today, and there might be 20 million Google+ users by the weekend. To put those numbers in context, it wasn’t that long ago that Facebook announced they had over 750 million users (and shrugged it off).
With a combination of social networking and social sharing features like Circles, Hangouts, and Sparks, Google+ is a real contender to go after Facebook’s longstanding dominant market share, even as Facebook recently rolled out new features such as integrated video chat. Technobombs has a decent infographic summarizing the feature differences between Google+ and Facebook, while Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols over at ZDNet asks, “Can Google+ Be a Facebook Killer?” Prognostications in the Google vs. Facebook debate fall under a few general themes, especially of course privacy policies, with the added issues of public Google profiles and gender privacy.
But, should Facebook worry about Google+, really? Entrepreneur Vincent Wong doesn’t seem to think so, emphasizing the software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing features of the whole Google suite, which would make Google+ more a threat to Microsoft than to Facebook or Twitter.
Opinion about Google+ is rather polarized (not unexpectedly). Some points of contention center around user interface and usability, ease of adoption, and clarity of purpose, Yet, news organizations such as MSNBC.com’s Breaking News, seem to have no hesitation in integrating Google’s offering as a means of disseminating news. Others, however, question the small business applications of Google+ and even the raison d’etre of Google+.
Ultimately, users will let their “fingers do the walking,” but the learning curve is somewhat steep and the interface may not be completely intuitive to all users who’d like to decide for themselves. Luckily there are already a few useful how-tos and cheat sheets available, and no doubt there will be many more.
But Didn’t Google Announce an E-Reader Too?
Actually, yes, and with the Google+ tidal wave garnering the most attention,buzz about the iRiver Story HD pales in comparison. But Google is noticeably late to the e-reader device game: Will this standalone e-reader – set to go on sale exclusively at Target stores this weekend at a price point of $140 – result in major shifts in the e-reader market? Will the competitive advantage of integration with Google eBooks make it stand apart? An early review of the iRiver Story HD E-Reader from PCWorld is somewhat unenthused, while still appreciative of the higher resolution (XGA 768×1024) of the 6-inch e-ink display.
The e-reader market is such a crowded field, after all: the Nook Color is leading e-reader sales for the first time, while several reports indicate that tablet sales are lagging (see below). Then, also this weekend, the field is about to get even more competitive, with the new AT&T-sponsored, ad-supported Kindle 3G at $139. From ZDNet’s first look:
The biggest difference between the two Kindle 3Gs is in content. For the slightly cheaper ad-supported Kindle 3G, you need to put up with “money saving offers,” advertisements as screensaver (as pictured above), and a small banner ad on the bottom of the home screen. You can also interact with the banner ads by selecting them in the menu to visit the advertiser’s website for more details, but you are not required to do so to earn your Kindle’s keep.
Like the ad-free Kindle 3G also available from AT&T, the owner does not have to pay for data service or sign a contract (Amazon picks up the tab on your 3G service with AT&T), plus the device works in other 100 countries and territories thanks to AT&T’s partnerships with carriers around the world. So it’s a good option for frequent flyers who don’t want to deal with international data roaming rates every time they fly.
However, it’s not just getting devices in readers’ hands – and this is really where the competition between Google and Amazon gets interesting – it’s also about getting ebooks into reading devices, and the overwhelming dominance of Kindle store offerings is rather stark, especially now that Kindle Singles are gaining traction and media outlets like The Guardian release Kindle “apps.”
And let’s not scratch Kobo out of the e-reader race either, especially as Kobo launches Germany’s largest ebookstore, with a catalog of 80,000 German-language titles Amazon’s offering there. From PW’s Calvin Reid:
In an interview at the PW offices, Serbinis said Kobo has been growing steadily, from about 3 million users during the BookExpo America in May to more than 4 million users today. He also emphasized the “localization” of Kobo’s thrust on the international market and said the German Kobo was being managed by a Kobo team of about 12 based in Germany. “We’ve had people in Germany for the last six months getting this set up and our team will be overseeing German-language merchandising and marketing.”
Serbinis said, “We believe our country-specific launch into Germany as well as our upcoming entries into Spain, France, Italy and The Netherlands will be embraced by the European eReading community as consumers seek to build their lifetime digital libraries, reading over multiple devices, whether eReader, smartphone, tablet, desktop or netbook.”
And to finish with the racing metaphor: What about the dark horse devices, like the Sony e-reader coming out next month or 3M’s library-centric e-reader? The field is only going to get more crowded as the year continues, and it’s getting harder and harder to figure out who is a good bet.
Amazon Is Releasing Three Devices This Fall?
Turning now to the latest (and ostensibly most significant) device development from Amazon, it turns out that the rumors are true: Amazon is releasing an Android-based tablet as well as, not just one, but two new Kindle models this fall. One of the Kindles will feature a touchscreen, but both will be black and white. What does this mean in terms of device competition (both in the e-reader realm and the tablet realm)? The New York Times has a rundown of the tablet’s stripped-down specs and its prospects, while The Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of the Amazon tablet looks more closely at the retail angle:
The introduction of a tablet poses a conundrum for Amazon on how to keep from cannibalizing sales of its popular Kindle. Amazon has long said the Kindle is its best-selling device, though it has declined to disclose sales.
A person familiar with Amazon’s thinking said it still figuring out how to market the tablet computer. One issue is whether customers will want to buy both the tablet and Kindle, which is viewed as a dedicated-reading device for bookworms….
Amazon is better-positioned than other companies to go up against Apple, said [Sarah Rotman] Epps, the Forrester analyst. Part of the reason is because Amazon already has a digital-content store with a significant selection and following. Amazon has heavily promoted its digital offerings this year. It launched a streaming video service in February. And in May, it undercut Apple’s iTunes store by selling an album by pop singer Lady Gaga for 99 cents.
Amazon is also in a position to offer a cheaper alternative to the iPad, said Ms. Epps. It could sell the tablet for a loss while hoping to make money on sales of movies, music and books.
Meanwhile, Matt Brian, the Mobile Editor for The Next Web, believes that Amazon’s “portfolio of services” has shown a long-term strategy of incremental service expansions all leading up to a tablet that can rival the iPad:
Analysts have already issued reports suggesting Amazon will sell 2.4 million tablets in 2012. Whilst that figure doesn’t even compete with the 10-12 million iPads that Apple is expected to sell in its third quarter alone, Amazon has time on its side. By subsidising its devices, it can heavily reduce its offerings to get customers investing into its technologies, hitting them with the upsell once they are onboard. Amazon can push its value-added services to boost revenues, whilst slowly building sales of physical devices….
The retailer’s portfolio of services suggests that it has had tablet plans for a number of years with every new launch building towards an all-out assault on the tablet market. The company hasn’t rushed a product to market, instead it has carefully thought through its options and planned accordingly. I expect the company won’t just try to compete, it will give everything to tempt consumers away from Apple and its “magical” iPad.
No doubt this will be a lively competition: Will Amazon’s wide-ranging and industry-agnostic retail portfolio give Apple a real run for its money, especially given that, according to some reports, the average Apple user already has $100 worth of content on every Apple mobile device? Will Amazon’s entree into the tablet market finally convince iOS users to switch to Android?
What Do the Numbers Say About E-Reading on Devices?
With all this discussion about dedicated e-readers and tablets (both currently in the market and anticipated releases), it is worthwhile to change course a little and look at some of the mid-year numbers that have come out recently. For example, Wired’s Gadget Lab describes a recent survey by Resolve Market Research that looked at mobile device purchases:
A recent survey shows that the portable and console gaming industry has little to fear from the tablet revolution. E-readers, netbooks and laptops, on the other hand, should watch out.
Resolve Market Research looked at consumers’ mobile device purchases and intentions in July 2010 and now, and found that 53 percent of consumers do not plan to buy an e-reader after purchasing a tablet, and 42 percent don’t plan to purchase a netbook or laptop after getting a tablet. Both were an increase over similar sentiments from a year ago.
Similarly, Laura Hazard Owen over at PaidContent.org contextualizes a recent forecast about e-reader usage from eMarketer:
The number of people in the U.S. who own an dedicated e-reader (not an iPad or other multi-function tablet) has quadrupled since 2009, to 8.7 percent of the population (20.6 million people), new research from eMarketer shows. By 2012, the company predicts that 12 percent of U.S adults, or 28.9 million people, will own an e-reader, up from 1.9 percent in 2009.
The estimate is quite a bit higher than previous predictions: Last year Forrester predicted that 15.5 million people would own e-readers by the end of 2011, and that the 12 percent benchmark would not be reached until 2015.
These numbers are confirmed by a recent Pew Internet report about e-reader ownership in the past six months:
The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12% in May, 2011 from 6% in November 2010. E-readers, such as a Kindle or Nook, are portable devices designed to allow readers to download and read books and periodicals. This is the first time since the Pew Internet Project began measuring e-reader use in April 2009 that ownership of this device has reached double digits among U.S. adults.
Tablet computers—portable devices similar to e-readers but designed for more interactive web functions—have not seen the same level of growth in recent months. In May 2011, 8% of adults report owning a tablet computer such as an iPad, Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Xoom. This is roughly the same percentage of adults who reported owning this kind of device in January 2011 (7%), and represents just a 3 percentage-point increase in ownership since November 2010. Prior to that, tablet ownership had been climbing relatively quickly.
All this competition in the device space, however, doesn’t translate completely to prospects for the book publishing industry. For that, we need to look at more focused numbers about reading habits, purchase behaviors, and unit sales. Jim Milliot over at Publishers Weekly has a useful comparative summary of mid-year unit sales statistics from Nielsen BookScan, Bowker, and the Association of American Publishers.
Meanwhile, a bit off the beaten track, Phillip Jones over at the FutureBook reports on an informal survey about ebook readership conducted by fantasy and sci-fi author Stephen Hunt:
[With 836 respondents, Hunt] found that 71% of his audience were now reading e-books, but in a much more diverse way than the brand wars between Amazon, Apple, Sony suggest; using multiple devices and software apps to read novels. Of those who don’t yet read e-books, 69% are planning on getting one. The survey highlights Amazon’s success is pushing its Kindle format forward on different e-book devices: only 35% have Kindle hardware, but 53% are buying e-books from them. It also found that publishers have an opportunity to sell more direct: 39% are currently buying direct from publisher web sites, and 25% from authors.
That’s just a taste of what you may have missed this week. To stay on top of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing, keep in touch via our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, join your publishing colleagues in our LinkedIn group, and connect with the broader DBW Network.