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Popular only a few years ago, lately the idea of the emergence of a free e-reader has taken a beating. However, a new technology product coming out of the smartphone industry could give the idea a resurgence.
The theory was that e-ink e-reader technology would become so cheap that it wouldn’t cost all that much for an ebook retailer, telecom provider or other firm that benefits from the sale of ebooks to subsidize it for readers. Give away the razor handle, sell the blades.
A German company called txtr even came close last October, tantalizing dangling the possibility in front of the industry with a $13 e-reader called Beagle. The publicized price point was based on the company’s ability to get a major telecom provider to subsidize the cost of the device to get its users to use its data service to download ebooks.
Publishers salivated at the idea. After all, a free e-reader would leave more money in readers’ pockets with which to buy ebooks. There were many reasons to get excited at the prospect.
After a quiet period in which no such telecom partner was found, the Beagle died and with it the cheapest e-reader yet.
But yesterday, the idea of a free or extremely cheap e-reader was given new life. Using the latest technology from e-reader display company E Ink, e-reader maker PocketBook and phone manufacturer Alcatel are demoing a new kind of e-reading device that piggybacks on your smartphone and has the potential to be extremely inexpensive. (A company called Yota came out with a similar device late last year.)
They’re cases for smartphones that have e-ink displays that can be used for checking weather, status updates and, yes, e-reading. PocketBook has created a case that goes with the popular Samsung Galaxy S4 and Alcatel has created one for its own OneTouch Hero device.
No word yet on how much these devices might cost, how they’re powered or how long they last, but one can imagine the possibilities for ebook business models. Perhaps consumers could be given the case for free with a one-year subscription to Oyster, the new mobile-only ebook subscription app. Or Samsung, with its new focus on ebooks, could give the case away when a reader puts a $50 credit into its content store.
Either way, should the innovation gain traction, it could be good news for ebook publishers looking for a trend that shifts dollars from device-buying to ebook-buying.
DBW Video: Looking at Consumer Ebook Buying Trends